One of my favorite unheralded albums from what I consider to be one of music’s greatest years, 1969, is Tim Buckley’s Blue Afternoon, released on Frank Zappa’s Straight Records label 50 years ago this November. Maybe I liked it because it burrowed into my moody teenage mind back then, with its at once soft and pointed blend of folk and jazz textures, dominated by Buckley’s quirky but expressive voice, his 12-string playing, and the warm hollow-body electric work of his longtime instrumental foil Lee Underwood. The album has a great flow to it, the spare instrumentation a perfect match for whatever feeling Buckley is trying to achieve lyrically song to song—in addition to the guitars, it has tasteful acoustic and electric bass, percussion, and on some tracks, vibraphone); in some ways it reminds me a little of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks from that same era.
The song that really grabbed me from the album was the one that FM radio in New York played, “Happy Time,” which was catchy and had such a nice vibe; considerably more upbeat than so many of Buckley’s tunes. Here, he performs it with guitarist Lee Underwood and percussionist Carter “C.C.” Collins on Dutch TV in the fall of 1968, shortly after the song was written.
Buckley was always an idiosyncratic artist, never really part of the mainstream, even during his earlier more folk-rock days, and Blue Afternoon was not a commercial success particularly. But I think it stands the test of time pretty well. (It’s on Spotify and iTunes if you’d like to check it out.) Buckley’s music took a number of strange turns in the early ’70s (including a seriously ill-advised move into funk), and by the time he died from a drug overdose in 1975 at the age of 28, his following, never huge, had dwindled considerably. So, another sad story of a talented but troubled troubadour who never quite found his niche in the commercial music world and could not overcome his personal demons.
As most of you undoubtedly know, too, Tim was the father of Jeff Buckley, who was born in 1966, after Tim had split with wife Mary Guibert, but was not part of Jeff’s life at all—they reportedly met just once, when Jeff was 8. It wasn’t until after Tim died that Jeff adopted “Buckley” as his surname; previously he was Scott Moorhead (his middle name and his stepfather’s last name). Jeff, who became considerably more popular than his absentee father, drowned in 1997. —Blair Jackson