Despite releasing only a single album — 1994’s Grace, featuring his classic cover Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — before his death from drowning in 1997, Jeff Buckley is remembered as a key voice that decade. The son an artist (Jeff was 8 when his singer-songwriter dad, Tim, known for folk experimentation, died a heroin overdose), Buckley first captivated crowds at a cfee shop in New York’s East Village in 1993. “Great artists have that ‘it’ factor,” says Buckley’s longtime manager, Dave Lory, who ushered the singer from obscurity to global prominence. “They can walk into a room and light it up without meaning to. Jeff had this five-octave range, a James Dean look, the personality — and a lot pain.”
Lory opens up for the first time about his client in his new book, Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah to the Last Goodbye. Waiting to talk about Buckley, with whom he shared a close bond, was “about not wanting to relive everything,” says Lory, who admits that listening to his music is raw to this day. “I turned down everything because it didn’t seem like the right platform, but I knew the day would come.” In the book, to be published May 29 by Post Hill Press, Lory writes a conflicted artist who never craved the success he achieved. “He treated everybody with respect and kindness and was giving his time. The problem was, people expected a lot out him and he couldn’t give it as he was becoming popular.”
Lory’s remembrance Buckley’s rise is as much a tale the singer-songwriter’s life as it is about the relationship between artist and manager. “People don’t really get a chance to be a fly on the wall to realize what people go through day in and day out,” says Lory. It’s also a reminder that Buckley became a sensation when pop-punk and grunge were prominent, and his raw, acoustic sound was an outlier. “He was so different than what was popular at the time,” says Lory.
Twenty-one years ago in May, Lory got a call saying that Buckley had gone missing after getting swept up in the currents the Mississippi River. Contrary to rumor, Buckley — who was in the midst recording his highly anticipated second album — was sober at the time he drowned. But his legacy remains: “It was incredible how he could make 100,000 people feel like they’re at] an intimate venue,” says Lory. “There’s only one Jeff Buckley.”
This article originally appeared in the May 19 issue Billboard.