Jeff Buckley Sings “The Way Young Lovers Do”

Listen to this track by genetically-gifted vocalist, guitarist, and solo performer Jeff Buckley. It’s a version of Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do”, recorded during club dates in July 19 (nineteen years ago today!) and August 17 1993 at a pokey little club in New York City called Sin-é (that’s pronounced shinay). The song originally appeared on the four-song live EP Live At Sin-é, which was later to be greatly expanded upon on the Live at Siné Legacy Edition in 2003.

Along with being a startling take on Morrison’s song, it represents something of a showcase as to the range of Buckley’s talent, while not getting in the way of his clear love of the source material. Buckley was of course an up-and-coming performer who happened to be the son of ’60s and ’70s singer-songwriter Tim Buckley. So the song also illustrates that Buckley had inherited his father’s roving ear for disparate musical styles. Soul, jazz, and rock all play a part in this one number alone, not to mention the other songs recorded on these dates.

It also shows that he approached the business of singing in a similar way, too; that his voice was not just an implement for delivering melody and lyrics, but rather was employed as a texture and accessory in the same way as any other instrument in an arrangement. Perhaps this ability was honed out of his habit of delivering ambitious arrangements of songs while performing the music entirely solo.

But does this song, and this set, provide any clues as to where Buckley would have gone if he’d had the chance? Read more

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Jeff Buckley Performs “Satisfied Mind”

Here’s a clip of Jeff Buckley performing one of my favourites of his cover versions, Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind”. A version of the song can be found on the posthumously released Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk), the follow-up album which Buckley was working on before his death in Memphis in 1997.

Jeff BuckleyOne of the things which most strikes me about this song, besides how prescient it is that Buckley covered it so close to his own death, is how old this song sounds. It could be a turn of the century folk tune, or at least a church hymn from the 20s. No. It was written in 1955 when it charted at #1 on the country charts by its writer Porter Wagoner. Along with “The Long Black Veil”, which was written around the same time in 1959, it’s a great example of a tune that seems to kick up the dust of a mythical past, even though the song itself was written in the latter half of the 20th century.

In any case, the song is about the folly of materialism, and the immeasurable worth of a clean conscience and happy spirit. I like to think that Buckley covered it because he was striving toward it, or perhaps even had it, before he drowned in the prime of his life and at the height of his popularity a little over 11 years ago on May 29, his body discovered on June 4. Appropriately, this song was played at Jeff Buckley’s funeral.

Rest in Peace, Jeff.

Jeff Buckley image courtesy of Merri Cyr

The Last Words of Tim Buckley

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I recently perused the official site of Tim Buckley and read the account of his tumultuous career and life as told by his long-time sideman Lee Underwood. It was Underwood who had seen Buckley through his various career phases over nine years and seven of his nine albums from 1966 to 1975. Apart from Buckely’s raw talent, and his incredible vocal range which he had developed from childhood, the thing I was struck by was his final hours, and his final words.

Buckley had struggled for many years to try and make music that he could feel good about, off the beaten track from the singer-songwriter fare of the time. A key album for him personally was Starsailor, which explored the possibilities of jazz and avant-garde forms. This was a departure from his earlier folky albums, and caused some friction between Buckley and his record company who saw no commercial benefit to his output at the time. Partially in reaction to this, Buckley’s final albums were more R&B based so that he could keep making his way as a professional musician.

Partially as a result of this very rocky artistic vs. commercial path he chose to take, Buckley’s intake of alcohol and drugs had become prodigious. However, by the mid-70s he had chosen to get clean, and even took on an excercise and vitamin regimen in order to take control of his health. However, his old habits and tendencies still lurked beneath the surface, a fact that would cause his downfall. Underwood tells the story:

On the weekend of June 28, 1975, he returned from a road-gig in Dallas. As was his custom after final performances, he got drunk, this time starting in the afternoon. Instead of returning home immediately, he went to the house of a close, long-time friend, where he sniffed some heroin.

Buckley’s system had been clean. The combined dosage of alcohol and heroin proved to be too much for him. Thinking that he was only drunk and obnoxious–on many previous occasions Buckley had ingested considerably more alcohol and drugs than this–the friend took him home. As his friend discussed the situation with Judy, Tim lay on the living room floor, his head resting on a pillow.

When his friend knelt down to ask him if he were all right, Tim almost inaudibly whispered his last words, “Bye, bye, baby,” he said.

Tim died, in debt, owning only his guitar and his amp, and he was cremated.

(read the full story about Tim Buckley’s life and career here) .

It was the last words that really jarred me; he knew that he was about to die, and with the knowledge that he’d almost made it out of the path of that oncoming train, only to fall under its wheels. Still, he left behind a legacy of music which people are still discovering today. And he left an example of artistic fearlessness too which serves as an example of how singers and songwriters of real merit operate – that forms and genres aren’t little cells from which to work, but are rather vehicles for expression to be used on the journey to being a greater artist.

