PLUNK GENEALOGY -- see "Family" label on this blog and/or write Mike at

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Sad Southern Story

When Mike and Alex and I were at the zoo a couple of weeks ago, Mike saw a donor’s “in memoriam” plaque with a name that was familiar to him. The name was Jeff Buckley who was a rising star in the music world in the 90s.

Jeff was born in 1966 in Orange County, CA and began his career singing in clubs in New York’s east village where he lived. He was a poet, extraordinary songwriter, guitarist and sang so sweetly that some called his voice ethereal. He eventually signed with Columbia Records and toured worldwide receiving gold records in both France and Australia for his album "Grace."

Buckley and his band had recorded in Memphis and in 1996 he moved to the Blues City where he rented a shotgun house of which he was so fond that he contacted the owner about the possibility of buying it. Jeff was working on a new album in his home studio and tried out the new songs at Barrister's in downtown Memphis on February 12 and 13. Beginning March 31, he began a series of regularly scheduled Monday night solo performances at Barrister's.

On May 29, 1997 Jeff Buckley died. He was working on a new album, upbeat and, on the night of his death, anticipating the arrival of his band at the Memphis airport so they could get to work.

We are told that about the time of the plane’s touchdown, Buckley “went swimming” in the Wolf River Harbor. He was wearing all his clothing and steel-toed boots and was singing along with a radio playing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” He just walked right into the river. One of the band’s roadies was on shore and, as Jeff walked into the water, turned to move the radio and a guitar out of the wake of a passing tugboat. When he turned around, Jeff was gone.

A search effort was launched that night and into the next day when it was terminated due to heavy rain. It was suspected that Buckley was sucked under the water by a strong under-current and lost consciousness because of the suddenness and strength of the undertow. Three days later, his body was spotted by a tourist on a riverboat marina.

Although Jeff was known to have dramatic mood swings, the coroner’s report ruled out drugs or alcohol as contributing factors to his death. Hmmmm The Wolf River is a tributary of the Mississippi, and I don’t know anyone who goes swimming there . . . particularly not at night, fully clothed and wearing steel-toed boots. Whatever happened, it was a tragic end to a very young, talented life.

Jeff loved the zoo and had been a contributor. After his death, his mother had the plaque placed in his honor where Mike spotted it.

Many of Jeff’s demos and previously unreleased music have been released since his death. A movie, based on his life, is to come out next year. The title is "Mystery White Boy," named after one of his last tours. Mike and I will sure be looking for it.

You can hear that beautiful voice at


Scarlett said...

After reading this post, Mike gave me a little more information. He said that comments he'd read from prominent musicians primarily lauded Jeff for his brilliant songwriting.
He also said that Jeff's father was a singer/songwriter -- Tim Buckley, who released some good things in the late 60s/early 70s. Jeff, whose mother was Greek/French/Panamanian, raised him alone until a remarriage. He only met his father once, when he was eight years old. Tim Buckley died of a drug overdose in 1975.
Columbia Records still maintains a website for Jeff containing video as well as audio. Apparently there are tribute events still being held for Jeff.

Rick H said...

Jeff's recording of is own song "Halleluja" has a prominent spot in our "favorites" archives. We became familiar with it in the early 2000's when it was featured in a number of TV episodes including The West Wing. A sad loss, but a wonderful talent.