Tim Buckley by Tim Buckley

1966

When I go to Spotify and enter “Tim” or “Tom”, a confusing list of American singer-songwriters from the mid 1960’s, appear including Tim Rose, Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, Tom Rush and Tom Paxton. It’s all a bit confusing. Before I get going on Tim Buckley, here’s a quick subjective rough guide to the others.

Tom Rush. Aged 80. Best album is “The Circle Game” (1968). Best song is “No Regrets”, covered by The Walker Brothers.

Tom Paxton. Aged 84. Best album is “Ramblin’ Boy” (1964). Best song is “The Last Thing On My Mind”, covered by Dolly Parton.

Tim Rose. Died in 2002, aged 62. Best album is “Tim Rose” (1967). Best song is “Morning Dew” (although his co-authorship of the song is unconfirmed), covered by Bonnie Dobson.

Tim Hardin. Died in 1980, aged 39. Best album is Tim Hardin 1 (1966). Best songs are “How Can We Hang On To A Dream” and “Reason To Believe”, both of which have been covered by everybody including The Nice, Glen Campbell, The Carpenters, Nazareth, Rod Stewart, ELP and The Lemonheads.

Tim Buckley grew up in Orange County, California, surrounded by members of The John Birch Society and other right wing zealots. Despite (or because of) the unpromising environment, within a few years, Steve Noonan, Jackson Browne and Tim Buckley all emerged from the area, playing a similar brand of folk-rock. Tim Buckley was a popular student at high school and amongst his close friends were Mary Guibert, Jim Fielder and Larry Beckett. On October 23rd 1965, Tim Buckley and Mary Guibert were married. They were both 18 years old. Just over a year later, Mary Guibert gave birth to Jeff Buckley. In the meantime, Jim Fielder, Larry Beckett and Tim Buckley formed the basis of a band they called The Bohemians. Whenever they could, The Bohemians would drive 60 miles to Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and watch bands such as The Mothers Of Invention, whose drummer Jimmy Carl Black was a work colleague of Jim Fielder at a record shop. He introduced the band to the manager of The Mothers Of Invention called Herb Cohen, who immediately signed Tim Buckley to a publishing contract and expressed an interest in helping him get a record contract as a solo act; he wasn’t interested in the rest of The Bohemians. However, he could see that Tim Buckley’s writing partnership with Jim Fielder was productive so he suggested that the two men move in together while Mary Guibert could live with Herb Cohen and his wife, helping to raise their daughter. (The Cohen’s daughter – this was before Jeff Buckley was born).

Herb Cohen sent some demos of Tim Buckley’s work to Jac Holzman, at the emerging Elektra label, who offered him a contract (on the same day that he offered The Doors their contract). Jac Holzman said “Tim Buckley was exactly the kind of artist with whom we wanted to grow – young and in the process of developing, extraordinarily gifted and so untyped that there existed no formula or pattern to which anyone would be committed.” That’s a very prescient summary of what was to follow in Tim Buckley’s short career in which he released nine studio albums in nine years, all of which had a unique sound, displaying a quite extraordinary progression between a range of different styles. He was deeply committed to not following a formula or pattern and was continually moving on to the next musical experiment.

With a new contract, Tim Buckley travelled to New York to soak up the sights and sounds of Greenwich Village. He left Mary Guibert in Los Angeles and was accompanied by Jane Goldstein who would become his roommate, lover and inspiration. In New York, he met guitarist Lee Underwood, who would become his musical soul mate.

Returning to Los Angeles, Tim Buckley recorded his first album on August 15th and 16th in 1966. The personnel on the album were Lee Underwood on lead guitar, Jim Fielder on bass guitar and Billy Mundi (from The Mothers Of Invention) on drums. Jane Goldstein recalls that “we had a blast recording the album. He went from being sort of a bum to all of a sudden making a record”. Between takes, Tim Buckley would sip Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry to keep his throat lubricated. Van Dyke Parks was brought into the studio to add embellishments on harpsichord, piano and celeste. He had, very briefly, been a member of the Mothers Of Invention (but left because he objected to being screamed at by Frank Zappa). He had met Brian Wilson in early 1966 and was helping with the composition and recording of “Good Vibrations” at around the same time as “Tim Buckley” was recorded. The string arrangements on the album were by Jack Nitzsche who had worked extensively with Phil Spector on some of his classic “wall of sound” recordings. “River Deep Mountain High”, from March 1966, featured Jack Nitzche’s orchestrations. A year after “Tim Buckley” was released, Jack Nitzche co-wrote “Expecting To Fly” with Neil Young for Buffalo Springfield’s second album. He would later become a member of The Stray Gators, Neil Young’s backing band for “Harvest” and “Time Fades Away“.

