10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jeff Buckley
A musical legend who died too soon, having released only one album, Jeff Buckley remains one of the most critically acclaimed, enigmatic and ethereal artists of the 1990s. In the time since his death in 1997, he has amassed a cult-like following, and his version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ has become a mainstream classic. The song has been covered by everyone from Rufus Wainwright to KD Lang and used in countless musical montages in film and on television. But there’s more to this icon than his Cohen cover. Check out 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jeff Buckley.
As a child, he wasn’t Jeff Buckley
Jeff’s full name is Jeffrey Scott Buckley, and he went by Scotty Moorehead – his stepfather’s and half brother Corey’s surname – until high school in the early ’80s, when he decided to become Jeff.
He barely knew his famous father
Jeff only met his father, Tim Buckley, a few times during his childhood, and the ’60s cult folk icon was not present in Jeff’s life. Jeff never mentioned to his friends that Tim was his father, though the elder Buckley penned ‘I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain‘ as a tribute to his ex-wife and the son he barely knew. Tim died suddenly of a drug overdose at the age of 28.
He debuted in a church
Jeff’s first solo performance was at St. Anne’s Episcopal church in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, in April 1991. He was asked to perform at tribute to his late father titled ‘Greetings From Tim Buckley.’ Billed as Jeff Scott Buckley, he performed Tim’s songs ‘Sefronia the King’s Chain,’ ‘Phantasmagoria,’ Once I Was’ and ‘I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain.’ Fittingly, after Jeff’s death, St. Anne’s held a memorial service for his New York friends and family.
He almost backed a Stone
Prior to his own musical fame, Jeff played guitar behind the actor Andrew Strong in a band promoting the movie ‘The Commitments’ at events in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. He almost backed Mick Jagger on a solo tour, but after his audition, the Stones frontman’s musical director deemed him unfit for the gig.
A hero led him to Columbia
After being courted by several major labels in the early ’90s, Jeff chose Sony’s Columbia Records because it was the home of one of his heroes, Bob Dylan. During sessions for his first (and only) album, ‘Grace,’ he recorded a version of Dylan’s ‘If You See Her Say Hello,’ which ultimately didn’t make it onto the finished LP.
He learned his craft in a coffeehouse
The building at 122 St. Marks Place in NYC’s East Village once housed the Sin-e Irish coffeehouse. Jeff played the tiny 50-seat venue frequently, explaining, “I just wanted to coast on these songs and learn to be a singer. I figured if I played the no man’s land of intimacy, I’ll learn how to be a performer.” By the end of Jeff’s residency at Sin-e, the underground buzz had attracted everyone from fawning young fans to high-powered record executives. It was at Sin-e that Buckley was discovered.
‘Last Goodbye’ was his last chance — and it paid off
‘Grace,’ released on Aug. 23, 1994, on Columbia Records, failed to make much of an impact on the charts. It wasn’t until May 1995, when the label pushed hard for the second single, ‘Last Goodbye,’ that his career took off. Nine months after its release, with ‘Last Goodbye’ in constant rotation on radio, MTV and VH1, the album entered the Billboard charts at No. 174.
He once phoned it in (in a good way)
Radio host Nicholas Hill once phoned Buckley during an episode of his legendary WFMU radio show, ‘The Music Faucet’ and requested a tune. Buckley obliged by singing and playing harmonica on a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released.’ His literally phoned-in performance shouldn’t have worked, but it did, and his wonderful rendition showcases Jeff’s sense of humor, as well as his musical talent.
He was a certified looker
In May of 1995, Jeff was named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. He was mortified.
He’d gone to Memphis seeking relief
Feeling the need to escape the madness of New York City and the pressure he was feeling to write and record his sophomore album, Jeff relocated to Memphis. It was there, on May 29, 1997 — the day his band flew in from NYC to begin recording — that Jeff unexpectedly drowned in the Wolf River Harbor. He was last seen floating on his back singing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ before he disappeared. He was 30 years old.