A Happy Sad Starsailor from Washington D.C.

Before I entered the glamorous and exciting world of the rock n’ roll business on a full-time basis, I used to “work” (a rather loose expression you understand) for one of the country’s larger construction companies, not as you’d wickedly like to imagine in the guise of a bricky or a road-digger, but in a laboratory staffed by agreeable and well-meaning people most of whom probably thought I was completely mental. There were however three or four such people to whom music, in one form or another, meant a great deal and who would happily while away the day discussing the merits of anybody from Wild Man Fischer to David Ackles. One of the subjects that did arise more than any other it seemed, was the music of Tim Buckley, and this article is, in a way, a result of the interest and enthusiasm that came about whenever his name was mentioned. That, and the fact that astonishingly enough, I was given the chance to interview him only weeks after starting at ZigZag.

He’d come over as part of Warner Brothers’ campaign to launch the DiscReet label in this country, and as well as being interviewed about a dozen times, he recorded a spot for the Old Grey Whistle Test, and made a couple of radio appearances. When I met him, he was accompanied, as always, by his manager Herb Cohen who tried to keep a watchful eye on the proceedings, but soon succumbed to the dreaded “jet-lag” and promptly snored his way through the whole interview. Anyway, I talked to Tim for a couple of hours more and we went through the whole story, one which I hope you’ll find as interesting to read as it was to compile.

– Beginnings –

Timothy Charles Buckley III was born in Washington DC on February 14th 1947 and spent the first ten years of his life living in Amsterdam, New York, before moving with his family to Southern California, first to Bell Gardens, then Anaheim. According to an ancient Elektra press hand-out: “Tim’s mother listened to Sinatra, Damone, and Garland, and Tim listened to Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash. When he was in the ninth grade at school he taught himself to play the banjo — and that was the beginning.” Encouraged by his father, he “took up guitar, and played in a bunch of country bands. The only one that toured was Princess Ramona and the Cherokee Riders. I got to dress in a yellow hummingbird shirt and a turquoise hat and play lead guitar. I was about 15. I’d get $60 a week plus gas money and a room, I’d usually stay at a motel next to the bar.”

At the advice of Princess Ramona herself, Tim turned his attention to folk music and started playing the folk clubs around LA where he soon earned himself quite a reputation. Cheetah magazine, in their admiration for Buckley, christened him, Jackson Browne, and Steve Noonan, The Orange County Three, a title that brought him wide recognition and respect, and was a fair indication of the media’s reaction to him.

“I met Jackson and Steve at a club… folk music and stuff… and they were working, viable writers at the time — early 60s. And comparatively recently Jackson has come out on his own, which is a very long time overdue.”

By that time, Tim’s own personal taste in music had expanded to include jazz, and rock n’ roll, as well as folk and country music… people like Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. His own close musical associates included high school friend and poet Larry Beckett, whose words he has put to music with great success throughout his recorded career, and Jim Fielder, whose own musical past includes spells with Buffalo Springfield, The Mothers of Invention, and Blood Sweat & Tears. The three of them worked together around LA until one day, at a club called It’s Boss, they met Jimmy Carl Black, drummer with the Mothers, who offered to arrange a meeting with Herb Cohen (the Mothers’ and Lenny Bruce’s manager), in order to secure some sort of management deal. Tim got to see Cohen at a club on Sunset Strip called The Trip, and “I just told him that I was a singer/songwriter with a repertoire of twenty or so songs.” Herb was sufficiently impressed to take him on, and he booked him into New York’s Night Owl Cafe in the summer of 1966. To throw a young lad of nineteen in at the deep end, as it were, may have seemed something of a risk, but despite the fierce competition in New York at the time, Herb was smart enough to realise that Buckley’s obvious talent would show through and that he wouldn’t go unnoticed. In fact Herb did more than that. He knew exactly which record company to approach for a contract and made sure that Tim got the best possible treatment. The company was of course Elektra Records , and the following quotes, again from an old obscure Elektra press hand-out, are Jac Holzman’s:

“Herb called to tell me that he had a new artist, that he thought we were the best label for that artist, and that he was sending us, and no one else, a demo disc with about six songs on it. I didn’t have to play the demo more than once, but I think I must have listened to it at least twice a day for a week… whenever anything was bringing me down, I’d run for the Buckley; it was restorative. I asked Herb to arrange a meeting, but I had my mind made up already. We spent a late afternoon together, and my belief in Tim was more than confirmed. I explained to Tim that Elektra was growing in a creative direction at that time, and that he was exactly the kind of artist with whom we wanted to grow — young and in the process of developing, extraordinarily and uniquely gifted, and so “untyped” that there existed no formula or pattern to which anyone would be committed. Tim understood that we understood, and he knew we wanted him for the right reasons.”

