Birthday: November 17, 1966
Died At Age: 30
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Jeffrey Scott Buckley, Scott Scottie Moorhead
Born in: Orange, California
Famous as: Singer-Songwriter, Guitarist
Height: 5'7" (170 cm), 5'7" Males
father: Tim Buckley
mother: Mary Guibert
Died on: May 29, 1997
place of death: Memphis, Tennessee
U.S. State: California
Cause of Death: Drowning
education: Musicians Institute, Loara High School
Who was Jeff Buckley?
Jeffrey Scott “Jeff” Buckley was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist who tragically garnered most of his fame posthumously. The son of American music legend Tim Buckley, Jeff grew up in a musical environment, singing around the house and in harmony with his mother. He decided to become a musician when he was 12 years old. After completing his education, he worked in a hotel for the next six years and served as a guitarist in numerous struggling bands. He spent almost a decade as a session artist in Los Angeles and later accumulated a relatively large and loyal fanbase, covering various songs at venues in Manhattan’s East Village. After making a slow transition to playing his own original material, Buckley drew attention from multiple record labels. He turned them all down and eventually signed with Columbia. Soon after, a band was formed around him and in 1994, his first and only studio album ‘Grace’ was released. He was working on a planned second album, ‘My Sweetheart the Drunk’ when he drowned while swimming fully clothed in the Mississippi River. Since his death, many of his songs have been released and they have been well-received by critics and fans alike. The music press often ranks him in lists of the greatest musicians of all time.
Childhood & Early Life
Jeff Buckley was born on November 17, 1966, in Orange, California, United States. His biological father Tim Buckley and his mother, pianist and cellist Mary Guibert didn’t really have a relationship before or after Jeff was born. He met his father only once in his life, at eight years of age. Tim died of a drug overdose in 1975.
He was brought up by his mother and stepfather, Ron Moorhead, in Southern California along with his half-brother Corey. Buckley later dubbed his upbringing as “rootless trailer trash” as the family moved around a lot.
As a child, Buckley went by the name Scott “Scottie” Moorhead but after Tim’s death, he started using his real first name and the surname “Buckley.” However, the members of his family still referred to him as “Scottie”.
He was raised in a musical household. His stepfather, while not a professional musician himself, was a devoted fan of contemporary music, and through him, Buckley learned about Led Zeppelin, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Pink Floyd at an early age. He began playing guitar at the age of five.
At the age of 12, he decided that he would one day become a musician. He was gifted his first electric guitar, a black Les Paul, at the age of 13. He studied at Loara High School and joined the school’s jazz band.
He later attended The Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California and finished the year-long course. He was 19 then. While he eventually came to regard his time at the school as “the biggest waste of time”, he did appreciate learning about music theory there.
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Jeff Buckley began his career playing guitar in numerous struggling jazz, reggae, roots rock, and heavy metal bands. He accompanied the dancehall reggae artist Shinehead on his tour and took part in the occasional funk and R&B studio session. During this period, he exclusively sang as a backup vocalist.
In February 1990, he moved to New York City, where he first experienced Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music primarily from India and Pakistan. He became an ardent admirer of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and did covers of many of Khan’s songs during his “cafe days”.
He went to Los Angeles when his father’s former manager Herb Cohen promised to help him record a demo of his original songs. Titled ‘Babylon Dungeon Sessions,’ the demo was made hoping that it would garner interest from the city’s music industry.
During this period, Buckley and guitarist Gary Lucas performed at a tribute concert for Tim Buckley. Jeff sang one of his father’s songs, ‘I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain’, which was originally written for Jeff and his mother. Jeff used the song to pay his last respects to his departed father.
In late 1991, he was briefly part of Lucas’ band Gods and Monsters, and performed around New York City with them. After leaving the band, he garnered modest fame by performing at several clubs and cafés around Lower Manhattan, including the legendary Sin-é in the East Village. These performances helped him to not only develop a loyal fan base, but also attract attention from record label executives.
Following the release of ‘Grace’ in 1994, he embarked on an international tour to promote the album. He travelled to Australia, U.K., the Scandinavian countries, France, and several other Western European countries and performed live before his fans there. In October 1994, he began a tour of the US and Canada. He also visited Japan and New Zealand.
In 1996, having finished touring, Buckley started to work on his second album, ‘My Sweetheart the Drunk’. However, he was unhappy with the initial material recorded and continued to refine the sound. The album was never completed and was released after Buckley’s death, on May 26, 1998. Despite being unfinished, it was well-received by the critics.
Jeff Buckley began collaborating with record producer Andy Wallace in mid-1993 for his debut album. After organizing a band that included bassist Mick Grøndahl and drummer Matt Johnson, he also brought in guitarist Gary Lucas to work on the singles ‘Grace’ and ‘Mojo Pin’ with him. His debut album ‘Grace’ was released on August 23, 1994, and had six songs including ‘Grace’ and Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. The album went on to become a major hit across the globe.
Awards & Achievements
On April 13, 1995, Jeff Buckley received the Grand Prix International Du Disque from The Académie Charles Cros for ‘Grace’.
In 1998, he was posthumously nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for ‘Everybody Here Wants You’.
In 2006, ‘Grace’ was cited as the number 1 Modern Rock Classic of all time by Mojo. ’Grace’ was ranked at number 303 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs.
His cover of ‘Hallelujah’ was ranked at number 259 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of 500 Greatest Songs. Buckley himself was listed at number 39 among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by the magazine in 2008.
Jeff Buckley had a whirlwind romance with Scottish singer Elizabeth Fraser in the mid-1990s. Smitten by her rendition of one of his father’s songs, he took the initiative to contact her in 1994. At the time, he was working on the release of his only album, ‘Grace’. They broke up sometime in 1995. Buckley and Fraser recorded a song together titled ‘All Flowers In Time Bends Towards The Sun’, but it wasn’t released until the 2000s.
On the evening of May 29, 1997, Jeff Buckley’s band was supposed to meet him in Memphis to work on a potential new album, having flown in earlier that day. That same evening, Buckley decided to go for a swim in Wolf River Harbor, which is a slack water channel of the Mississippi River. He was fully clothed and even had the boots on at the time and was humming the chorus of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
This wasn’t the first time that he had gone to swim there. Keith Foti, a roadie with his band, accompanied him that evening but remained ashore. He was busy keeping the radio and guitar they had brought with them dry when he realized that Buckley had vanished. A rescue effort was launched by the authorities on the same night, but Buckley could not be found. On 4 June, his body was discovered in the Wolf River near a riverboat. After an autopsy, drug overdose was ruled out and the investigators concluded that he had died of accidental drowning.
In the 2012 film, ‘Greetings from Tim Buckley’, Jeff was portrayed by American actor and musician Penn Badgley.