His 9-year old son Jeff Buckley who he also left behind would make a name and etch out a tragic story himself some twenty plus years later.

Here is Tim Buckley performing his ‘Song to the Siren’, a song from the aforementioned Starsailor album. This is a folkier take on the tune as it appears on the record, yet just as powerful.

Enjoy!

Records I have known: Grace, by Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley GraceThe first thing I ever read about Jeff Buckley was in a local Toronto free newspaper – Now Magazine – that reviewed the then-new EP Live at Sine from a new and upcoming artist who happened to be the son of 60’s and 70’s singer-songwriter Tim Buckley. I remember being skeptical, my instant association with the sons of rock legends being mostly centered on Julian Lennon. But, that was before I heard Grace. In the review of the EP, it described Buckley as adventurous and musically ambidextrous, tackling Edith Piaf and Van Morrison with equal aplomb, while performing his own songs as well. Coming out of the fashion conscious eighties and into the early nineties, this was dangerous territory, and perhaps almost a decade later it still is. What were we to do with such an artist in terms of categorization? Was he his father’s second coming? Would he be the leading light that he seemed to be? What was he about?

Unfortunately, not many questions were answered before his accidental death in 1997. All that was left between Live at Siné and the legacy of demo tapes and first run recordings of an album that was eventually released as Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, was this sole statement completed to Buckley’s own satisfaction; “Grace”. I’m sure, based upon what his mother and inheritor of his musical legacy, Mary Guibert has said, that Buckley would want this album to be the reference point to who the man himself was and not any romanticized ideas which his premature death may inspire in writers or fans.

Quite rightly, the centerpiece of this remarkable album is Buckley’s voice, the best and most powerful instrument he had at his disposal. The voice itself could be sweet and savage, vulnerable and raucous, and the range is displayed admirably and is the binding force that holds the record together. The material is diverse, from the haunting opener “Mojo Pin”, which slowly builds to a threatening climax from Buckley’s delicate guitar figure and croon to the growling ferocity of the song’s conclusion. There is a sense of the kind of spiritual emptiness and the anguish that it causes in the title track that follows. The line “wade in the fire” which is repeated in the chorus of the title track “Grace” is reminiscent of Robert Johnson’s hellhound, tenaciously trailing the narrator, and reflected again in the song “Eternal Life” which is “on my trail”, a spiritual yearning bolstered by an angry wash of guitars, guttural bass and drums.

It is the dark side of human experience, its intrusive presence and subtle undermining nature that Buckley seems to be exploring here – what else should an album called Grace explore, this human neediness for salvation? “Lilac Wine”, a cover of a song made a standard by Nina Simone, fits the mold here as a portrait of someone trapped in the cage of hopeless love, of attachment to something which cannot be, coupled with the inability to face up to reality. Likewise, another cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” evokes the biblical figures of King David and of Samson, men of considerable power who are undone by their own weakness, delivered by Buckley in an almost childlike voice, giving the song an extra dimension of lost innocence.

The theme of loss is further explored in the soulful “Lover You Should Have Come Over”, a gospel flavoured look at love’s tragedy. The album’s closing track, “Dream Brother” is an exploration of the artists own troubled past. Having known little of his father and with only a name which “the one” has left behind, his pleading to all who would love him not be leave a remnant behind of themselves, but rather to keep their promises.

Darkness and loss cause us to ask the oldest questions – where is love? What is happiness? What is Life? Where is Peace? It is here where “Grace” finds its greatest success. It connects with human struggles without sounding forced because it is carried by a voice and a performance that can fulfill the promise of the message. We believe Buckley. We believe every note. This is a real statement of artistic merit, an acknowledgement that beauty and tragedy are facets of one another and cannot be reduced to formula, or reduced at all.

Further Listening

  • The legacy version of the original Live at Siné disc. This is a two-disc set, with more than double the music of the original release. In many ways, this is the purest form of Buckley there is; just him, a telecaster and amp, a small audience in a very small bar, and a photographic memory holding songs which extend from Led Zeppelin, to Billie Holiday, to The Band, to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
  • Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. This is the first tapes of the album Buckley was working on just before he died. It contains new tracks, along with some cover versions (including a fascinating solo rendition of Genesis’ ‘Back in NYC’) and rough demos on the second disc. At very least, get this for his take on the traditional ‘Satisfied Mind’, which was played at his funeral.

Listen to Jeff Buckley sing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’

To view the clip, hover over the image below and click the ‘play’ icon. Enlarge the viewing window by clicking the magnifying glass icon. Enjoy!

Jeff Buckley