Inside Jeff Buckley’s ‘Definitive’ Lost Sessions
In February 1993, Jeff Buckley walked into Shelter Island Sound, a small recording studio in New York’s Chelsea district, armed only with several instruments, a handwritten list of other people’s songs and an absolutely riveting singing voice.
Though he’d signed a contract with Columbia Records just a few months earlier, the 26-year-old musician wasn’t there to begin work on his debut album, or even demo songs for it. The three-day sessions at Shelter Island were merely exploratory, an attempt to help Buckley — whose live repertoire at the time included everything from pop standards to classic rock to Delta blues to Sufi devotional music — zero in on a specific musical direction.
“Nirvana and the whole grunge thing was happening,” remembers Mary Guibert, Buckley’s mother. “Here was this kid singing Robert Johnson and Edith Piaf. So it was, ‘If we can just get him into the studio and get him to sing, we’ll find a couple of numbers that we can show to the suits and say, “Look, this kid’s got all this talent!”‘”
“It was clear when you heard him how much talent was there, and how much innate musical ability and music history was in him,” says Steve Berkowitz, Buckley’s A&R man at Columbia. “But he hadn’t figured out which Jeff Buckley to become yet, and what record to make. He had so much talent in him, and he could really do so many things, that it was really difficult for him to decide. So I suggested we go into the studio. It was like, ‘Why don’t you create a table of contents of music that you’ve been playing or want to play?’ Hoping that one or two or three of those would lead towards the beginning of an idea of an album concept.”
Nine songs from those Shelter Island sessions (along with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” that was recorded later in the year at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York) can now be heard for the first time on You and I, Sony’s new collection of previously unreleased Buckley recordings — out March 11th — which was overseen by Guibert. Recently unearthed in the Sony Music archives, the tracks, which have never even been bootlegged before, do indeed illuminate Buckley’s encyclopedic knowledge of 20th-century popular music, as well as his prodigious abilities as a singer and guitar player.
You and I‘s material includes deeply personal solo interpretations of songs by Sly and the Family Stone (“Everyday People”), Led Zeppelin (“Night Flight”) and the Smiths (“The Boy With the Thorn In His Side,” “I Know It’s Over”), as well as the R&B ballad “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'” (first recorded in 1946 by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five) and delta bluesman Bukka White’s “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home,” along with an early version of Buckley’s signature song “Grace” and “Dream of You and I,” a haunting studio sketch that features trace elements of “You and I,” a song that would appear on his posthumous 1998 collection, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk.