Odds are there is an album on the Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest of all time that you’ve never heard. An album that Jimmy Page, Brad Pitt and Bob Dylan have all given over-the-top praise to. One that David Bowie said he would take with him if he could only take one piece of music with him to a deserted island. And one that was written by a man that has been referred to as ‘the greatest songwriter of all time’.
Jeff Buckley was born in Anaheim, California in 1966. Raised by his mother and a stepfather, he was uprooted many times as a child, forced to live all over Orange County. Mom was a classically trained pianist and cellist, while the stepfather was simply a huge fan of classic rock. Buckley would often sing with his mother around the house and eventually would pick up a guitar around age five after finding one in his grandmother’s closet.
Led Zeppelin’s ‘Physical Graffiti’ was the first album he ever owned, and Zeppelin would be credited as being the most influential band for him—giving him the passion to start a music career. He began playing in a band at age 12 and moved to Hollywood immediately after high school to start his musical journey.
After struggling in Cali for a few years, Buckley flew to New York in 1991 to participate in a tribute concert for his deceased father. Held at a church, he received rave reviews and it was the break that he’d been searching for. He began singing more shows in NYC and garnering more and more attention. It would lead to his debut album, Grace, being released in August of 1994. The album was instantly met with critical acclaim, but sales were slow initially. With it being a slower, more vocal record, it struggled to find major radio play. Fast forward 20 years, and the album has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and shows up on every major list as one of the greatest records of all time.
This sort of modern era folk rock was just not something you heard in 1994. This timeframe was about angst and rebellion, whereas Jeff Buckley was singing ballads and showing off his tenor vocal range that could go between four octaves. It’s really hard to put into words the impact this album has on you. It’s haunting, yet beautiful – there’s this undercurrent to the music, something that seems impossible to pinpoint what makes it so fascinating. Every time I pick it up, I can’t put it down for a good couple weeks, and that seems to be a central theme with many. Perhaps the best word to describe this album is “art,” in which it’s the very definition. Too many mid-90’s artists were pumping out music because it was hot – but Buckley put his heart and soul into this, and it truly shows.
Jeff Buckley passed away in 1997 in what would be ruled as an accidental drowning in the Wolf River Harbor near Memphis, Tenn. After an evening where others described him as being “incredibly happy,” Buckley took a swim, entering the water singing his favorite Zeppelin tune. After a passing tugboat cleared the horizon, Buckley was gone, only to be found two days later. No drugs, alcohol or foul play was suspected, just a sad day for music. Despite Buckley’s tragic passing, his music lives on. Give Grace a listen today; it’s so worth $5 dollars.
Top 3 Tracks: