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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 29, 1997

I really had a difficult time choosing the subject for today’s Tuesday Timeline.  And this time, it wasn’t because of a lack of material.  It turned out to be quite the opposite, actually.  May 29th seems to be one of the busiest days that I’ve done yet as far as the history behind the date goes.  We have tons of celebrity births, celebrity passings, and a lot of world history happening on this date.  So, let’s not waste any more time.

On this date in history;

1790 – Rhode Island is the last of the thirteen colonies to be recognized as a U.S. State, becoming the 13th state

1848 – Wisconsin becomes the 30th U.S. state

1861 – Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce is founded

1868 – The assassination of Michael Obrenovich III, the Prince of Serbia, in Belgrade

1886 – The first advertisement for Coca-Cola is placed in the Atlanta Journal by inventor John Pemberton

1903 – The King of Serbia, Alexander Obrenovich, and Queen Draga are assassinated in Belgrade by Black Hand organization in a May coup d’etat; also on this date, legendary comedian Bob Hope is born in London, England

1913 – Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ premieres in Paris, sparking a riot

1914 – RMS Empress sinks in Gulf of St. Lawrence, killing 1,024 people

1917 – John F. Kennedy is born in Massachusetts, would later become 35th President of the United States

1919 – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is tested by Arthur Eddington and Andrew Crommelin

1942 – Bing Crosby records “White Christmas”, which eventually becomes the best-selling Christmas song of all time

1945 – First combat mission of Consolidated B-32 Dominator Heavy Bomber

1950 – The St. Roch, docks in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the first ship to circumnavigate North America

1953 – Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest

1973 – Tom Bradley becomes the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles

1985 – Amputee Steve Fonyo completes cross-Canada marathon at Victoria, British Columbia after fourteen months; that same day, the Heysel Stadium disaster occurs, where 39 football fans perish after a retaining wall collapses

1988 – President Ronald Reagan begins his first visit to the Soviet Union for a superpower summit with Mikhail Gorbachev

2004 – World War II Memorial is dedicated in Washington D.C.

So, all in all, May 29th was an interesting date in history...well, unless you were unlucky enough to have been a part of the Serbian royal family, that is.

There’s quite a few celebrities blowing out candles on their birthday cakes today, so a happy birthday to all of you celebrating today, because you were born the same day as the following people; Clifton James, Gary Brooker (Procol Harem), Anthony Geary, Nick Mancuso, Rebbie Jackson, Danny Elfman, David Kirschner, Ken Schrader, LaToya Jackson, Ted Levine, Annette Bening, Rupert Everett, Melissa Etheridge, Lisa Whelchel, Blaze Bayley (Iron Maiden), Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Simon Jones (The Verve), Anthony Azizi, Melanie Brown (Spice Girls), David Burtka, Daniel Tosh, Adam Rickitt, Richard Lee Jackson, Jaslene Gonzalez, Riley Keough, Brandon Mychal Smith, and Kristen Alderson.

Phew...I’m exhausted.

Sadly, May 29th also happened to be the day in which a lot of celebrities breathed their last breath.  Dennis Hopper passed away on this date in 2010, and Harvey Korman passed away on this date in 2008.

And today’s blog subject died under mysterious circumstances on today’s featured date.  May 29, 1997.

May 29, 1997 was supposed to have been a great day for this singer-songwriter.  On this date in history, he was in Memphis, Tennessee, awaiting the arrival of his band at the recording studio.  He was in the midst of recording material for his second album, “My Sweetheart, The Drunk”.  While he waited for the band, our singer was getting a bit antsy, and he made the decision to go for a swim in the nearby Wolf River Harbor, which was near the Mississippi River.  It had been a favourite activity of his since he moved to Memphis just three months earlier.  With a roadie standing on shore as a witness, the man dove into the river still fully clothed, singing the chorus to a Led Zeppelin classic.  The roadie turned his back for just a few minutes to move a radio and guitar, and when his gaze fixed back on the river, the swimmer had vanished.

Almost one week later, on June 4, 1997, the body of 30-year-old Jeff Buckley was found by a couple of people near a riverboat.  With that discovery ended the promising career of a young man just starting out in the music business.

This blog is about the short life of Jeff Buckley.

Jeffrey Scott Buckley was born in Anaheim, California on November 17, 1966.  However, he didn’t go by his birth name right away.  You see, Buckley’s parents split up when Jeff was very young, and Jeff was raised by his mother Mary and stepfather Ron Moorhead.  As a result, Jeff went by the name of Scott Moorhead, which was his middle name paired with the surname of his stepfather.  His biological father, Tim Buckley, had made a living as a singer and songwriter himself, releasing a series of jazz and folk albums during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Jeff only met his father once, when he was eight years old.  In 1975, Tim Buckley overdosed on drugs and died.  Shortly thereafter, Jeff decided to go by the name Jeff Buckley, though his immediate family still called him Scott.

Of course, his biological father wasn’t the only influence that inspired Jeff to pursue a career of his own in music.  His mother was a classically trained pianist, and his stepfather introduced him to such bands as Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Pink Floyd when he was young.  He made the decision to pursue a career in music when he was barely a teenager, and received his first guitar as a present for his thirteenth birthday.  Throughout high school, he joined the school jazz band, and upon graduating from high school in 1984, he attended the Musicians Institute for a year.  Despite this though, Buckley would later tell Rolling Stone that his time spent as the school was a huge waste of time, but he would later explain that he enjoyed studying music theory there.

It took Jeff Buckley six years before his music career would kick off.  He worked at a hotel by day, and played guitar for several struggling bands by night.  In early 1990, Buckley moved to New York City hoping to find work there, but at that time, there weren’t a lot of opportunities in the music scene.  A few months later, he moved back to Los Angeles after his father’s former manager, Herb Cohen, offered to record a demo for him, made up of original songs.  He cut a four track demo tape in late 1990, and started sending it to various record labels.

Jeff Buckley returned to New York City in April 1991 to sing at a tribute concert for his father.  It ended up being Buckley’s debut on stage, and contrary to what some believed Buckley never intended to have the concert be the springboard to his career.  He simply cited personal reasons behind his agreement to sing at the event.  Whatever the reason was, Buckley made quite an impression at the concert.  Even when his guitar string snapped during his final song, he finished the performance a cappella.  He would later explain to Rolling Stone magazine that his reason for performing at the concert was as a final goodbye to his father.  He felt guilty over not having a relationship with him, and he used the concert as a way to set things right.

Throughout the rest of 1991 and 1992, Buckley played at various clubs, concert halls, and bars in Lower Manhattan in hopes of scoring his big break.  After attracting the attention of record executives, including scoring a meeting with Clive Davis, Buckley eventually signed with Columbia Records in late 1992.

His first album, “Grace” was released in the summer of 1994.  The album included seven original songs, plus three cover songs.  One of these cover songs was originally performed by Leonard Cohen, and although it wasn’t released as a single that year, it did make appearances on various charts in the late 2000s. 

ARTIST:  Jeff Buckley
SONG:  Hallelujah
ALBUM:  Grace
DATE RELEASED:  August 23, 1994

What was interesting about this particular song was that it was the number one digitally downloaded song on four separate occasions between 2005 and 2008.  For instance, after American Idol contestant Jason Castro performed the song, Jeff Buckley’s version soared up the charts for most downloaded song from iTunes.  And, you know, I have to admit, of all the different versions of the song “Hallelujah” that have come out, I like Buckley’s interpretation a lot.

That’s not to say that other singles from the album “Grace” didn’t do well.  Buckley’s entire album was critically acclaimed, and singles such as “Grace”, “So Real”, “Eternal Life”, and the song down below were well loved by fans of the alternative genre.

The only problem was that his album didn’t receive a lot of airplay on radio stations, so the album sales were slow going.  But while sales in his native United States were moderate, the album’s popularity exploded in both France and Australia, where “Grace” reached gold two years after its release.  In fact, in Australia alone, the album reached sales of six times platinum by 2006!

“Grace” was also well received by other famous musicians.  One of Buckley’s idols, the members of Led Zeppelin, could not praise the album enough.  Bob Dylan once named him one of the greatest songwriters of the 1990s, and David Bowie once stated in an interview that Jeff Buckley’s album would be the one he would take with him on a deserted island.

When you have artists like Bob Dylan and David Bowie singing your praises, you know that you’ve done well!

Throughout 1995 and 1996, Buckley promoted “Grace” by performing at venues all over the world.  He toured Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and the United States in various venues, and the more he toured, the more people fell in love with his work.  But it was a double edged sword for Buckley.  As much as he appreciated the support of his fans, and the excitement of performing for fans, he lamented the idea of losing the anonymity he had back in the days when he was a struggling up and coming artist in New York City in the early 1990s.

At any rate, after his touring commitments wrapped up in 1996, he went to work on his second album, and by early 1997, he was well on his way to putting the finishing touches on it all.

But then came the evening of May 29, 1997, and in an instant, Jeff Buckley’s voice was silenced forever.

An autopsy ruled out suicide, and there were no drugs or alcohol found in his system.  His death was ruled an accidental drowning.  But that was of little comfort to his family and the millions of fans that he had all over the world.  Jeff Buckley was gone.

However, Jeff’s death didn’t necessarily mean that his music career was over.  His second album was released posthumously in 1998, with the title “Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk”, which was composed of both finished tracks and demos.  Almost immediately, the album reached gold status that same year.  He was also the subject of several documentaries that aired in France and England, and many artists recorded songs in tribute to their fallen friend, including PJ Harvey, Duncan Sheik, Steve Aday, and Rufus Wainwright.

Buckley’s legacy was remembered on the ten year anniversary of his death.  In May and June 2007, Australia, Canada, England, France, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Macedonia, Portugal, and the United States launched a series of global tributes for the singer.

It’s now been exactly fifteen years since Jeff Buckley lost his life.  It’s not very often that an artist releases a breakthrough album that is well loved by so many people.  It almost seems unfair that Buckley died at a time in which he was just starting to find his way in the music industry because he really did have the talent to go far. 

Jeff Buckley would be 45 years old today if he lived.  It’s easy to imagine him at that age having half a dozen albums, several hit singles, and maybe even a Grammy Award or two.  Sadly, we’ll never know if he could have made those accomplishments.  But, if there is any comfort that fans of Jeff Buckley can take with them, it’s that at least when he was alive, he made a huge impact on the music scene and was well loved by a lot of people. 

And that’s our look back on May 29, 1997.

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