Tim Buckley Biography

Songwriter, Singer (1947–1975)
American singer-songwriter Tim Buckley was known for combining folk, rock and other musical styles during his tragically short career.


American singer-songwriter Tim Buckley was born in Washington, D.C., on February 14, 1947. He grew up in Southern California and after high school he became part of the local folk music scene. He released nine albums between 1966 and 1974, and he experimented throughout his career, incorporating elements of jazz, soul and rock into his folk style. Buckley died at age 28, in 1975, of a drug overdose.

Early Life and Influences

Tim Buckley was born on February 14, 1947, to parents Elaine (Scalia) and Timothy Charles Buckley Jr. in Washington, D.C. Buckley grew up in Amsterdam, New York, until the family moved to Southern California, first to Bell Gardens and then to Anaheim. He attended Loara High School in Anaheim.

Buckley showed an early gift for singing, and he learned to play the banjo and the guitar. He was interested in various musical genres, from the classic vocals of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland to country recordings by Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to the work of jazz greats Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

A Rising Star of the Folk Music Scene

Buckley performed with the country-and-western band Princess Ramona and the Cherokee Riders before switching his interest to the growing California folk-music scene. He played in local bands The Bohemians and The Harlequin 3 in the early 1960s, until he caught the attention of a record executive from the Elektra label and was signed to record a solo album.

Buckley's debut album, Tim Buckley, was released in 1966; he had written many of its folk-influenced songs during his high school years with his friend Larry Beckett. His second album, 1967's Goodbye and Hello, ensured his status as a young star of folk-rock. Happy Sad, released in 1969, was his most commercially successful album.

Experimentation and Maturity

By the time he signed with the Straight record label in 1070, Buckley had begun to take a more experimental, genre-melding approach to his songwriting. Blue Afternoon (1969) incorporated elements of jazz. Lorca (1970) was named in tribute to the poet Federico García Lorca and utilized more avant-garde musical approaches and abstract lyrics. This prolific phase also brought the release of the jazz- and psychedelia-tinged Starsailor in 1970. Starsailor was even less accessible than Lorca, but it included Buckley's best-known single, "Song to the Siren."

Buckley's personal life had also undergone some changes. His marriage to high-school sweetheart Mary Guibert, with whom he had son Jeffrey Scott in 1966, had lasted only a year. Now divorced, he married second wife Judy Brejot Sutcliffe in 1970 and became stepfather to her son Taylor.

Later Albums and Experimentation

Buckley's three late albums failed to garner positive reviews or high sales. Greetings from L.A., released in 1972, was influenced strongly by funk and soul, and failed to find an audience. The more mainstream Sefronia (1973) and his final album, Look at the Fool (1974), were similar disappointments. By this time, Buckley was struggling with depression and drug dependence as well as career challenges.

Death and Legacy

Buckley's life and career were shockingly short: He was only 28 when he suffered an accidental overdose of heroin and died on June 29, 1975. His vocal style and his musical experimentation would influence the next generation of singer-songwriters. His son, Jeff Buckley, began a promising musical career in the 1980s and was considered a worthy successor to his father's legacy until his own untimely death in 1997. The familial and musical connection between the two men was the subject of the 2013 film Greetings From Tim Buckley.

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