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February 94

The Arrival Of Jeff Buckley by Bill Flanagan

A talented Young Musician learns to navigate the record business while protecting his music.

Jeff Buckley, 26 years old and halfway through making his first album, takes at Bearsville recording studio in Woodstock, New York and talks about dislocation that comes from having to nail your dreams to a reel tape, and from becoming part of the Sony Corporation, the multinational that owns Columbia Records, Buckley's new label.
    "I'm aware that it's hard," Buckley says. "I'm aware of the past; I know about Columbia and Sony and other big places. I'm not talking about Sire or SST. I'm talking about big fucking Michael Jackson money. I was wary at first that they didn't know how to do anything small, but I'm really determined and think it will work out for the best." He stops and thinks and then adds, "I know it will. I have to take them at their word that they understand, but you know how people are. Their actions will say exactly what they mean. And sometimes they need a little help. I can't really totally trust anybody in the music business. I've been brought up not to."
    Jeff was brought up in southern California by a mother who loved the Beatles and had had a brief teenage marriage to her high school boyfriend, Jeff's father, Tim Buckley. Tim never knew the son he left behind when he headed east to make a career as a singer/songwritter. At 21 Tim was a star. At 25 Tim had been rejected by a music business that deemed him difficult. At 28 Tim was dead of an overdose. Jeff grew up playing Little League, singing along with the car radio and knowing little about his natural father. But he had inherited his father's good looks and he had inherited his father's remarkable voice. He also had inherited  strange characters like his father's old manager, who used to check in periodically to see how the kid was progressing, if he was showing any musical tendencies, if he was interested in getting into show biz. When Jeff says he was brought up not to trust anyone in the music industry, he's not kidding.
    Which made his situation even more confusing when Jeff's gifts led him through hard rock and reggae bands in California, through an L.A. guitar school, and then to New York City, where for two years he was pursued by A&R men, managers, sidemen and other representatives of the record business he resisted and the music he loved.
    Now he settled on a label and he's living inside the result, the creation of a much-anticipated debut album. Producer Andy Wallace plays back a string overdub for Buckley's scrutiny. Jeff nods along in agreement until a pizzicato section tiptoes up the song's build. He makes a face. "You don't like that at all?" the producer asks.
    "It sounds like shopping music," Buckley says, and starts picking out the sequence on his guitar. "White pumps!" Buckley also rejects a bit where the strings echo his taped guitar line. He is being scrupulous in his attention to every aspect of this album. He has to be. His hole life is riding on it.

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