I’d heard the name Jeff Buckley. It was usually said in reverent tones, with that slight inflection in the voice that suggested some terrible tragedy.
Mostly, I’d heard it said that his version of Leonard Cohen‘s hallelujah was possibly the greatest cover of any song ever.
But I wasn’t familiar with his music or his story. I didn’t even know if he was still alive.
And then a couple of years ago I decided to find out what all the fuss was about. I clicked on the YouTube video of hallelujah by him. It’s a dark, moody, sepia tinted video. My first thought was that he was extremely good-looking and so young. For some reason I wasn’t expecting that.
And then, after tuning his guitar, he began to sing. I was mesmerised. I was transported to that magical somewhere that great music and an incredible voice can take you.
After that I began to do a little research and like many before me, I soon became fascinated, almost obsessed, with finding out more about Jeffrey Scott Buckley, who I discovered, had died in 1997. He drowned in the Mississippi River, while going for an evening swim in his boots.
There was clearly a story there but even without it there was something so compelling about this young man that I wanted to know more.
And what I discovered was a phenomenal, unearthly, heart grabbing voice, awe inspiring guitar playing and a very funny man who appeared to have been a truly unique presence in the lives of those around him.
I also discovered that his fans included -and just look at this roll-call – : David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Adele, John Legend, Chris Cornell, Bob Dylan, Lana Del Rey, Suede, Brad Pitt, Boy George, Jennifer Aniston, U2, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and many more!
I saw that, having recorded just one studio album, the magnificent Grace and an EP, he was listed high up in the top 100 greatest rock vocalists of all time.
His short performance at Glastonbury is also listed in the all-time greatest top 50 performances there.
Hollywood has been trying to make a biopic about him for decades, with any number of Oscar-winning actors keen to play him and there are numerous books and documentaries about his short life.
Brad Pitt admitted that he was obsessed with the guy at one point. And if you go on the Internet it’s clear that there are many people who are equally passionate about knowing more about this man who burned so brightly but for such a short time.
Buckley was also a great champion of Pakistani qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
And I was astonished, in my search for his music, to find a live rendition by him of a Nusrat classic, sung in Urdu. So, this young American, not only took on a song by a master (a bit like deciding to do a cover of Pavarotti) but he performed it in a language he didn’t know, in front of a demanding hipster audience. How could you not want to know more about an artist like this?
If you don’t know Jeff Buckley and his work, I hope this short article has encouraged you to find out more.
I also recommend Instagram accounts:
And @jeffbuckleymusic (the official account run by his estate.
@not_with_you_but_of_you_ig is an Instagram account which is a visual companion to a blog notwithyoubutofyou(dot)blogspot(dot)com.
The blog is a treasure trove of Jeff Buckley music, videos, interviews and articles.
I recently had a transatlantic Zoom meet-up with the fan behind the account.
She explains how there’s ‘life before Jeff and life after Jeff’.
Cliched as it sounds she speaks of finding his music as like a religious experience. And how he was the ‘complete package’