During the time that the album was recorded, Tim Buckley, Jane Goldstein, Larry Beckett, Lee Underwood and his girlfriend, Jennifer Stace, all lived together in a cheap motel on Santa Monica Boulevard. After the album was recorded, but before it was released, they needed money and they were offered a weekly gig at The Galaxy, a dance club on Sunset Boulevard, near the Whiskey Au Go Go. Herb Cohen wasn’t impressed: “I don’t want everybody in town to know that you’re playing an off-the-circuit dump like that.” They played anyway, but anonymously, with none of the punters knowing who they were. They played at another club called Bido Lido in Hollywood which was a small, one-room, back alley club with just one microphone. Very few people showed up but Lee Underwood remembers these two gigs with fondness. “The Galaxy and The Lido were our first two gigs in L.A. They are but distant remembered dreams now, cherished moments of innocence on time’s long path, little gems that forever sparkle with quiet life.” (quote from his fantastic book “Blue Melody“)

Larry Beckett collaborated with Tim Buckley for most of his career. He later wrote the lyrics to “Song To The Siren” and he wrote the lyrics to seven of the twelve songs on “Tim Buckley”. Now aged 74, he is still writing poetry and collaborating with members of Guided By Voices and The Decemberists. One of the loveliest songs on “Tim Buckley” is “Wings“, which was also released as a single. The string arrangement accentuates the power of Tim Buckley’s voice and Lee Underwood’s guitar playing is subliminally sublime. Tim Buckley had written the first verse but gave the song to Larry Beckett to finish. Larry Beckett was attending University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but when he went to a Friday night football game, he was rooting for their opponents, The University of Southern California (USC). All through the game, he was getting dirty looks every time he cheered for USC. “At halftime, I pulled out the manuscript (for “Wings”) and wrote everything you hear, the second verse, the third verse and the chorus. So that’s concentration.” However, he didn’t like the lyrics that Tim Buckley had written for the first verse and he didn’t want to have his name associated with it, so he told Tim Buckley he could have all the royalties.

And on that day your laughs and tears will die,
And fall as free as seabirds climb the skies.
And you will love when love comes your way.
And when it comes there’s nothing more to say.
And now you know he doesn’t understand,
And now you know you don’t need his hand.
One day the questions die,
On wings of chance you fly.

Grief In My Soul” is more up-tempo and typically 60’s West Coast folk-rock. Tim Buckley brought a new melody to a Bohemians rehearsal and, at the same time, Larry Beckett brought a new set of lyrics along. He remembers, “Tim started to sing the words to his new melody, and they fit perfectly as if we had written a song without even talking to each other. He gave me this look like, ‘Okay, something is going on…‘”

Whilst not displaying the unique improvisation and creativity of his later albums, “Tim Buckley” is a vehicle for displaying Tim Buckley’s five octave vocal range. David Browne, in “Dream Brother” describes his “sensuous falsetto, operatic foghorn and low growl.” Lyrically, some of the songs are about his wife, Mary Guibert, some are about his new girlfriend, Jane Goldstein are some are about Larry Beckett’s girlfriend.

Mary Guibert wrote the first verse of “Strange Street Affair Under The Blue” and Larry Beckett completed it. The pace of the song accelerates towards the end, in line with the Greek dance tradition of syrtaki, sometimes known as Zorba’s dance because it featured in the 1964 film “Zorba The Greek“.

There is a recurring theme in many of Tim Buckley’s songs. Songs such as “Happy Time”, “Buzzing Fly”, and “The Train” (from later albums) address the feelings of leaving or returning to his loved one. “Song To Jainie” on “Tim Buckley” includes the lyrics “Now it has to be say good-bye or stayin’, I don’t know, but remember please, I gave you love that’s only mine to give and Janie, don’t you know? I been tryin'”. “Jainie” is Jane Goldstein and Lee Underwood remembers her telling him that “I just wanted to fancy up my plain-Jane name, give it a little bi-zazz“.

“Tim Buckley” was released in October 1966 and failed to chart. Tim Buckley died in 1975 and was largely unknown at the time of his death, despite the magnificent body of work that he left. “Tim Buckley” has been reissued four times in various configurations. The Rhino Handmade reissue from 2010 includes both mono and stereo versions of the album on Disc One. The second disc comprises 22 previously unreleased tracks, some by The Bohemians with the remainder being demos recorded solo with a couple of poems read by Larry Beckett. This second disc is interesting and serves to emphasise how much the completed arrangements on the released disc are appealing.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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