(November 17, 1966 – May 29, 1997), born Jeffrey Scott
Buckley and raised as Scottie Moorhead, was an
American singer-songwriter and guitarist.
his vocal range of 4 octaves, Buckley was considered by
critics to be one of the most promising artists of his
generation after the release of his 1994 debut album
Grace. However, at the height of his popularity, Buckley
drowned during an evening swim in 1997. His work and style
continue to be highly regarded by critics and fellow
Anaheim, California, Jeff Buckley was the only son of Mary
Guibert and Tim Buckley. His mother was a Panama Canal
Zonian of mixed Greek, French, American and Panamanian
descent, while his father was the descendant of Irish
father was a songwriter who released a series of highly
acclaimed folk and jazz albums in the late 1960s and early
1970s before his own untimely death in 1975. Buckley was
raised by his mother and step-father Ron Moorhead (for just
a few years) in Southern California, constantly moving in
and around Orange County. Additionally he had a
half-brother, Corey Moorhead. During his childhood he was
known as Scott "Scottie"
but at the age of 8 he chose to go by his birth name after
meeting his father for the first (and only) time; to his
family he remained Scottie.
eighteen, Buckley moved to Los Angeles, where he graduated from the Musician's Institute's two-year course.
Buckley often called his time at the Institute a "waste,"
although he made life-long friends there. Like his hero
Jimmy Page, he wanted to play guitar. His diverse musical
background was reflected in the bands in which he
participated before going solo. At one point he was in a
punk band, and lead guitar in the reggae band Shinehead,
where he limited his singing to backing vocals.
moved to New York in 1990. His public debut as a singer was
the 1991 tribute performance for his father, Tim Buckley, at
St. Ann's Church in New York City. Jeff was not billed as a
performer, choosing simply to pay his respects to his
father, saying "This is not a springboard, this is something
very personal." He performed "I Never Asked To Be Your
Mountain" with experimental rock guitarist, Gary Lucas,
accompanying him, and did an acoustic/a cappella performance
of "Once I Was" that brought the venue to stunned silence.
When questioned about that particular performance, Buckley
said "It wasn't my work, it wasn't my life. But it bothered
me that I hadn't been to his funeral, that I'd never been
able to tell him anything. I used that show to pay my last
respects." Lucas convinced Buckley to stay in New York, and
to form a musical duo; the two prepared to sign with a major
meantime, Buckley became a regular solo performer at the
East Village cafe Sin-é, singing covers as well as his own
songs, where he attracted admiring crowds — and the
attention of executives from Columbia Records. An EP of four
songs recorded there, Live at Sin-é, was released on
Columbia in 1993.
performed with Gary Lucas' band
Gods and Monsters, but soon split with Lucas in order
to form his own band.
1994, Buckley's debut album Grace, recorded with a
recruited band in Woodstock, New York, was released. He
invited ex-bandmate Lucas to play guitar on the album
versions of "Grace" and "Mojo Pin" — the two songs on which
Lucas is credited as a co-writer. While sales were slow, the
album quickly received critical acclaim and appreciation
from other revered musicians (among them Jimmy Page, Robert
Plant, Bob Dylan, Thom
Yorke, Daniel Christos, Paul
McCartney, Neil Peart, Elvis Costello and
Elton John), and has
remained in high esteem. Grace features cover
versions of "Lilac Wine" (based on Nina Simone's version on
the 1966 album Wild Is The Wind) and a rendition of the
Middle English hymn "Corpus Christi Carol". Buckley's
seminal version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was a
highlight, and is still considered by many to be the
definitive recording of that song; it has since become
Buckley's best-known song.
the release of Grace, Buckley spent more than two
years touring around the world. It seemed to be a tiring yet
effective means for him to keep his independence from his
record company, with which he had a strained relationship.
From the album's release, he played in numerous countries,
from Australia, to the UK (Glastonbury Festival). In 1995
Buckley played a concert at the Paris Olympia, a venue made
famous by the French vocalist Édith Piaf, that he considered
the finest performance of his career. Sony has since
released a live recording of that performance.
also went on a so-called "phantom solo tour" of small clubs
in the U.S., starting in December of 1996, using several
aliases including: Father Demo, Topless America,
Smackcrobiotic, A puppet named Julio, The Halfspeeds,
Crackrobats, and Martha & the Nicotines. By way of
justification, Buckley posted a note on the Internet stating
that he missed the anonymity of playing in cafes and local
There was a time in my life not too long ago when I could
show up in a cafe and simply do what I do, make music, learn
from performing my music, explore what it means to me, i.e.,
have fun while I irritate and/or entertain an audience who
don't know me or what I am about. In this situation I have
that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk,
of surrender. I worked very hard to get this kind of thing
together, this work forum. I loved it and then I missed it
when it disappeared. All I am doing is reclaiming it.
the material from the tours of 1995 and 1996 was recorded,
and has been released posthumously on albums such as
Mystery White Boy and Live a l'Olympia.
was an impassioned fan of Pakistani Sufi musician Nusrat
Fateh Ali Khan, and during his cafe days Buckley had often
covered his songs. He interviewed Khan for Interview
magazine and wrote liner notes for Khan's The Supreme
completing touring in 1996, Buckley started to write for a
new album to be called My Sweetheart the Drunk. In
1997 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he rented a
shotgun house of which he was so fond he contacted the owner
about the possibility of buying it. Buckley started
recording demos on his own 4-track recorder. He went into
the studio again, recruited a band, and plans for the new
album looked hopeful.
29, 1997, as the band's plane touched down on the runway to
join him in his Memphis studio, Buckley went swimming in the
Wolf River, a
tributary of the Mississippi River. His friend Keith Foti
remained ashore and, after moving a radio and guitar out of
reach of the wake from a passing tugboat, looked up to see
that Jeff was gone. Despite a rescue effort mounted that
night, Buckley's body was only spotted a week later by a
tourist on a riverboat and brought ashore.
widely speculated that Buckley may have committed suicide,
partly because he went swimming in the river wearing his
heavy boots. The biography Dream Brother, written
about him and his father, reveals that the night before his
death Buckley reportedly admitted to several loved ones that
he suffered from bipolar disorder. It has been confirmed by
autopsy that Buckley had taken no illegal drugs before his
swim and that a drug overdose can be ruled out as the cause
of his death.
recent statement from the Buckley estate insists:
“Jeff Buckley's death was not "mysterious", related to
drugs, alcohol, or suicide. We have a police report, a
medical examiner's report, and an eye witness to prove that
it was an accidental drowning, and that Mr. Buckley was in a
good frame of mind prior to the accident.”
Buckley's death, a collection of demo recordings and a full
length album he had been reworking for his second album were
released as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk.
Three other albums composed of live recordings have also
been released, along with a live DVD of a performance in
Director Brian Jun has
announced plans to make a film biography of Buckley, in
cooperation with his mother. A separate project involving
the book Dream Brother has not been greenlighted.
Buckley Official Website
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