Jeffrey Scott "Jeff" Buckley (also known as Scott Moorhead, November 17, 1966 – May 29, 1997) was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. Despite passing away at only 30, with only one studio album and a handful of EPs to his name, he is fondly remembered as one of the most inspired and influential singer/songwriters of the 1990s.
The son of Tim Buckley, his first public exposure was in New York City singing and playing guitar with the loosely knit supergroup Gods and Monsters. After that, he worked in Los Angeles, singing mostly cover songs until he garnered the interest of Columbia Records, which led to the creation of his first and only studio album, Grace, released in 1994. Working on that album was Record Producer Andy Wallace, who previously made a name for himself mixing Nirvana's Nevermind.
Buckley spent much of the next two years promoting Grace. Sales of the album were mostly lackluster, and the songs received little play on the radio. Despite that, he was a critical darling and received almost entirely positive reviews. His cover of "Hallelujah" was noted as one of his best efforts and among the greatest songs of all time. Jimmy Page even called Grace his "favorite album of all time", high praise from the man Buckley counted as one of his chief influences.
In early 1997, Buckley moved to Memphis to begin work on his second album, recording 4-track demos at his house in preparation for a recording session with Wallace, while also playing gigs at Barristers', a small club in downtown Memphis underneath a car park. But then tragedy struck.
On May 29, 1997, he disappeared while going for an evening swim in Wolf River Harbor, a channel of the Mississippi river; having waded out into the river, fully dressed, while shouting the lyrics to "Whole Lotta Love", he was swept away while a friend was moving their belongings away from the incoming tide. His body wasn't found until June 4. After an autopsy, it was confirmed that Buckley had taken no illegal drugs or alcohol, and his death was entirely accidental.
After his death, it was decided by Buckley's mother to release an incomplete version of Jeff's second album, My Sweetheart the Drunk. Due to the album's unfinished nature, it was retitled Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. The album itself is even less known than its predecessor, but among serious fans it has the status of being just as good, if not better, than Grace. That being said, the album is obviously unfinished, with many songs suffering from poor audio quality and general oddities in terms of songwriting.
In the years since, Buckley's popularity has grown. "Hallelujah" eventually became the number 1 single on iTunes for a time, and several of his demos were released posthumously.
Two movies based on his life have been made: Greetings from Tim Buckley, played there by Penn Badgley, and Mystery White Boy (a nickname Jeff often went under whilst touring), played there by Reeve Carney.
Studio and Live Discography:
His work provides examples of
- Break Up Song: "Last Goodbye", "Forget Her" and "Lover You Should've Come Over"
- Calling the Old Man Out:
- "Dream Brother", in a roundabout way. The song itself is warning to a friend who was self-destructing, but Buckley makes reference to his own father (who walked out on Jeff and his mother when she was still pregnant and died of a drug overdose when Jeff was 8). He met him only once and the lyric "don't be like the one who made me so old" is a subtle but clear Take That!. During at least one live performance of this song, he adds an additional few lines just before one of the verses, one of which is "you're just like him" several times.
- "What Will You Say" was mainly written by Jeff's friend Chris Dowd, and Jeff only helped with some parts of the song. Nevertheless, one can imagine that Jeff felt the song hit pretty close to home, regardless of who wrote the words. In some performances, Jeff changed the lyrics from "Father, do you hear me? [...] Do you even care?" to "Did you even care", suggesting that he was addressing his own father, who was dead.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: One of the defining traits of Buckley's live shows was his tendency to interact with the audience by spoofing his favorite artists. A lot of the interviews conducted with him also feature him going off on tangents. This aspect of his personality is especially prominent on the Live at Sin-é EP.Jeff: Boy, I hope I can pull this into some sense now!
Interviewer: You can do it. Come on, focus!
- Cover Album: You And I is one, minus a version of "Grace" and an unreleased song "Dream Of You And I".
- Cover Version: He had quite a few... "Lilac Wine", "Corpus Christi Carol", "Yard of Blonde Girls", "Back in N.Y.C." and "Satisfied Mind", for starters. Not to mention "Hallelujah", which is arguably the song he's most widely known for.
- Epic Rocking:
- There exists a 26 minute version of "Kanga Roo" that pretty much plays this to the letter.
