The Tim Buckley Archives


Once He Was - The Tim Buckley Story

by Paul Barrera

NOTE: This is the forward to Paul Barrera's two-in-one book

When I was asked to write the story of Tim Buckley I was aware almost at once that there were certain parallels to be drawn between the career of Tim and that of Nick Drake.

First and foremost both these singer-songwriters had precocious talents, Nick Drake was born in 1948, Tim Buckley in 1947, so they were approaching the music business on opposite sides of the Atlantic at the same time.

Tim Buckley was first into the recording studio in 1966 at the age of 19, Nick followed in 1969 when 21. It is known that Nick was listening to Tim's second album Goodbye and Hello, recorded in 1967, re-listening now there are similarities in style. Very few songs from either singer were ever immediate enough to be hit singles but they both had their moments.

Their entrance into the music business proper were remarkably similar. Tim Buckley was observed performing by Jimmy Carl Black, the drummer of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Jimmy Carl Black brought the singer to the attention of Jac Holzman, the owner, manager, publisher, producer, jack of all trades at his own Elektra Records. Nick Drake was seen by Ashley Hutchins, the bass player with Fairport Convention, and brought to the attention of Joe Boyd, the owner, manager, publisher, producer, jack of all trades at Witchseason Records. Joe Boyd was also head of Elektra Records Europe. There was yet another connection. Joe Boyd had leased his Incredible String Band to Jac Holzman at Elektra, rather than to his usual outlet, Chris Blackwell at Island Records.

A tape was made by Tim for Jac Holzman, and the exact sequence was performed by Nick Drake for Joe Boyd. Both Jac and Joe so enjoyed the tapes that they decided there and then to record first albums for these singers. Strangely, after Joe Boyd started and sold yet another record label, Hannibal, to Rykodisc, he took a position as director of Rykodisc and thus remained in control of Nick Drake's life work.

There is a similarity between the early albums of both Nick and Tim, with Happy Sad and Bryter Layter both have the same sensitivity, both albums are essential for any self respecting collector. Tim and Nick both became extremely poor in search of artistic integrity. Tim finally gave in to commerciality after his Starsailor album did not sell, Nick never lived long enough to prostitute his art, he did however criticize many who had. Tim was a realist with a family to feed, Nick had doting parents who were always there for him in his time of need.

In Tim's songs the protagonists were for the most part people involved in his everyday life, for Nick they seem to be more fragments of his imagination. Do we really know who Betty, Jeremy, Jacomo, Mary Jane, Hazey Jane or Joey are, or are they intended to be anyone living or dead? There are also similarities between survivor Leonard Cohen's first three albums and those of Nick Drake. Cohen was full of deep poetry at the time, he was often mentioned as a sage of depression and deep moodiness.

All three singer-songwriters mentioned here wrote of their private thoughts, the investigations, and learning what made them all tick adds to the beauty of their work. Danny Thompson, the brilliant bass player, played on both Nick Drake records and accompanied Tim Buckley at the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, which finally emerged on record some years ago.

One wonders how many other singer-songwriters would have been explored in depth through their work if they had died early. Would Kris Kristofferson had an alternative meaning for his Help Me Make It Through The Night? For example the song What's Another Year which was the Eurovision Song Contest winner for Ireland some years ago, has also been subject of incorrect interpretation. The song is not for a lover whose alliance has changed, it is a song for a man whose wife has just died, he sits wondering what he will do without her.

So two extraordinary artists who both died young , both of overdoses of drugs. Nick in 1974 at the age of 26, Tim in 1975 at the age of 28. Their music will be with us forever, they will always be young in our minds whilst we grow old and decrepit. Neither Tim nor Nick left a suicide note, it is likely that they both died by accident, sadly we will never know for sure in the case of Nick Drake. Would Nick have eventually given in to easy listening music to get his message over is a question for which we will never have an answer. Tim died after taking a couple of years away from recording Starsailor, but still never obtained their recognition except posthumously. We have their music forever, they can rest in peace in that knowledge.

Paul Barrera's book The story of NICK DRAKE AND TIM BUCKLEY - a 2-in-1 paperback (ISBN 1 899882 55 3) - might be available from: Ken Brooks, 54 The Avenue, Andover, Hampshire, England, SP10 3EP,


© UK Publisher -Agenda Ltd Paperback: 100 pages (May 1997)

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