Jeffrey Scott Buckley (November 17, 1966 – May 29, 1997), raised as Scott Moorhead, was an American musician and singer. After a decade as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, Buckley amassed a following in the early 1990s by performing cover songs at venues in East Village, Manhattan, such as Sin-é, while gradually focusing more on his own material. After rebuffing interest from record labels and Herb Cohen—the manager of his father, singer Tim Buckley—he signed with Columbia, recruited a band, and recorded what would be his only studio album, Grace, in 1994.
Over the following three years, the band toured extensively to promote Grace, including concerts in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Australia. In 1996, they stopped touring and made sporadic attempts to record Buckley's second album in New York City with Tom Verlaine as the producer.
In 1997, Buckley moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to resume work on the album, to be titled My Sweetheart the Drunk, recording many four-track demos while also playing weekly solo shows at a local venue. On May 29, 1997, while awaiting the arrival of his band from New York, he drowned during a spontaneous evening swim, fully clothed, in the Mississippi River, where he was caught in the wake of a passing boat; his body was found on June 4.
Since his death, there have been many posthumous releases of his material, including a four-track collection of demos and studio recordings of his unfinished second album My Sweetheart the Drunk, expansions of Grace, and the Live at Sin-é EP. Chart success for Buckley came posthumously; with his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", Buckley attained his first number one on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs in March 2008 and reached number two in the UK Singles Chart that December. Rolling Stone included Grace in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and included Buckley in their list of the greatest singers.
Born in Anaheim, California, Buckley was the only son of Mary (née Guibert) and Tim Buckley. His mother was a Zonian of mixed Greek, French, and Panamanian descent, while his father was the son of an Irish American father and an Italian American mother. Buckley was raised by his mother and stepfather, Ron Moorhead, in Southern California, and had a half-brother, Corey Moorhead. Buckley moved many times in and around Orange County while growing up, an upbringing Buckley called "rootless trailer trash". As a child, Buckley was known as Scott "Scottie" Moorhead, based on his middle name and his stepfather's surname.
His biological father, Tim Buckley, was a singer-songwriter who released a series of folk and jazz albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and who he said he only met once, at the age of eight. After his biological father died of a drug overdose in 1975, he chose to go by Buckley and his real first name, which he found on his birth certificate. To members of his family he remained "Scottie".
Buckley was brought up around music; his mother was a classically trained pianist and cellist, and his stepfather introduced him to Led Zeppelin, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Pink Floyd at an early age. Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti was the first album he owned, and he has noted hard rock band Kiss as an early favorite. He grew up singing around the house and in harmony with his mother, and later noted that all his family sang. He began playing guitar at the age of five after discovering an acoustic guitar in his grandmother's closet. At age 12, he decided to become a musician and received his first electric guitar, a black Les Paul, at age 13. He attended Loara High School and played in the school jazz band; during this time, he developed an affinity for progressive rock bands Rush, Genesis, and Yes, as well as jazz fusion guitarist Al Di Meola.
After graduating high school, he moved to Hollywood to attend the Musicians Institute, completing a one-year course at age 19. Buckley later told Rolling Stone the school was "the biggest waste of time", but noted in an interview with DoubleTake Magazine that he appreciated studying music theory there, saying, "I was attracted to really interesting harmonies, stuff that I would hear in Ravel, Ellington, Bartók."
Buckley spent the next six years working in a hotel and playing guitar in various struggling bands, playing in styles from jazz, reggae, and roots rock to heavy metal. He toured with dancehall reggae artist Shinehead and also played the occasional funk and R&B studio session, collaborating with fledgling producer Michael J. Clouse to form X-Factor Productions. Throughout this period, Buckley limited his singing to backing vocals.