- Also, Buckley's cover of "Back in N.Y.C.", originally written by Genesis.
- Jeff had a couple of songs with special live remixes called "Chocolate" versions. The most famous of these are "Mojo Pin" and "Kanga Roo". The former can easily be found on YouTube. The latter not so much.
- He also stretched out "The Way Young Lovers Do" by Van Morrison to 12 minutes in concert.
- Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Jeff's cover of "Je N'en Connais Pas La Fin", originally written by Édith Piaf.
- Generation Xerox: Whilst Jeff's music was more conventional than Tim's, there are some at times, eerie similarities. On occasion, Tim would use falsetto screams in his music that sound extremely similar to Jeff's. Both of them mixed softer folk music with avant-garde heavier forms of music . The open tunings and use of 12 strings made them stand out. They also owed a lot of their popularity to their looks which attracted female fans. Of course, the similarities do end with the fact that Jeff had a significant influence from punk and grunge, genres that didn't exist in Tim's day.
- Genre Roulette: Jeff started off making punk and hard rock (heard on his Babylon Dungeon demo tape), went on to experimental folk and rock music with Gary Lucas (with Gods And Monsters and on the retrospective Songs To No One) and then became an acoustic covers artist (heard on Live At Sin-E). When he made Grace, it featured material from all these periods, plus "So Real", which had been newly written. My Sweetheart The Drunk would have continued in this vein but also took on some ambient and trip hop influences (which are particularly noticeable on its only single, "Everybody Here Wants You").
- Greatest Hits Album: So Real - Songs From Jeff Buckley, which was released to capitalise on the popularity of Hallelujah. It has two tracks of interest to fans, a previously unreleased live rendition of The Smiths' "I Know It's Over" plus a previously promo-only acoustic version of "So Real". Despite this, it's largely regarded as a pointless release due to it only collecting from two proper albums and some live material.
- Grief Song:
- "Hallelujah", "Forget Her", "Opened Once" and "Lover, You Should Have Come Over." "What Will You Say", may also count, as the lyrics must surely have made Jeff think of the relationship he never got to have with his father. Jeff admitted in an interview that he had great admiration for Tim as a musician, despite what he thought of his parenting skills.
- Many of his songs off of Sketches, with "I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted To Be)" particularly standing out.
- "Forget Her", which Buckley wrote after breaking up with his girlfriend. As a result, the song brought up such painful memories that he refused to include it on his first album (It was eventually released on the Legacy Edition of "Grace", however).
- Incredibly Long Note: Several astonishing ones in "Mojo Pin". Also, one note in "Hallelujah" lasts 23 seconds.
- Intercourse with You: Not often, but "Your Flesh is So Nice" absolutely reeks of this. It's about two lesbians having sex (with Jeff being one of them somehow).
- Messy Hair: Jeff liked playing with his hair, and in some pictures he sports a hairstyle not unlike Giorgio Tsoukalos from Ancient Aliens. After he was voted #12 on People Magazine's list of "50 most beautiful people" in 1994, he started dyeing it black and let it get greasy, in an attempt to shake off the pretty-boy image.
- Older Than They Look: He's between 26 and 30 in most pictures. People who met him were often assuming that he was in his early 20s.
- Rearrange the Song: Numerous examples:
- Eternal Life was recorded as the Road Version, which was more hard-rocking and released as a single.
- The version of "I Know We Could Be So Happy (If We Wanted To Be)" on Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk is a reworked, four track version of a song he recorded with a full band a year earlier (which leaked). It was chosen over the full band version despite its rawness because it was the last version he recorded, and thus reflected the version he would have recorded had he decided to include it on the final album.
- Reconstruction: While his music was undeniably indebted to the indie rock of his age, he completely averted the Perishing Alt-Rock Voice and re-introduced the sweeping falsetto tenor from classic rock into alternative music.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: Picture this: You're listening to Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, which is full of Nightmare Fuel. Finally, you get to the penultimate song on the album, "Jewel Box", which is one of the prettiest love songs Jeff ever wrote. It's jarring, to say the least.
- Title-Only Chorus: "Hallelujah"
- Three Chords and the Truth: Averted, his songs made frequent use of jazz chords and adventurous modulation.