Not surprisingly, in the light of Elektra’s reputation at the time, the admiration was mutual, as Tim explains:

“Jac Holzman was great because he didn’t sign anybody that wasn’t multi-talented. He signed people who could take care of themselves pretty much. That’s what made him great. And that’s what made every album he put out a piece of work. He had an uncanny ability for coupling a producer with a group or artist that could make magic. And on my second album Jerry Yester and I got together and he did what a producer is supposed to do — not get in the way of the song, and the artist’s feeling for it. It’s very tricky sometimes with a singer/songwriter because you just cannot be objective about what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s not commercial and you overdo it for the general public’s ear. But yeah, Elektra was a very sturdy label and I was lucky to be a part of it. I really loved it.”

Tim Buckley

Tim Buckley

So Buckley was signed to Elektra and released his debut album Tim Buckley in October 1966.

“Most of the songs on that album are high-school songs or just after that, and the musicians on the album, well we were living together — Lee Underwood (lead guitar), Jim Fielder (bass), Billy Mundi (drums), and Van Dyke Parks (keyboards).” You no doubt know that Mundi was once with the Mothers and later with a band called Rhinocerous, who later themselves produced three albums for Elektra. The name of Van Dyke Parks of course speaks for itself and as he was one of the many people that Pete and John interviewed in the States, there just might be the chance that we’ll be printing his own story in the future. The string arrangements on the album are by Jack Nitzsche, it was produced by Paul Rothchild and Jac Holzman, engineered by Bruce Botnik, and recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles.

All twelve songs on the album are originals, and seven of them were written with Larry Beckett.

“Larry’s in Portland now… he’s still a writer and a poet. He’s writing a thing now on Paul Bunyon — has been for the last three or four years. It’s nearly completed and there’s no way to explain it — it’s an eighty page poem. It’s stuttered with American slang and the whole legend of Paul Bunyon. It’s just a whole American legacy he’s working on, quite removed from commercial antics and music. He’s not too involved with that. However, he can write a hell of a song. He writes pornographic songs and plays piano and guitar.”

Well I don’t think that any of the songs on this album could be termed pornographic… most of them are love songs of some sort or another and they’re all marked to some degree by the innocence and confusion of adolescence. There are however some really excellent compositions here, ‘Valentine Melody’ and ‘Song Slowly Song’ being my two personal favourites. But above the quality of the songs and the instrumental work, there is one feature that stands out on this album, and indeed all of Buckley’s albums, and that’s his incredible voice. It’s an opinion often quoted by many people who usually seem to know what they’re talking about, that the two most expressive, versatile, and controlled voices in contemporary music belong to Van Morrison and Tim Buckley. It only takes one listen to any of his songs to realise the truth of that statement. Lillian Roxon summed it up quite nicely in her Rock Encyclopaedia when she said:

“Nothing in rock, folk-rock, or anything else prepares you for a Tim Buckley album, and it’s funny to hear his work described as blues, modified rock n’ roll, and raga rock when, in fact, there is no name yet for the places he and his voice go…. His albums are easily the most beautiful in the new music, beautifully produced and arranged, always managing to be wildly passionate and pure at the same time.”

During late 1966 and early 1967 Tim made a prolonged visit to New York where he shared a bill at the Balloon Farm with The Mothers of Invention, and then later, Downstairs at the Dom with Nico. Appearances in California included the Troubadour in Los Angeles and a number of festivals including the Magic Fountain Music Fair in San Francisco. In April ’67 he was playing the famous Cafe Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village where, by now, admirers flocked from all over to see him. One such person was apparently Brian Epstein who had been advised by George Harrison, on the strength of the album, to take a look at this bright new talent.

In June 1967 Buckley was back in LA recording a second album that was to leave the first one miles behind, and pave the way for perhaps the finest and most delicate “soft-rock” album to emerge from California — Happy/ Sad.

Goodbye and Hello

Goodbye and Hello

Anyway, this was Buckley’s second album, released in September 1967, with Jerry Yester credited as Recording Director and Jac Holzman as Production Supervisor. To quote yet again from Elektra’s very informative press release of the day: “One will never forget the colossal exhilaration at the Elektra offices when the tapes came in. Holzman, who heard them first, knew instantly that the time for Buckley’s real emergence was now at hand, but rather than simply announce this as a fact, he played the tapes for each department director in turn, and each in turn also knew instantly that “this is it.” A massive promotion was launched, the only goal being what the album and artist merited.” The album is, sure enough, quite remarkable. Buckley’s voice is just superb with a range and power that defies description, and the songs are consistently good… three of them brilliant, and one a pure classic. ‘Carnival Song’, ‘Hallucinations’, and ‘I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain’ are the sort of tracks you don’t forget in a hurry, and ‘Morning Glory’, Buckley’s most covered song, is a rock classic in every sense of the word.