He moved to New York City in February 1990 but found few opportunities to work as a musician. He was introduced to Qawwali, the Sufi devotional music of Pakistan, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one of its best-known singers. Buckley was an impassioned fan of Khan, and during what he called his "cafe days", he often covered Khan's songs. In January 1996, he interviewed Khan for Interview and wrote liner notes for Khan's Supreme Collection, Vol. 1 compilation. He also became interested in blues musician Robert Johnson and hardcore punk band Bad Brains during this time. Buckley moved back to Los Angeles in September when his father's former manager, Herb Cohen, offered to help him record his first demo of original songs. Buckley completed Babylon Dungeon Sessions, a four-song cassette that included the songs "Eternal Life", "Unforgiven" (later titled "Last Goodbye"), "Strawberry Street" (a different version of which appears on the Grace Legacy Edition), and punk screamer "Radio". Cohen and Buckley hoped to attract attention from the music industry with the demo tape.
Buckley flew back to New York early the following year to make his public singing debut at a tribute concert for his father called "Greetings from Tim Buckley". The event, produced by show business veteran Hal Willner, was held at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn on April 26, 1991. Buckley rejected the idea of the concert as a springboard to his career, instead citing personal reasons regarding his decision to sing at the tribute.
With accompaniment by experimental rock guitarist Gary Lucas, Buckley performed "I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain", a song Tim Buckley wrote about an infant Jeff Buckley and his mother. Buckley returned to the stage to play "Sefronia – The King's Chain", "Phantasmagoria in Two", and concluded the concert with "Once I Was" performed acoustically with an impromptu a cappella ending, due to a snapped guitar string. Willner, the show's organizer, later recalled that Buckley's set closer made a strong impression. Buckley's performance at the concert was counterintuitive to his desire to distance himself musically from his father; Buckley later explained his reasoning to Rolling Stone: "It wasn't my work, it wasn't my life. But it bothered me that I hadn't been to his funeral, that I'd never been able to tell him anything. I used that show to pay my last respects." The concert proved to be his first step into the music industry that had eluded him for years.
On subsequent trips to New York in mid-1991, Buckley began co-writing with Gary Lucas, resulting in the songs "Grace" and "Mojo Pin", and by late 1991, he began performing with Lucas's band Gods and Monsters in New York City. After being offered a development deal as a member of Gods and Monsters at Imago Records, Buckley moved to Lower East Side, Manhattan, at the end of 1991. The day after Gods and Monsters officially debuted in March 1992, he decided to leave the band.
Buckley began performing at several clubs and cafés around Lower Manhattan, but Sin-é became his main venue. He first appeared at Sin-é in April 1992 and quickly earned a regular Monday night slot there. His repertoire consisted of a diverse range of folk, rock, R&B, blues, and jazz cover songs, much of it he had newly learned. During this period, he discovered singers such as Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Van Morrison, and Judy Garland. Buckley performed an eclectic selection of covers from a range of artists from Led Zeppelin, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bob Dylan, Édith Piaf, Elton John, the Smiths, Bad Brains, Leonard Cohen, Robert Johnson and Siouxsie Sioux. Original songs from the Babylon Dungeon Sessions, and the songs he'd written with Gary Lucas were also included in his set lists. He performed solo, accompanying himself on a borrowed Fender Telecaster. Buckley stated he learned how to perform onstage from playing to small audiences.
Over the next few months, Buckley attracted admiring crowds and attention from record label executives, including industry maven Clive Davis dropping by to see him. By the summer of 1992, limos from executives eager to sign the singer lined the street outside Sin-é. Buckley signed with Columbia Records, home of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, for a three-album, nearly $1 million deal in October 1992. Buckley spent three days in February 1993 in the studio with engineer Steve Addabbo and Columbia A&R representative, Steve Berkowitz, recording much of Buckley's solo repertoire. Buckley sang a cappella and accompanied himself on acoustic and electric guitars, Wurlitzer electric piano, and harmonium. These tapes remain unreleased in the Columbia vaults, but much of this material later surfaced on the Grace album. Recording dates were set for July and August 1993 for what would become Buckley's recording debut, an EP of four songs which included a cover of Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do". Live at Sin-é was released on November 23, 1993, documenting this period of Buckley's life.