Personalities | Jeff Buckley | Eclectic Brilliance | Guitar Heroes

Alternative guitarist and singer Jeff Buckley (1966–97) was born in Anaheim, California. Jeff barely knew his father, singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, who died when he was eight. His mother, Mary Guibert, was a classically trained pianist and cellist, which meant that music was all around when Buckley was growing up.

He started playing acoustic guitar at the age of six and received his first electric guitar at 13. His early influences were Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Kiss, later widening to embrace the progressive rock of Yes, Genesis and Rush, along with jazz-fusion guitarist Al Di Meola.

After graduating from high school, Buckley attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood before working in a hotel and playing in a number of bands. He moved to New York City in 1990, where he continued his musical education, taking in Qawwali, the devotional music of Pakistan, Robert Johnson and hardcore punk. His first public appearance was at a tribute concert for his father in 1991, after which he joined future collaborator Gary Lucas in Gods and Monsters before opting to go solo. His performances at Manhattan’s Sin-é club attracted intense record company attention and he signed with Columbia, who issued an EP of Buckley accompanying himself on a borrowed Fender Telecaster, ‘Live at Sin-é’, in 1993. Debut album Grace (1994) was remarkably confident, showcasing his songwriting ability and the amazing range of his voice. His eclectic guitar skills are evident on the closing tracks, where the hard-rock crunch of ‘Eternal Life’ is followed by the ethereal vibe of ‘Dream Brother’. His favourite instrument was a Gibson Les Paul.

Buckley was writing songs and recording demos for the follow-up when he drowned in a tragic accident while swimming in a tributary of the Mississippi River in May 1997. Since then two albums have been issued: Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk (1998) featured unfinished studio material, and Mystery White Boy (2000) was a live compilation. Grace became a posthumous bestseller as Buckley’s reputation mushroomed, with numerous artists covering his songs and Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Muse’s Matthew Bellamy citing him as an influence.

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