Gary Lucas is not a name that slips off the lips of your average rock music fan. He’s the kind of guy who can walk down the street and remain largely unsettled, but you almost certainly know his music.
Having released over 50 albums and collaborating with artists such as Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave, Lucas is also the man behind two standout tracks from one of the most universally loved albums in music history.
If You Know & Like Jeff Buckley’s Only Studio Album Beautiful!Lucas’ signature guitar can be heard playing mojo pin And Beautiful!, songs he co-wrote with Buckley. In the end, Lucas wrote over a dozen songs with Buckley, some of which were released as an album in 2002, no one to sing,
“All of our songs started out as my guitar instrument – it’s something that people might not know,” Lucas said on a Zoom call from the New York apartment where he co-wrote those songs. “How I worked with him, I would compose these pieces by thinking about his voice, aside from Jeff, and I would send them on cassette via snail mail.
“He used to get them and usually he would call and say, ‘I will put some raga and song on it’. That’s how we distributed the laborers there.”
Buckley was hailed as a powerful singer-songwriter during his lifetime, with Lucas feeling himself further removed from the origin story of those two songs.
“Columbia Records Banished Me There” [story] —he issued a press release that referred almost everyone to the janitor in the studio,” Lucas says. The lighter still stings. “I just take the time to try to remind people that I was there, in a good way. I’m happy to be there to remind people of Jeff’s talent.”
The two met in the early ’90s at a tribute night for Jeff’s father, Tim Buckley, at St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn. Jeff was an unknown relative, yet trying to overcome the shadow of the folk singer father, whom he barely knew. At the time, the Yale-educated Lucas was an established guitarist and member of Captain Beefheart—something he held dear to the young singer.
“This kid just walks up to me and he’s pumping his eyes — he’s really like lightning. He’s making faces and dancing around me,” Lucas says. “I’m like, ‘This Must be Jeff’, because I knew he was coming and he just looked like a very young Tim. We had this great moment and he was just overjoyed. ,
A day later, Buckley went to Lucas’ apartment to work on the cover of king’s chainOne of Tim’s last recordings before his death in 1975 at the age of 28.
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“I give him a mic and he opens his mouth to sing,” Lucas says. “It’s just supernatural. He’s crying and he’s really into her and he’s hitting all these high notes. I was just blown away. He looked at me slyly and said, ‘Was that cool? ‘. I just said, ‘Man, you’re f***ing star.’ Believe it or not, they needed reinforcements in those days.”
At the time, Buckley was a guitar tech with The Commitments’ touring band, alongside Dubliner Kenneth McCluskey, who played Derek ‘Meatman’ Scully in the hit film. During the New York date of this tour, Lucas and Buckley worked on a song called rise up to bewhich will eventually become Beautiful!, After splitting from the band The Commitments, Buckley briefly joined Lucas’ band Gods and Monsters, before deciding to go it alone.
According to Lucas, his time in The Commitments touring band was not the only Irish connection Buckley had. In addition to his iconic performances at the New York bar Sinn (run by dubliner Carl Geary), his music has massive Irish influences.
“They very much reflected the Irish tradition of great singers — I mean, you got John McCormack, and he loved guys like The Pogues.” Breton-Welsh singer Keitel Keenegg, who based Ireland for many years, also sang at Buckley’s funeral in 1997.
Jeff was just 30 years old and working on a follow-up to his massively successful debut album, with varying degrees of success, when he went swimming in Memphis’s Wolf River Harbor fully dressed and drowned. His death caused a worldwide shock wave, with fans tormented by the idea that the singer had been cut off at the prime of his life, with so much to offer creatively. For Lucas, a friend and colleague, the news was particularly difficult.
“I got a call from my friend who said, ‘I’ve got some really sad news. Jeff is missing.’ I just screamed,” Lucas says. “I was in denial, thinking he might have done a prank. You know, he was capable of it, he was kind of a clown. And then the body lifted up. I cried every day for about a month. I never got a chance to say the things I would have said had we had another encounter.”
Two months before his death, Buckley played a secret gig at the Knitting Factory in New York. “He was on stage and he said, ‘Gary Lucas, would you please come here on stage’, and we did Beautiful! And I brought the house down,” Lucas says. “I was like, ‘This meant a lot to me. Thank you’. He told me he was going to Memphis the next day.
“About a month after that, I got a call from Jeff’s A&R guy at Columbia Records to say, ‘You might get a call to come to Memphis to work with Jeff because Beautiful! It was such a beautiful thing’. I was like, ‘Okay’. I was hoping that would happen, but I wasn’t going to put any pressure on Jeff.
“I’ve learned the hard way, the more I’ll chase Jeff, or anyone for anything really… It’s usually not a good look. So I was hoping to hear from Jeff, but Let’s see – what happens.
“If there hadn’t been so much pressure on him to come up with a commercial follow-up album, he would still be here. But then, it’s all speculation.”
April 29 marks the 25th anniversary of his death and Lucas will spend that night at the Whelan’s venue in Dublin, celebrating Buckley’s life and music (he hits Galway’s Roisin Dube the night before). Lucas loves collaborating with local artists on venues and will offer a personal look at his collaboration with Buckley, featuring rare archival footage of the pair together.
“I’m going to bring up [to the stage] Whoever Whelan has come up with with their designated singers,” he says. “I love playing with anyone who has a real strong desire to sing these songs on stage.
“I like to do these events because it reinvents the material. I give them a shot. I’ve had some great success, and there were some people who might not have been the best, but I think It takes a lot of courage to get up on stage and sing because [Jeff’s] The vocals are very iconic. ,
Of course, a small part of Lucas expects someone to take the stage during one of these dates and blow it up, like Buckley did. “What I love to do is continue these collaborations,” he says. “I hope such a person is out there.”
“I Heart Jeff Buckley Feat Gary Lucas” is on May 28 at Roisin Dubh, Galway and Whelan, Dublin on May 29. ‘Touched by Grace’ by Gary Lucas is out now.