The gifted guitarist, singer and songwriter Jeff Buckley would have turned 45 years old today. As a young boy growing up in Southern California, Buckley’s first musical obsession was Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. His mother remembers him playing the record so often the grooves wore out. The tables were turned in 1994 when Buckley released his debut album, Grace, and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page found himself listening to it constantly. Page thought Buckley was the greatest talent to emerge in decades. It was an auspicious beginning.
Sadly, the young man died before he could finish a second album. In 1997, at the age of 30, Buckley was waiting for some bandmates to arrive for a recording session in Memphis when he decided to go for an impromptu swim in a slackwater channel of the Mississippi River. Sober and in good spirits, he went into the water fully clothed, with his boots still on, singing along to a boombox playing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” A tug boat passed, and a roadie friend who was on the shore scrambled to move the boombox and a guitar away from the boat’s wake. When he turned back around, Buckley had disappeared.
Buckley never had a hit record in his lifetime, but his following has steadily grown since his death. His brilliant remake of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (in the video above) went to the top of the iTunes download chart in 2008.
To learn more about this remarkable artist you can watch the 2002 BBC documentary, Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You. (See below.) The one-hour film features rare footage of Buckley’s early performances and interviews, along with commentary by Jimmy Page, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and many of the people who were close to Buckley, including his mother. It chronicles his early work as a guitarist in Los Angeles, his emergence as a singer and songwriter in New York, the making of Grace, and the ghost that was always shadowing Buckley: the complicated legacy of his famous biological father, the folk singer Tim Buckley, who he barely knew, and who also died young.