“It was very hard for me to write songs after Goodbye and Hello because most of the bases were touched. That was the end of my apprenticeship for writing songs. Whatever I wrote after that wasn’t adolescent, which means it wasn’t easy to write after that because you can’t repeat yourself. The way Jac had it set up, you were supposed to move on artistically, but the way the business is, you’re not. You’re supposed to repeat what you do, so there’s a dichotomy there. It’s a problem, and I don’t think there’s anybody who you can talk to who doesn’t face it. People like a certain type of thing at a certain time and it’s very hard to progress.”

The personnel listing for Goodbye and Hello is quite lengthy and, I think worth a brief discussion. Lee Underwood and Jim Fielder remain from the first album, and Carter C.C. Collins on congas and percussion, who is featured on four of Buckley’s albums, appears for the first time. “He’s from Boston, that’s where I met him. He’s now playing with Stevie Wonder.” Then there’s Dave Guard (kalimba, tambourine). “Dave’s from the Kingston Trio. Like all of these guys, he’s a working musician of the road which is what I like to work with — they know what people hear as opposed to what a producer hears. Working with Dave Guard was really a great thing… he played banjo for the Kingston Trio and he was a terrific fellow. On the album he played kalimba, which is an African finger piano and is now very popular — but at the time it wasn’t. He was also writing a book for deaf and dumb kids. Great guy. I don’t know where he is now, although I think he moved to Australia.” The other musicians are Brian Hartzler (guitar), John Forsha (Guitar), Jimmy Bond (bass), Eddie Hoh (drums), Don Randi (piano, harmonium, harpsichord), and Jerry Yester (organ, piano, harmonium).

Being released in late ’67, Goodbye and Hello coincided with the “love, peace, flowers, beads and acid-rock” movement that had reached its peak in San Francisco. How much Tim Buckley associated or was influenced by what was going on there seems a fairly relevant point, as this album and the next two, captured that spirit in the purest and most musically valid sense, exposing most effectively, some of the shambolic pretensions that surfaced in the name of West Coast rock music.

“I’m not really too influenced by what’s going on. I’m not a reporter. I go on energy and spirit and not anything metaphysical or religious or anything like that. I feel in fact that sometimes that’s dangerous, because it gets in the way of the one-to-one thing with people. You start seeing and feeling that you see an all-knowing force in the universe, when you should be dealing with getting it on with your old lady or neighbour or something… mowing the lawn and drinking at week-ends… you get away from the simple things. Trying to solve the problems of the universe is a bunch of nonsense a lot of the time.

“It was really a very tragic period in San Francisco at that time because of the acid casualties, and I know you had them here because I played a club somewhere in the bowels of London, and the tragedies of the drug scene were pretty apparent even when it was beautiful. And as a performer you see it pretty quickly because that’s your audience most of the time. There were a lot of people who had no business doing drugs. In Goodbye and Hello it was very adolescent — I took sides whereas now I can’t. I said the establishment was wrong… Okay it’s wrong, but I didn’t have an answer. All I was really doing was stating points of view, which is cool… It’s a good song [the title track] and it was very important at the time. I felt very strongly about all the things happening. The actual title of the album… It’s a little difficult to remember exactly how we arrived at that… something like you say goodbye to bad things and hello to good things.”

The critical and relative financial success that the album enjoyed was, all the time, being matched by his popularity and respect as a performing artist. For the first time, Buckley was headlining such places as the Cafe Au Go-Go and the Troubadour, and he was reaching as wide and receptive an audience as is possible for a solo artist. 1968 saw him working on the road almost continually, until at the end of the year he recorded Happy Sad. Before that was released here though, he made a fleeting visit to these shores (early 1969) to play a concert on the same bill as the Incredible String Band at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I didn’t see him, but a couple of people I know who did, say he was stunning, and I can well believe it.

Happy Sad

Happy Sad

Produced by Jerry Yester and Zal Yanovsky (of Spoonful fame of course), Happy Sad was released early in 1969 to overwhelming critical acclaim and to an audience who had rightly come to love and trust anything with Buckley’s name to it. My feelings about this record have been laid down before, but I’ll repeat them here because, for me, they still hold true. Happy Sad is the classic Buckley album… dream-like, evocative, and musically adventurous and complex… a record that identifies totally with the spirit of the Elektra label in the late sixties. The second cut on side one, ‘Buzzin’ Fly’ is a near-perfect piece of music in every way. A simple guitar introduction, an emphatic chord sequence on vibes overlaid, and then everything stumbles beautifully into time as the song rolls along with Buckley’s voice soaring and diving in amazing fashion. That track, and indeed the whole album, is just magic.

