Just 19 when his debut LP was recorded, Buckley was briefly marketed as a folk rock teen idol, before his music metamorphosed into realms that defied categorisation.
Buckley’s second LP, Goodbye And Hello (1967), should have made him a star. Influenced by The Beatles‘ Sgt Pepper, the album was a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia.
Elektra were so pleased with the record that they paid for expensive gatefold packaging and reviews were positive, but the LP peaked at #171 on the US chart.
A mere three years later he was recording three albums simultaneously – Lorca, Blue Afternoon and Starsailor – using avant-garde vocal gymnastics inspired by Italian singer Cathy Berberian and choosing words for their phonetic sound, not their meaning.
While Lorca began Buckley’s journey into the avant-garde, it was on Starsailor (1970) that he turned space cowboy and headed for the outer reaches of the solar system on one of the most extraordinary voyages into the unknown ever launched from the West Coast.
Buckley waited a while before recording Greetings from L.A. (1972), and in the meantime, he began to absorb jazz, funk and R&B influences.
Coupled with his love of Blaxploitation movies, this led to a feverish, sexually charged album that was a quantum leap away from his image as a wide-eyed troubadour.
Though likened to such L.A. song poets as Jackson Browne, and gifted with an impressive, multi-octave voice, Buckley never quite achieved real stardom.
Too way out for the folk scene, heroin and dwindling sales followed. He died from a drug overdose on 29 June 1975 after snorting heroin, thinking it was cocaine. He was 28.
Ten days later, Richard Keeling, a 30-year-old research assistant in the music department at UCLA, was arraigned on charges of second-degree murder. Keeling allegedly furnished Buckley with the drugs that caused his death. Under California law, this constituted grounds for a murder indictment.
The murder charge was subsequently dropped and Keeling pleaded guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. He served 120 days.