Tim Buckley Sent “Greetings from L.A.”

His name was Buckley. He was a revered musician with an angelic voice who left us far, far too early.

No, not Jeff. His daddy, Tim Buckley. Jeff drown at the age of 30, Tim at 28 due to a heroin overdose (some think it was murder, a story for another time). Tim and his wife divorced before Jeff was born; they met only once, when Jeff was 8.

Tim Buckley had recorded six albums from 1966 to 1970, highlighting folk-jazz-rock songs, his stunning voice, and excellent lyrics, beginning with his eponymous debut through the album he considered his masterpiece, 1970’s Starsailor.

Buckley re-emerged as an entirely different animal in 1972, when he recorded Greetings from L.A. (1972), which has been described variously as sex funk and porn rock among other descriptions and occasional denigrations. Which is fascinating for those of us who think that this album is his masterpiece.

Chronology escapes me at this point. Let me explain. The album was released on October of ’72, and we played it early and often at WLVR, the student-run “underground” radio station at Lehigh University. I certainly did. And Buckley and his band opened for Frank Zappa in September for the Grand Wazoo shows stateside and then the Petite Wazoo shows in October and November. I saw three of those; the one that is acid-etched in my brain is the Halloween late show at the Capitol in Passaic, New Jersey.

So I don’t know if the album made an impression upon me before that show or if the show demanded that I pay attention to the album. I suspect it was the latter.

 

THE PLAYERS

Tim Buckley – 12-string guitar, vocals; was joined by Venetta Fields, Clyde King, Lorna Willard – vocals; Joe Falsia – guitar; Reinhold Press, Chuck Rainey – bass guitar; Kevin Kelly – organ, piano; Paul Ross Novros, Eugene E. Siegel – saxophone; Carter C.C. Collins – congas; Ed Greene – drums; Jerry Goldstein, percussion, arranger, producer; Harry Hyams, Ralph Schaffer – viola; Louis Kievman, William Kurasch – violin; Robert Konrad – violin, guitar; and Jesse Ehrlich – cello.

 

MOVE WITH ME

If there were any doubt about the message of this album, the opening lines from “Move with Me” state it clearly:

I went down to the meat rack tavern
And I found myself a big old healthy girl

And, if that were not clear enough, the back of the postcard on the back cover, sent to Herb Cohen (his manager) and Mo Ostin (Warner Brothers), reads:

Dear Herb & Mo

     Please send 50 copies – have advance sale guarantee for the Apollo Massage Parlor – sounds real great to rub downs.

Vibrantly yours, Tim Buckley

One song on the album is about taxi-driving; the other six are sex, pure and simple and glorious.

So many things were different here from the songs Tim Buckley fans knew and loved: the searing guitar of Joe Falsia, the punch of the rhythm section of Chuck Rainey and Ed Greene, the horns, and those sensuous backing vocals from Venetta Fields, Clyde King, and Lorna Willard. Kevin Kelly nails the piano when Buckley sings:

Well, he grabbed me by my throat
And he bounced me down the stairs

Here is the story:

I went down to the meat rack tavern
And I found myself a big old healthy girl
Now she was drinkin’ alone, oh, what a waste of sin
So I went down on over to sweet talk that girl
Lord, I moved on in
Oh, I whispered

Come on and move with me
Move with me, move with
Move with me darlin’, oh don’t be shy (2)
I’m gonna mess witcha, mess witcha, mess witcha
Mess witcha, mess witcha now

Well, I don’t care if you tell me you’re married
Cause I can be your kid man
Ohh, when your husband ain’t home
Now if he should walk in, you just tell him I’m your houseboy
And that you just can’t stand oh, to sleep here alone no more, oh, Honey

CHORUS

Well, now he finally walked in
And Lord, that man filled up the doorway
Well, he grabbed me by my throat
And he bounced me down the stairs

And Lord, I swear, huh
He broke every bone in my body
But it was worth every second that I was there
Oh, ’cause she would whisper to me, oh she’d tell me

