Born in 1966 in California, Jeff Buckley began playing guitar at age 5. Armed with his distinct multioctave voice, Buckley emerged from New York's music scene in a big way with his first release, 1994's Grace. The album made him an eventual sensation with both critics and fans, and his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" went on to achieve a sublime standing with listeners. Three years later, just short of his 31st birthday and while recording tracks for his second album, Buckley drowned while swimming at night near Memphis, Tennessee.
Jeff Buckley was born on November 17, 1966, in Anaheim, California, from musical lineage. His mother, Mary Guibert, was a classically trained musician, and his father, Tim Buckley, was a well-known folk singer. Buckley, however, only met his father one time; the two spent a week together when Jeff was 8. The elder Buckley died of a heroin overdose at age 28, less than a year after the pair's meeting. Buckley was close with his stepfather, Ron Moorhead, and Moorhead may have had as much to do with Jeff Buckley's musical path as Buckley's bloodline in that he gave Buckley his first Led Zeppelin album, which would prove to be highly influential to the future musician.
After performing in a handful of cover bands throughout high school, Buckley attended the Los Angeles Musicians Institute after his high school graduation. Over the next several years, he played various gigs and wrote songs, looking for direction. In 1990, he moved to New York City, where he eventually joined the band Gods and Monsters, featuring Gary Lucas, the former guitarist with Captain Beefheart. It wasn't long, though, before he left the group to embark upon a solo career. He found his home away from home in a tiny East Village café called Sin-é. Some of his performances were captured on a four-song EP titled Live at Sin-é, which was released in 1993.
In early 1994, Buckley went out on his first solo tour of small venues in support of the live album, and in the summer of 1994, his first studio album, Grace, was released (on August 23, the same day he and his band began their European tour in Dublin, Ireland).
Featuring original songs such as "Last Goodbye," "Mojo Pin" and a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Grace was released to a modest reception, but found some kindred spirits in the critical realm. Buckley and his band went on tour to promote the album for almost three years, during which time the album and Buckley saw popular and critical attention grow.
In the years since its release, in fact, Grace has been lauded again and again, seemingly picking up momentum with each passing year. The album was ranked No. 303 on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list in 2003 and No. 1 on Mojo magazine's "Modern Classics: 100 Greatest Albums Of Mojo's Lifetime" list in 2006, and Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" was ranked No. 259 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list in 2004, among several other honors. An especially notable accolade was provided by David Bowie, who named Grace the sole album he would want if stranded on a desert island.
Tragic Death and Posthumous Releases
By the summer of 1996, Buckley had begun recording demos for his second album, which he intended to call My Sweetheart the Drunk. The recording sessions were held in New York City and Memphis, Tennessee, where Buckley had recently relocated. On May 29, 1997, the night his band was arriving from New York to record the final studio tracks, Buckley and a friend took a detour while en route to the recording space.
Making a stop at the Wolf River channel of the Mississippi River, a fully clothed Buckley waded into the water and began swimming. The wake of a passing boat sucked Buckley under, and he drowned. His body was recovered six days later, after it was seen by a riverboat passenger.
Following his death, Buckley's mother began working with Columbia Records on any posthumous releases, the first of which became Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (1998), a double-disc set featuring unfinished songs that Buckley had recently recorded. Two years later, the live album Mystery White Boy followed, accompanied by the DVD/VHS Jeff Buckley: Live in Chicago. In 2003, a two-disc set of his early live performances at the East Village café, Live at Sin-é, was released. In a 2002 interview with The Guardian, his mother spoke about managing her son's legacy, "I have to compartmentalize myself quite a bit. There's the musician side of me, and the businesswoman side - and the mother side of me which never turns off. But the emotions are things I have to kinda set aside. That's why I take good counsel. I've always involved people from Jeff's band. It makes it a lot easier, especially if there are any critical blows. But the work we've done so far has been well received."
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