The musicians are Lee Underwood and Carter C. C. Collins again, John Miller (acoustic bass), and vibes player David Friedman, who’s now working with Wayne Shorter and Weather Report.

“I really loved doing that album, I’ll tell ya. It was really a break-out period of time for me musically. Yeah, ‘Love from Room 109 at the Islander’, ‘Buzzin’ Fly’, ‘Sing a Song for You’, ‘Dream Letter’… I was writing, I’ll tell ya that. We had a ball doing that. ‘Love from Room 109 at the Islander’ was recorded in a hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and it was quite simple. I arranged it for harp and vibes and I couldn’t find a harp player in a studio that could cut it… I didn’t know about Alice Coltrane at the time, she hadn’t come on the scene. She was playing somewhere in Michigan but I hadn’t heard her. And after I recorded it, I saw her on the Today show, and I said “damn!”… because I wanted that thing that the ocean gave.”

One of the remarkable qualities of Happy Sad is the incongruous feeling that it sounds loose enough to be totally improvised, but tight enough to make you think that it’s arranged.

“The trick of writing is to make it sound like it’s all happening for the first time — that’s what it’s all about, so that you feel it’s everybody’s idea. It took a long time for me to write that album, and then to teach the people in the band, but they were all great people so it was really a labour of love, the way it should be.”

And that’s just what it sounds like. At the time of its release, Pete Frame wrote what I consider to be a very sympathetic and perceptive review of Happy Sad in ZigZag but he just about threatened to hurl me in the North Marston phlegm vats if I dared to print it, so pretentious and embarrassing did it now seem to him. However, if you’ve got that particular copy, it’s well worth reading while listening to the record. And if you haven’t got the record… what are you, some kind of lunatic or something?!?

Blue Afternoon

Blue Afternoon

Buckley’s fourth album, released late in 1969, and produced by himself. “I recorded Blue Afternoon, Lorca, and parts of Starsailor in the same month. I was hot. Blue Afternoon was a lot of songs that I didn’t have finished from the first, second, and third albums. And I knew Jac Holzman was going to sell his company, which really upset me, so I figured well, I’m going to do what I think is best and get a contract so that I can continue at the rate I was going, which was approximately one album a year. So I finished up all those songs for Blue Afternoon in New York City and now I still do ‘Cafe’ and ‘Blue Melody’ every once in a while, and ‘The River’… they’re just good songs, they just work and they’re fun to play.”

[Part Two]

Alright, where were we? Oh yes, Blue Afternoon. But first of all apologies for the delay in getting this second part to you. Any of you at all familiar with Buckley’s work will realise that the latter half of his total recorded material is by far the more complex and demanding, and it took about twenty plays each of Lorca and Starsailor before I could gather my own thoughts together in any coherent form, and even now, they’re both nearly as hard and jagged on the ear as when I first heard them some four years ago.

Still, more of that later. We’ll continue where we left off with an appraisal of Blue Afternoon, Buckley’s fourth album, and his first for Straight Records. The personnel listing is the same as for Happy Sad, except for the addition of a drummer, Jimmy Madison, and the general theme and feel of the album is equally similar. As Buckley has said, Blue Afternoon comprised a lot of songs that he didn’t have finished from the first three albums, and he probably needed to get them out of his system before embarking on the style of music exhibited on Lorca and Starsailor.

“When I did Blue Afternoon, I had just about finished writing set songs. I was just writing differently and I had to stretch out a little bit.”

The one obvious indication of things to come, on Blue Afternoon, is a track called ‘The Train’ which has a very loose, jazzy structure with lots of atonal staccato guitar work and an imaginative, but by this time not totally surprising, exhibition of Buckley’s vocal abilities. The rest of the album is, as mentioned though, very much like Happy Sad, which means it’s great. The opening track is ‘Happy Time’ which has a beautifully straightforward melody and lightness of touch that he unfortunately seems to have sacrificed to some extent as of late, and the other three tracks on side one, ‘Chase the Blues Away’, ‘I Must Have Been Blind’, and ‘The River’ are all in the same class. The vibes playing of David Friedman deserves special mention for its taste and imagination throughout. Listen to his work, and Madison’s dramatic use of cymbals, on ‘The River’ and marvel at the tension created with such simple but effective use of instrumentation. the first side of this album is, if the truth be known, as good as some of the finest moments on Happy Sad. Side two is musically very similar, but lyrically it has more than an edge of sadness and despondency to it, exhibited in titles like ‘So Lonely’ and ‘Blue Melody’. A gem of a record though, and one I know I’ll keep playing even when I’ve finished this article and the music of Tim Buckley is dripping out of my ears. As Dick Lawson said in an old issue of Friends: “Albums of such gentleness, beauty and profound sadness are impossible to write about, to put down in words. You go with it, or you don’t… each cut is a hymn to a number of different shades and depths of Buckley’s mood.” How very true.

Lorca

Lorca

Buckley didn’t have an awful lot to say about this album, which he owed Elektra and was his last for them, and it may or may not be some indication as to the way he feels about it. Released in 1970, it was probably deemed “years ahead of its time,” such is its wayward, uncomformist structure. Again the album features Lee Underwood on electric guitar and piano, and Carter C.C. Collins on congas, but John Miller is replaced by John Balkin on bass, and both David Friedman and Jimmy Madison are absent. Lorca is really an album of two basic styles which often overlap and sometimes collide, providing results which range from inspired to confusing. There are only five tracks, none of them under five minutes in length. Side one contains the title track, nearly ten minutes of it, opening with a doomy, menacing organ sound and featuring a lot of fast, jazzy keyboard work and vocal acrobatics. The other track on side one is ‘Anonymous Proposition’, which is deathly slow with Buckley singing his deepest, most resonant voice over some adventurous and at times frantic bass and guitar work. A truly weird side that demonstrates the free-form, avant-garde jazz style that contrasts quite sharply with parts of side two like the first cut, ‘I Had a Talk With My Woman’, which is a comparatively simple, melodious song with a lot of very tasty guitar work, and neat conga playing giving it a constant rhythm — something in short supply on this album. ‘Driftin’ does just what the title suggests — slow and relaxed, capturing the feel of his earlier records on one or two occasions. And then there’s the concluding track, ‘Nobody Walkin’, which is very up-tempo highlighting Lee Underwood’s keyboard work and Buckley himself on strident rhythm guitar.

Overall, not a completely satisfying album I would venture, but an important one for him nonetheless, as it leaves behind one style and commences on another in a way that jars and provokes nearly as much as it soothes and pacifies. I think only devoted Buckley fans would be able to take that.

Starsailor

Starsailor

The least comprehensible and most demanding Tim Buckley album to date. Most of it is so strange, both lyrically and musically, that I prefer not to exercise my confused critical faculties lest I get too wrapped up in its many complications. By now, Buckley is working very much in the seemingly limitless confines of jazz, although he admits that on Starsailor he went about as far as he could as a singer in that syndrome. Certainly, I think if he went any further he’d do permanent damage to his voice, such is the way he tortures it here. Many people, at the time of its release, and in retrospect, have said that it’s an “important’ and “innovative” album, and I’ll probably cause a lot of anger and startled expressions of disbelief when I say that to me it sounds erratic, forced, disjointed, and very very difficult to listen to all the way through.

The first three tracks, ‘Come Here Woman’, ‘I Woke Up’, and ‘Monterey’ demonstrate the physical limits of Buckley’s voice — often painful to comprehend, backed by frenetic, formless bass and guitar that would do the original Mahavishnu Orchestra credit, although the playing here is nowhere near as loud or intense. There then follow two tracks which are almost totally dissimilar in structure to each other and the rest of he album — ‘Moulin Rouge’, a comparatively conventional song, almost attractive in its simple European flavour, and partly sung in French. And then there’s ‘Song To The Siren’, my favourite track, mostly because it bears the greatest resemblance to his earlier work. A prejudiced and probably unfair judgment (I’m sure Buckley himself would think so), but then that’s just my own personal opinion. The whole of the second side is total weirdness. At various times I can hear snatches of the Magic Band, John Coltrane, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and several other artists from both rock and jazz and areas in between, but I honestly don’t feel prepared to unreservedly recommend it to anyone but the most open-minded and patient listener. It requires a fair amount of effort and concentration, and as I said at the beginning, it’s taken me at least twenty plays to be able to keep up with it and understand fully what’s going on all the time. I think Starsailor is my least favourite Buckley album, but I can appreciate the thought and motivation behind it, which, for me, makes it far from dismissable. The musicians on the album are the same as on Lorca except the the conga-playing of Carter C.C. Collins is absent and instead there’s Buzz Gardner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bunk Gardner on alto flute and tenor sax, and Maury Baker on tympani. Incidentally, the songwriting credits feature Larry Beckett for the first time since Goodbye and Hello, and he had a hand in four compositions on Starsailor.

Greetings from L.A.

Greetings From L.A.

“There’s a lot of space between Starsailor and Greetings from LA when I didn’t record, because I knew I was repeating myself. There was nothing to write, nothing to settle into. I hope to make it all clear on the “live” album, what my intentions were.” (See further on.)

“I actually took a rest after Lorca and Starsailor. I took a year off, and then started up with Greetings around the middle of 1972. ‘Cause I’d been going strong since 1966 and I really needed a rest. I hadn’t caught up with any living.”

So, a long gap, nearly two years actually, and then Greetings From L.A. appears, revealing a drastic change in style. Buckley has moved on yet again, this time adapting his talents very much to mainstream rock — simple, rhythmic and very out-front. His band is now completely different, a basic line-up of himself on 12 string guitar, Joe Falsia (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass) and Ed Greene (drums), but in fact twenty different musician in all were employed on the album including people like Kevin Kelley on keyboards (who, of course played drums for the Byrds on Sweetheart of the Rodeo and then with an LA band called Jesse, Wholf and the Whings — album on Shelter), Carter C.C. Collins and King Errison (congas), and vocalists Clydie King, Venetta Fields and Lorna Maxine Willard.

At the time Buckley said: “I listened to the radio a lot before writing the songs for this album. There’s a lot of radio music in it. It’s full-out blues-type barrelhouse rock. The album really rocks, and I’m very pleased with it.”

Which just about sums it up really. It’s the sort of album to blow the aural cobwebs away, expertly arranged, overloaded with energy and excitement, and demonstrative once again of Buckley’s class and adaptability as a vocalist. ‘Move With Me’, ‘Nighthawkin’, ‘Devil Eyes’ and ‘Make It Right’ are straight-ahead rockers with the minimum of elaboration and the accent on hard, solid playing. The lyrics to most of the songs (Larry Beckett again contributes on a couple of occasions), are of the type not quite suitable for family listening, and when I made the comment that Greetings was his most accessible album to a wider audience, he replied that descriptive sex usually is, which will give you some idea of what to expect. All things considered though, a pretty remarkable album and a refreshing one also to people like myself who felt slightly alienated by Starsailor.

Sefronia

Sefronia

Released in 1973, Sefronia seems to me like a refinement and expansion of the style established on Greetings. ‘Honey Man’, ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Peanut Man’ (sounding very much like Harry Nilsson’s ‘Coconut Song’) are all energetic rockers with catchy riffs and superb guitar work, while there are magnificently soulful ballads like ‘Martha’, ‘Because of You’, and, to a lesser extent, ‘I Know I’d Recognize Your Face’. There are also songs like ‘Dolphins’ and ‘Stone in Love’ which are pure Buckley, and if you’ve played any of the records I’ve recommended so far you’ll know just what I mean, so enough said. Of the title track, Buckley says that it is the best thing he’s written in a long time, and although I personally wouldn’t go as far as to say that, it is a very fine song nonetheless.

Again, there are many musicians used on this album including Lee Underwood who, alas, only plays on one track, ‘Dolphins’. But the basic band, discounting Buckley, only includes one previous member, guitarist Joe Falsia. The rest are Bernie Mysior (bass), Buddy Helm (drums), and Mark Tiernan (keyboards). However, the standard of playing is as high as ever, and coupled with the excellence of practically all the compositions, it makes this my favourite Tim Buckley album since Blue Afternoon.

Before we move on to he latest album, Look at the Fool, mention must be made of one of Buckley’s rare appearances in this country, at Knebworth in July of this year. To my eternal disgust he was placed first on the bill, before the likes of the Alex Harvey band and the Doobie Brothers! — but his was certainly one of the best acts that took the stage that day. His band consisted of Art Johnson (guitar), Jim Fielder (Bass — he of Buffalo Springfield, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Mothers of Invention fame, of course), Mark Tiernan (keyboards) and Buddy Helm (drums).

Buckley himself was superb, his incredible voice bellowing, wailing, soaring and diving all over the stately grounds of Knebworth, and when they broke into ‘Buzzin’ Fly’… well that made my day. His repertoire consisted mainly of material from Sefronia, including a sparkling performance of ‘Dolphins’, but there was a fair selection of old stuff as well, just to balance it out nicely. A great set which left me regretting that he’d never come over here more often, and hoping that he’d come back soon.

