Today marks the 20th anniversary of Jeff Buckley’s death and I can’t even explain why I am still not over it when I wasn’t born to witness it. Nevertheless, his music means so much to me and discovering his small yet mighty discography was the best music discovery I’ve made.
Everyone has a story about how they first heard their favourite musicians so as a celebration of Jeff Buckley’s life and legacy I’d love to share my story.
I first heard Jeff Buckley’s name dropped a few times by my favourite rock musicians. When I was 15 I kept on hearing Matt Bellamy of Muse regard Buckley as one of his main inspiration in pursing a falsetto dominant vocal performance.
I’d always been a fan of musicians singing in falsetto but when I heard Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ from his debut album of the same title I was stunned. He manipulated his voice like an instrument and took falsetto singing that was once used by Bee Gees and the Beach Boys and combined it with alternative rock. He was and still is so influential as a singer-songwriter and musician. His debut album, ‘Grace’ says it all and sadly it’s the only full studio album he released.
With each song his voice fluctuates from intense high-pitched screams to soft choral falsetto to fit to the emotion of the song. Each feeling is translated aptly through guitar and vocals, and enhanced with Matt Johnson on drums, Mick Grondahl on bass and Michael Tighe on guitar. The combination of the 4 transcended Buckley’s music from what was dubbed as rock to a mixture of a plethora of genres. Tighe once described the music as somewhere in between Nina Simone and Led Zeppelin. I’d agree.
Although I was not ever privileged to listen to his music live, I still get so much from listening to the recordings of his performances. When I first heard his recordings at New York coffee house: Sin-e, I was stunned. Not only did it strip back all of the extra strings and percussion on the neatly finished Grace; it revealed a few of his songs in their rough acoustic form. His wit, charm and humour adds to the atmosphere of the performances with multiple outtakes on the released album. The moment I realised that he was getting at something interesting was when he performed a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s song: Yeh Jo Halka Halka. (listen here)
His appreciation for Qawwali music and attempt to sing in a different vocal dialect in performance was brave and downright awesome.
Sadly passing away before he could release his second album, Buckley left a masterpiece of a debut album, many live sessions and covers and a rough sketch of an unfinished album. Although ‘Sketches from my Sweetheart the Drunk’ was unfinished there was definitely promising material there that would have been wonderful to hear finished.
Jeff Buckley’s oeuvre expresses the intensity of the wonderful experience of life. Some moments are entrenched in loss, pain and anger whilst others are full of love, hope and grace. For me, he encapsulates all this chaos in his music perfectly.
His magnificent vocal control, insane falsetto, creativity and pursuit for perfection in his craft still inspires me today. I live for and love music that continues to give, even after it’s maker is long gone. So, 20 Years on, I’m glad Jeff Buckley can still live on in his music and in my memory.