Jeff Buckley Was “Like A Young Heathcliff”

On the eve of his Buckley-centric South Bank gig, Gary Lucas remembers his artistic soulmate.

Jeff Buckley Was “Like A Young Heathcliff”

JEFF BUCKLEY’S GRACE was declared this month by MOJO readers to be the 12th best album of MOJO magazine’s lifetime. One of Buckley’s collaborators on that stellar disc was avant-blues guitar maestro and former Captain Beefheart sideman Gary Lucas, who recalls his relationship with Tim Buckley’s boy on Thursday night this week at a show-slash-reading at the Purcell Rooms on London’s South Bank. “Jeff was the greatest collaborator I ever worked with,” Lucas informs MOJO, “and I was honoured to know him and share our artistic vision together - best known through the songs Grace and Mojo Pin. In fact I composed about a dozen songs in all with him, which I am extremely proud of, and hope someday they will officially be released.”

Lucas, whose book Touched By Grace: My Time With Jeff Buckley is out now on the Jawbone imprint, offers an insight into their collaboration – very much the crucial pupal stage of Buckley’s emergence as an artist.

“I would compose complete instrumental pieces and give them to him,” says Lucas, “and he would invariably come back with perfect melodies and beautiful lyrics that fit my music like a glove. I trusted him absolutely artistically in the creation of our songs, and he never failed to rise to the occasion. In fact, the title of the original instrumental I gave to him, which became the basis of Grace, was Rise Up To Be!”

In an exclusive extract from Touched by Grace, Lucas describes his first meeting with Buckley, at a Greetings From Tim Buckley Concert at Brooklyn’s Church Of St Ann in 1991:

He spoke first, in a soft but excited and intense high register: “Hey man, I’m Jeff... Jeff Buckley! And you’re Gary Lucas! Really glad to know you — I’m a HUGE fan of yours — I read all about you in Guitar Player — I know your work, man! I LOVE what you did with Captain Beefheart — and I love what you were doing just now in there!” Jeff gestured toward the chapel. “Thanks, Jeff,” I said. “You saw us rehearse?”

“Yeah, and it sounded REALLY cool,” he replied, in a breathy, intimate tone, like he was confiding in me.

“Listen... can we get together soon and work on The King’s Chain? Do you know the song? From Tim’s Sefronia album? [Greetings From Tim Buckley organizer] Hal [Willner] thought it would a really good number for us to do.”

He was imploring me with big eyes, like a puppy dog.

“Sure. I know most of your dad’s early work — I loved your Dad’s stuff you know — but I’ve got to bone up on this one first. And I have to split now. Why don’t you come by my apartment tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to work up an arrangement of this song? I live in the West Village, we can rehearse there.”

“Cool! Sounds good.”

Jeff smiled, dazzling me with a thousand-watt grin that lit up the gloomy church. Seducing everybody into his own personal orbit was very easy for him.

“How long are you in town for?” I asked.

“Dunno, not sure... maybe just for this one show. Then I’ve got to go back to LA. I just came here to pay my respects to my dad — but you know, New York is SUCH a cool place.”

I gave him my address and set up a meeting for the next day. I really liked the guy on first impression — what was not to like? He had such a sweet intensity. There was a touch of the ragamuffin orphan and the strange foundling about him — kind of like a young Heathcliff.

And I was really attracted to his wiry energy — he was so on, so present — burning with an electricity that was totally in the moment. His essential sweetness co-existed with an almost demonic intensity.

So, with those impassioned penetrating eyes alternately entreating and boring right through me, I felt compelled to ask him a very corny question, superstitious guitar magician that I am:

“So Jeff, uh — what’s your sign?”

He smiled that disarming smile again.

“Scorpio — can’t you tell?”

He had the reflexes and the lethal sting of the Scorpion all right — as I was to find out. ---------------------------------------

Gary Lucas: Touched By Grace 14 November 2013, Purcell Room, £15

Lucas talks about his new book Touched By Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley, as well as performing a solo set featuring songs from his musical collaborations with the likes of Jeff Buckley, Captain Beefheart, and beyond. More details here.

PHOTO: Touched By Grace: My Time With Jeff Buckley by Gary Lucas