25 Years Of Grace: Christopher Dowd On His Friend Jeff Buckley

This outtake from the Grace photo session offers up Buckley in a playful mood, whilst also paying homage to Leonard Cohen, whose career Buckley was soon to revive thanks to his cover of “Hallelujah.”

 

Twenty-five years ago today, Jeff Buckley released his debut/swan-song masterpiece, Grace. A forthcoming book entitled 25 Years Of Grace pays tribute to this beautiful album with a lush coffee table book, featuring hundreds of photos from Merri Cyr and Buckley historian Jeff Apter. The book offers insights from those who were there during the making, a hefty chapter including most of the photos from the Grace album cover and promotional photo shoot, and a section of modern musicians discussing the album and how it influenced them. When we planned this excerpt, the book was within a week or two of release, and though its release has been pushed back to October, we’re proud to present this excerpt, featuring Christopher Dowd of Fishbone discussing his friend and his roommate. 

25 Years Of Grace: An Anniversary Tribute To Jeff Buckley’s Classic Album will be released October 21st. You can preorder the book here.

 

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Jeff Apter:How did you first meet Jeff?

Chris Dowd: One night Carla Azar [Dowd’s girlfriend and a classmate of Jeff’s at the Musicians Institute in LA] called me and said she was going for a ride and her friend Jeff was in the car. I was burned out from touring with Fishbone; we toured nonstop for two and a half years. I was drunk as shit, it was raining, I had my head out the window, and it rained all over Jeff. He just sat there quietly, didn’t say shit. Carla called me and told me to call Jeff and apologize—I did, and we became friends. Jeff lived with me for like a year and a half, and I knew him as a guitar player only. I had no idea he could even sing.

JA: What kind of roomie was Jeff?

CD: He was an awesome housemate. We just had fun, man, had a good time, being open, honest, talking for hours. The Jeff I knew was as funny as hell, but completely socially awkward at times. You know, like: “Jeff, this may not be the best time to say that, dog.” But he was also one of those people who was loyal to a fault, until it hurts. And as far as his legacy goes, if he’d known how it played out, he would have given away every-fucking-thing with his name on it. That’s how he was. He was a truly selfless person.

A thing that blew my mind about Jeff was this mimic thing he had; he was freakish. I heard him play “Giant Steps” on the guitar once and he was exactly like John Coltrane. I don’t idealize motherfuckers, I’m not that guy, but he was the exception to the rule.

JA: Did he ever mention his father, Tim Buckley?

CD: He never came up. I only heard about him after St. Ann’s. He explained it to me: “It’s just a thing for my dad.” The first thing that came out of my mouth was: “Who the hell was your dad?”

JA: “Last Goodbye” started to come together when you and Jeff lived together in LA, is that right?

CD: “Last Goodbye” is about Carla Azar, especially that line “Kiss me out of desire not consolation.” Every guy at that time was in love with Carla. She played drums, she was pretty, she was the coolest girl you ever met in your entire life. Carla was the perfect girlfriend, but they were never a couple.

JA: How did you react when Jeff signed with Columbia, Fishbone’s label? Was it a good fit for Jeff?

CD: I think the one lucky thing with Jeff was that he got to be around my ass and watch something really cool implode [Dowd’s band was encountering extreme turbulence at the time], so when it came time for him to do his shit, he knew what to do. And he had Donnie [Ienner, Sony label boss] wrapped around his finger, because Donnie knew what they had: the new Bob Dylan.

JA: Do you think Columbia treated him well?

CD: Columbia definitely treated him with respect. More than anything, they couldn’t have plotted the level of reception he got from the musical hierarchy. It blew my mind. I’m sitting there with him and Elvis Costello calls—you know what I’m saying? He’s hanging out with Chrissie Hynde. Growing up in LA, this is the kind of stuff you dream about.

But I know that the idea of him being a star made him incredibly uncomfortable—being written up in the tabloids, with Courtney Love and shit, that freaked him out. He wanted to buy every newspaper and burn it, because he was embarrassed. He was kind of like this reluctant rock star.

JA: What’s the background to the time Radiohead came to see Jeff play, around the time of Grace?

CD: It was Thom Yorke; he came to see him play and left the show early. Jeff came back and told me about it. Jeff was highly sensitive in a lot of ways, especially when it came to music. He would be completely not secure when it came to his talents; at times, he didn’t recognize he had this thing. As far as artistic respect goes, well, Thom Yorke was a contemporary, and when he walked out, Jeff was like: “I must have sucked.” I said, “If anything, you freaked him out.” If OK Computer doesn’t sound like Jeff singing, I don’t know what does, but he went to his grave thinking that Thom Yorke hated his voice.

JA: Michael Tighe spoke about the recording of “So Real” and how spontaneous Jeff could be in the studio: Is that how you remember it?

CD: It was exactly like that. Also keep in mind I had never seen Jeff in process. I had no idea I was witnessing this as being “the take.” It is such a process to capture “the take” that I don’t think until Michael told you that story did I realize that he had done that spontaneously perfect take. It is such a rarity to see that happen in the flesh. But knowing Jeff and his process, he had done it and thrown it all away,torn it down a thousand times in his head, before he actually shared it with us. Then also thinking back we had such a close relationship and were so protective of one another it was also him sharing with me and saying, “I got this! You don’t have to be scared for me anymore. I have become the artist you always wanted and helped me become.” We would slide in and out of those roles for the entire relationship: Friend, brother, loved one, father, brother.

JA: What’s the magic of Grace; why does it connect with so many people?

CD: It had timing—that universal timing thing happened. Jeff wanted a second guitar player and Michael Tighe was there. He needed someone to follow what he did. It was very strategic the way he picked those guys—who are seasoned musicians now. And they sounded fucking great on Grace.

JA:How do you best remember Jeff?

CD: I can tell you what he was to me and what he stood for. How he had no filter, which was both hilarious and priceless. And rare. He had no agenda—he was air and earth unfettered! Tell me, how many people in your life you have known like that, that still have a childlike innocence? A Zen-like understanding of human beings. And a heart as big as a whale.

 

 

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