Look At The Fool

Look At The Fool

Originally to be called Another American Souvenir, this is an album that somehow I expected so much of, but was quite seriously disappointed with. Only the title track and a song called ‘Mexicali Voodoo’ make it for me, and if it wasn’t for the quality of Buckley’s vocals, then the rest of the album would sound quite anonymous. It’s not a straight rock album by any means, if anything it veers more towards, dare I say it, a funky soul sound, which is fair enough, but the song themselves are definitely not among his best work and in the case of one track, ‘Wanda Lou’, encroach dangerously near rip-off territory. Now that’s something I’m sure all Buckley freaks will regard as a cardinal sin for him because if anything he’s always been a pioneer and an innovator in whichever style of music he’s chosen to work with. ‘Wanda Lou’, incidentally, is so much like ‘Louie Louie’ that I secretly suspect it might be a piss-take of some sort, but having spoken to the man and got to know him quite well, I would tend to think it rather unlikely.

I don’t really want to say anything more about the album at this point, but I shall keep playing it, out of a weird sense of duty more than anything, and hope that it improves with age.

Now that “live” album that was mentioned earlier:

“I’m really happy about doing this because I need a break from writing and this will be a record where I can be arranging and putting it together on a different level. Just sort of reviewing everything. It’ll cover the while gamut — all my albums. I’d like to have every song be played by those people who originally recorded them on the albums. I’d love that… a little dream there y’know? But I know I’m going to have to make a compromise, you can’t have fifteen people on it. I don’t know if or how it will all be rearranged, but I do know one thing I won’t be doing and that’s ‘Goodbye and Hello’. There’s no way to do that without the orchestra. It just wouldn’t be the same. That was, for me, a one shot thing in the studio because so much work went into it. There are a lot of things like that — you just do it, but you never do it again.”

As far as I know at the moment, there are no immediate plans for the release of such an album so I presume that the project has take much longer to complete than expected. However two things are certain. Firstly, a “live” album (maybe a double) will be released at some stage — it’s not one of those pie-in-the-sky cuckoo ideas that a lot of musicians seem to propagate with alarming frequency, and secondly, when it does appear it’ll be dynamite. I get impatient just thinking about it.

Well that’s all the records and historical paraphernalia covered., but during the course of the interview Buckley talked with authority and great conviction about music generally, American culture, and other related subjects.

– Music –

TB: What do you think of music that’s happening today, here and in America, in ’74?

ZZ: It’s a very complex question as far as I can see. There are a lot of things going on which I think are healthy in a lot of ways. I don’t know whether there’s any music that’s got the magic of say, six or seven years ago, but there are enough good records, and enough talented people to keep one occupied.

Well, maybe it was because of the interest in music. It seemed like everything depended on music in the ’60s. Protest movements, the flower-power thing, the acid rock, the acid rock game, now our lives don’t depend on that message.

No, not to a certain extent. But I still think it’s important.

Yeah, I think so. But I don’t think the general…

Well, they’ve cheapened the value of it. They take it for granted, or they cheapen the values of people. I don’t know, it’s a strange thing about the grass always being greener. A lot of American bands come over here and get very favourable receptions, and the same goes for our bands who go to the States.

It is uncanny, because both countries seem to ignore their natural resources. I have a very strong current there, but it’s not the Top 40 syndrome. You can say the same thing about Ray Charles, but still he plays in big places. I think the longer you are around and if they know you are going to play, and you are not a coy entertainer, say, like most of the groups who don’t play a lot, they’ll say “Maybe we’ll put out this album”, and they are assured of a certain amount of success. Somehow they’ve done that. What happens with someone like Ray Charles of B. B. King, they’re players. You go and see them instead of putting them on the Top 40, ’cause they’re around. And to me you are more of a part of the culture that way because somehow the Top 40 is not the culture. I don’t know why.

Well it’s anonymous a lot of the time.

Yeah. That’s it, it’s anonymous. So like when Foghat go to America, or The Strawbs, they do the entire country and then go back through it again and become part of the culture. Whereas someone like Marvin Gaye never plays. So the only taste people get of him is to buy the album, which is good in one respect, but really kinda tragic in another, because he never gets the real feeling from people. Whereas Ray always does, or Stevie Wonder always feels people. Can’t live without them. You don’t know if you’re writing if you don’t play for people.

I can only see it from this side of the Atlantic, but there seems to be people in the States, especially the West Coast, they seem to be geared to secluding themselves as much as possible.

Yeah, on the West Coast they actually are. They really isolate themselves from the cities where more active living is going on. I can’t strike an analogy with anybody here because I don’t know how things are done here as far as people play, but I think it’s very important to play Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Boston, the South, and not stay in Los Angeles. Because in Los Angeles you are just with people who are hearing the same notes, and you become a cult instead of a personality. That’s a dangerous trap to get into and I know that’s what’s happening.

See, everyone’s playing just about the same thing right now, and that’s been happening for the last three or four years because I guess it’s a business. You know, you say something sounds like them or like that, I can really see it ’cause everyone’s relating to the same thing over there. The same kind of music. That’s what was nice about the ’70’s. Bill Graham would book Clara Ward, gospel music with somebody like B. B. King, and then something like Pharaoh Saunders. You’d have four different types of music there. What changed was the battle of the guitar night, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, all of them on the same bill, and it was really monotonous, and not really culturally good for an audience. What it did was milk an audience for a certain style. Try and make it more important than something else. Which is always dangerous in the long run, culturally, because it has to burn out. Then the tragedy of music burning out is that there are people involved in the music that burn out. So Bill Graham was the “hippest ” of all the promoters because he put together a show that was America. That’s sad, because it’s really needed now, in my opinion.

It was like when an audience goes to see a director’s movie it was almost like going to see Bill Graham’s show, you understand? And so, you were up for an evening… it was like Jac Holzman, you weren’t afraid to buy an album from him. Right now I don’t think there is a personality like that, that you can depend on. And that’s the problem. That’s really the problem. That’s why when I asked you the question about what do you think is going on, too much of the same thing is going on, because people are forced to copy each other to exist. Black and white. English and American. That’s not good.

Are there any originals do you think?

Well, there are some that may emerge. Dr. John is always very unique and fun. Miles (Davis) will always be unique, whether anyone likes him or not or he will always come out smelling like a rose ’cause he’s a giant. Cleo has just made a phenomenal impression on America. Cleo Laine. As far as groups, the Mahavishnu thing, well that’s dissolving. That had a very healthy effect.

You think so?

Oh yeah. In America anyway.

I saw them once over here and they just blew my brains out, they were very loud and very fast.

Well let me tell you about Foghat and all those people. The English aren’t exactly the softest sounding groups. The thing that’s nice about people like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, and stuff like that, is that they cook at a musical level, and they don’t have to plug into the Grand Cooley Dam to get it off, y’know, they get it off between themselves and the people. It’s a cook, it’s not a bombardment of World War Two. You know the one that did it, that really made it was Jimi Hendrix because it was him. But before him was John Coltrane who did exactly the same thing except without the electronics. You felt an involvement there with the person, that’s the important thing. So there are people, there are writers, but it’s moving out of music. It’s moving into politics, moving into journalism.

– Involvement with Films –

I read somewhere that you were working on film scores.

They were a little too expensive the for shape the business is in. They were all comedies. If you find anybody that’s interested the door is always open to discuss a million dollar script.

Are you still interested in doing it?

Oh yeah. I believe in what I wrote, I always do.

You’ve got everything you’ve written?

Yeah, I just have two scripts but very few people are prepared to come up with the money. And those who are don’t see eye to eye with the viewpoints. When you’re talking about a million dollars you’re talking about… they can’t really believe in what you’re saying. It’s a little hard to flim flam a million dollars.

(Buckley has in fact, appeared in professional productions of Edward Albee’s Zoo Story and Sartre’s No Exit, and one of the scripts he talks about is titled Fully Airconditioned Inside, which he will probably be turning into a book. According to the latest Warner press release on him he is also adapting Joseph Conrad’s novel Out Of The Islands into a concept album with Larry Beckett.)

And that, I suppose, is just about it. While preparing this article, simply for my own enjoyment, I compiled a tape of my favourite Tim Buckley tracks and while playing it through, the thought occurred to me that a “Best Of” album would be quite something. Of course the number of different record companies involved and the contractual difficulties would probably make such an album almost impossible to release, but there’s no harm in day-dreaming, so what about this for a Tim Buckley sampler:

Side One: Valentine Melody (Tim Buckley); Carnival Song (Goodbye & Hello); Hallucinations (Goodbye & Hello); I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain (Goodbye & Hello); Morning Glory (Goodbye & Hello).

Side Two: Buzzin’ Fly (Happy Sad); Sing A Song For You (Happy Sad); Happy Time (Blue Afternoon); Dolphins (Sefronia); Martha (Sefronia).

And that’s without taking anything from Lorca, Starsailor or Greetings from LA.

Lastly, a few acknowledgments. To John Masters and Maija Deer for re-kindling my interest in Buckley, to all you loyal readers to whom Tim Buckley’s music means so much that you were moved enough to write me threatening letters, to Herb Cohen for falling asleep during the interview, and to Nigel Williamson who wrote a nice article on Buckley for a future issue of Fat Angle – I mercilessly plundered it for info – many thanks. Oh, and of course, regards to the man himself, who, believe it or not, is coming back over in February to play a few dates. Wahoo!! (to coin a well-used ZigZag phrase.)

– Andy Childs
(ZigZag 47-48, October-November 1974)