“He wanted to be a guitar god…”

That’s what Mary Guibert said about her son Jeff Buckley, who got his first guitar (a Gibson Les Paul) during his 13th birthday. And as years went by, her kid grew up to be a critically-acclaimed singer, songwriter AND guitarist.

Kids, get ready for a brief Jeff Buckley 101…

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He was first known as a cult figure, playing in small New York venues such as Sin-e (where he first started), Mercury Lounge and Arlene’s Grocery, and all throughout his last few years, his fan base grew, with the likes of  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (who were part of Jeff’s favorite band, Led Zeppelin during his teenage years), Debbie Harry, Bono, Chris Cornell, Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan (whose songs Buckley loved to cover in his live shows). Fans and record executives would line up in his club shows every night, proof that, while not yet in the mainstream, his talents were too great to be missed.

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Due to his well-applauded performances, he eventually released his first album, “Live at Sin-e'”, while he worked on a studio CD.

“Live at Sin-e'” is a favorite of mine as this featured his earlier, not-yet-commercialized works. Admittedly, it’s hard to single out the best song, as the entire album is perfect – giving me a taste on how it would’ve been to actually be in one of his shows.

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In 1994, he released his first, and only, studio album, Grace, and this catapulted him to rock stardom. He was elevated to the status of “Rock’s Newest Genius”, and was eventually brought to the spotlight, increasing his popularity and earning him the attention which, according to some accounts, he was never comfortable with.

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Grace, interestingly, did not sell millions, but it paved the way for him to share to the world what he is made of. Critics loved it and fellow artists started covering his songs; people finally listened to this guy who used to be haunted by his father’s (70s folk singer Tim Buckley) legacy. He became his own man, a musician respected for what he could do, what he could say and what he could offer.

Though not as intimate as “Live at Sin-e'”, the album gave us a sample of what was in his mind. It was a glimpse of Jeff Buckley’s world – which amazed fans, both old and new. Tracks like “Grace”, the Grammy-nominated Last Goodbye” (the first Jeff Buckley song I heard and loved), “Mojo Pin” (a song that is currently on my top 10 playlist) and “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” were the favorites; Bob Dylan and Elkie Brookes covers were praised; but two songs stood out as they were proof of Buckley’s musical diversity and boldness – his take on the 16th century hymn, Corpus Christi Carol, and Leonard Cohen‘s biblically-referenced “Hallelujah“.

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“Hallelujah”, though not a favorite of mine, can well be concluded as Buckley’s biggest hit, with his version being covered numerous times by various noted artists, and eventually being named as one the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” by the Rolling Stone Magazine. Ironically, it became his first and only number 1 single when it reached the top of the US Digital charts in early 2008, 2 months short of his 11th death anniversary.

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While he performed in front of thousands of people during his big tours (such as the Mystery White Boy Tour), his small-venue shows became his fans’ favorites (note: a handful of recordings are found all over the net) due to the fact that his works called for an intimate setting to be completely enjoyed. These places were perfect for him to showcase his unreleased songs and well-loved covers. Additionally, his rapport with his audience was obvious, and his personal interaction with them, apart from his usual display of great guitar skills and unbelievable multi-octave voice, created a  connection with his followers, because while he exuded confidence when he played on stage, he became down-to-earth, and sometimes endearingly self-conscious or bashful, as soon as the music stopped.

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Right before his death, he decided to step out of the limelight to work on his 2nd studio album, “My Sweetheart the Drunk”. He moved to Memphis, possibly to avoid distractions that New York City hounded him with and for anonymity, living out the pre-“Grace” life he once had.

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Insisting on veering away from “Grace”, he tediously and whole-heartedly created the songs to be included in his sophomore effort. In Memphis, his creative development did not hinder him from honing his performance skills, signing up to be a local club’s (Barrister’s) entertainment, and performing for an audience of 10 to 40 every Monday night.

Barrister’s was where he took his final bow.

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In honor of Jeff Buckley, “Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk)” was released a year after his death, featuring tracks that he had already finished, and some of his never-been-heard recordings. The change in the album title was due to the fact that it was his work-in-progress, and these songs, as his Mother pointed out, were just sketches. Tunes such as “Everybody Here Wants You” (which is another favorite of mine, as mentioned in my previous post), “New Year’s Prayer”, “The Sky is a Landfill” and “Morning Theft”, plus the cover of Genesis’ “Back in NYC”, were included in the 2-CD package, which, although not as highly-acclaimed as his previous albums (Rolling Stone chose “Grace” as one of the “Greatest Albums of All Time”), was well-received by fans and still received honors, with “Everybody Here Wants You” garnering a Grammy nomination in 1998.

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Tributes and special edition albums followed after “Sketches”, while bootlegs of non-copyrighted songs were leaked on the net, readily available to people who have not lived the Jeff Buckley Experience – like me… oh and Brad Pitt — who exclaimed, “Where have I been? Do I know nothing? And since then it’s just… been a bit of an obsession”, upon hearing Buckley’s song a few years back) . Through his music, and his live shows, we are given the chance to see Buckley, not the Rock Star, but the musical genius on the Sin-e’ stage. His fire is burning brightly in our hearts, and it’s spreading to others as well — for some of this generation’s artists, who are fans just like me, he has now become their “personal Led Zeppelin” – their idol and their inspiration.

His music lives on…just like how he wanted.

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"I don 't really need to be remembered - I hope the music's remembered." -- J. Buckley

Not bad for a kid who just wanted to be a great guitarist.

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4 thoughts on ““He wanted to be a guitar god…””

  1. Oh man! You wouldn’t believe this but I’m from the Philippines. I was just editing tags of my downloaded Jeff Buckley tracks and looking for some pictures to go with the songs on my media player and stumbled upon your page. Well, I guess Jeff Buckley’s music is still spreading, like “fire burning in our hearts…” I love his songs and can’t imagine how I spent all these years not listening to them… Thanks for this great entry.

    1. hey there, i am a huge fan of jeff! his songs fascinate me, and his story awes me (i’m currently reading his bio). let me know if you have some requests 🙂

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