CHORUS

Well, now I love me
Oh, I love a black woman
I love me, Oh, I love me a black woman
Oh, I love a black woman
Oh, Lord, Lord, Lord, I do
Oh Lord, I do

 

GET ON TOP

Falsia’s superb guitar, Rainey’s bouncing bass line, and the pulsing congas of Carter C.C. Collins formed the perfect platform for Buckley to wail on “Get On Top,” which is precisely what you’re thinking it’s about. You know exactly what he means by “Cobra waltz,” don’t you? Kelly’s Hammond B3 organ sears the air, and Falsia guitar is relentless, all propelled by Greene on drums. I also suspect that many of you know exactly what he means when he sings “I talk in tongues, mama” on several levels, and he then proceeds to sing in tongues.

Well, that girl walks on in a stormy bitchy whine
Well, she moves that cobra waltz all across the floor
Tell that mama to sing out a cry, lord
Like a slow burn, slow burn
Ya move that waltz, momma, over to me
Get on top of me woman

Get on top, let me breathe
Get on top of me woman
Let me see what you learned tonight
Well, I talk in tongues, mama
Oh, when I love you
Yes, I talk in tongues

Lord, Lord, Lord

Get on top of me woman
Get on top, let me breathe

Get on top of me woman
I just wanna see what you learned

Well, like a bitch dog in heat, mama
We had those bed springs a-squeakin’ all night long

And didn’t you hear those walls a-talkin’ voodoo
I feel you right, feel you right, feel you right with me

Get on top of me woman
Get on top, let me breathe
Get on top of me woman
Let me see what you learned tonight
I talk in tongues honey when you love me
I talk in tongues, mama
Oh lord lord lord

Get on top of me, Darling
Get on top of me, Darling, alright
Get on top of me, Darling, oh lord
I talk in tongues mama

Oh, when you love me, Mama
Oh, when you love me, Mama
Oh, I can’t help but talk in tongues
I talk in tongues

I talk in tongues

Can’t stop my lovin’ you
***At this point he does talk in tongues!

Get on, get on, get top of me
I wanna do the cobra waltz, Darling
I wanna do the cobra waltz, Darling

Tim Buckley – inside gatefold photo

 

SWEET SURRENDER

The warbly guitar that introduces “Sweet Surrender” is the perfect reflection of Buckley’s chameleon-like voice that screams out after he declares:

Now you wanna know the reason
Why I cheated on you
Well, I had to be a hunter again
This little man had to try to make love feel new again

‘Cause there’s just a few things honey
I’m not old enough to do for you
And they’re the things mama
You just never care to show me

Listen to that line “Well, I had to be a hunter again.” DAMN. The string section enters a minute into the song, and from there out they give the song the depth that his vocals demand. The pain and anguish in his voice are real.

Now you wanna know the reason
Why I cheated on you
Well, I had to be a hunter again
This little man had to try to make love feel new again

‘Cause there’s just a few things honey
I’m not old enough to do for you
And they’re the things mama
You just never care to show me

So this flimflam lover boy found him a flamingo
And his flamingo showed him how to tango
And when they tangoed it’d send their hearts a flutter
Tease him ’til he stuttered
Young and tender
Seemed to surrender in so sweet surrender
In sweet surrender
Ah, sweet surrender to love

But, now you’re gonna go out and get yourself a reputation
But, I’m gonna have to show you where to start
And then you’re gonna bring back your little reputation
And prove to me what I could not prove to you

’Cause I was just too young at heart
Just too cold, Honey
Just too hard to care
Just too hard, right
Too surrender
Surrender to love
Sweet Surrender
Surrender to love

If we could just Surrender
Love would heal the mess we made
So give it up, Mamma, it ain’t gonna be no good
To keep going ’round and ’round
You’ll hurt me, then i’ll hurt you again

All that’s left to do
Is give it, ahh
Give it up and Surrender
Sweet Surrender
Sweet Surrender
Surrender your love
Surrender
Oh, Surrender, mama
Surrender that love
Sweet, sweet, sweet Surrender, Mama, to love, to love, to love

 

NIGHTHAWKIN’

One of these things is not like the others. “Nighthawkin’” is a solid, uptempo bouncy tune about picking up a gun-happy redneck on his taxi run. It just doesn’t fit the rest of the album.

Cassette back cover

 

DEVIL EYES

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program. Falsia’s guitar again lights up the sky in “Devil Eyes.” King Errison is prominent on congas as the band drives Buckley through this story of sex, including the memorable:

Oh, darlin’, pull those black silk stockings down
Oh, mama, pull those black silk stocking down
I wanna lick all around the stretch marks
Put my tongue between the toes
Wanna put my tongue stretching out those stretch marks, mama
Lick between the toes, Lick between the toes

You might need a cold shower when this is over.

I got so tired of meaningful looks
I got so tired of comin’ up tame
I was so bothered by those balmy breezes
I was side-swiped by swamp fever
It was a-crawlin’
Oh, down beneath my skin

’Til mama came a-runnin’ mixin’ devil rum
A mama came a-runnin’
That little black rhythm
Mama came a-runnin’
Lord, said she got a recipe
Oh, and she don’t need no fancy sauce

Lord, those devil eyes
Lord, they stare right through me
Those devil eyes
Look right through me
Aw, melt my soul down
Ah, well I long for those devil eyes
Show me what I’m worth
Show me what I’m made up
Down between the sheets
Do the monkey rub
Down between the sheets
That big old girl doin’ the monkey rub
Down between the sheets

Do that monkey rub
That big old girl doin’ the monkey rub

Oh, darlin’, pull those black silk stockings down
Oh, mama, pull those black silk stocking down
I wanna lick all around the stretch marks
Put my tongue between the toes
Wanna put my tongue stretching out those stretch marks, mama
Lick between the toes, Lick between the toes
Oh, mama
All I need from you, Mama
All I need from you, Mama
All I need from you, lover love

Ah, those devil eyes they’re looking right through me
Those devil eyes, oh, they’re looking right through me

Show me what I’m worth
Show me what I’m made for
Down between the sheets
Do the monkey rub
Down between sheets
Do the monkey rub, Mama
Down between the sheets
Do the monkey rub

Ah, hahaha
That big old girl doin’ the monkey rub

Gatefold inside cover

 

HONG KONG BAR

“Hong Kong Bar” is a departure from the rest of this album, a folk blues with Falsia on guitar, Buckley on 12-string, and producer Jerry Goldstein clapping, a song of former love and moving on. The guitar interplay is lovely as he sings:

Sittin’ in a Hong Kong bar
Sweet dreams of you darling
Ah, when we were sweet sixteen
Mama, makin’ love in the belly of an old freight train

 

MAKE IT RIGHT

Which brings us to “Make It Right.” Here is the essence:

I’m looking out now
For a street corner girl
I’m looking out
For a street corner girl
And she’s gonna beat me, whip me, spank me

Ah, make it right again
Trying a little trick honey
Ah, that you never used before
I wanna be your victim
Your sweet little victim of love
Come on and beat me, whip me, spank me
Mama, make it right again

Buckley’s guitar launches this one, anchored by the band, this time with Reinhold Press on bass, and the perfect string section. Buckley’s other-worldly voice soars one last time.

 

So there was no question what was on Buckley’s mind in 1972. On the minds of many, truth be told. Greetings to L.A. is a glorious homage to sex in, shall we say, a wide variety of possibilities. To this day, he remains the best male vocalist I’ve ever seen, along with Burton Cummings of Guess Who. Buckley’s follow-up album Sefronia (1973) was very good, as was the posthumous live release Honeyman, recorded 1973. His last effort, Look at the Fool (1974) is another masterpiece, according to this unabashed Tim Buckley devotee.

 

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