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‘JEFF BUCKLEY: FROM HALLELUJAH TO THE LAST GOODBYE’ WITH DAVE LORY + JIM IRVIN

02 Nov, 2017

‘JEFF BUCKLEY: FROM HALLELUJAH TO THE LAST GOODBYE’ WITH DAVE LORY + JIM IRVIN

 

In 1993, Dave Lory joined the team working with an exciting new singer named Jeff Buckley, just as he released his first EP. Lory got to know his new artist by joining him on a solo tour of the West Coast. It was the start of a tight working relationship and deep friendship that was rudely cut short in 1997 when Jeff walked into the Wolf River in Memphis for a late evening swim and never came out.

'From Hallelujah to The Last Goodbye' covers key scenes in Buckley’s short but explosive career, the first solo tour, the first visits abroad, the making of his brilliant sole album, the wrangles with his record company, troubles with his band on the road and the struggle to make a follow up album. It climaxes with the week after his tragic swim and how Lory managed the sudden death of a friend and client. Lory and co-author Jim Irvin have interviewed many people who knew Jeff intimately -including The Good Life Experience co-founder Steve Abbott- and have never spoken about their time with Jeff since that tragic day 20 years ago. 

We look forward to welcoming Dave Lory and Jim Irvin to speak at The Good Life Experience in 2018.

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The following is an extract from the book, which will be published on 25th May 2018 and is available here to pre-order:

By 1997, the sprawling world tour for Grace, which lasted over two years, had finally wound down and Buckley was in Memphis working on the second album. Rehearsals were booked to start on the night of May 29, 1997 when the band flew into Memphis. Meanwhile, Lory had taken on a new artist, at Buckley’s suggestion – Dublin-based Welsh singer-songwriter, Katell Keineg – and was in dublin setting up Jet, her second album for Elektra, due to launch the following day.

This is an abridged version of his account of what happened next. 

MAY 30, 1997

A phone is ringing. It isn’t mine. Hotel phone. But I didn’t order a wake-up call. So someone is calling me in the middle of the night. Shit, somebody’s fucked up. Where am I? Dublin. Has something happened at home? It’s still ringing. I’d better answer the fucking thing. What time is it? 5.58am. I’ve only been asleep four hours. This had better be good.

“Uh huh.”

“Dave?”

It’s Jack Bookbinder, my assistant… Someone’s in jail or hospital. Great.

“Dave, Gene has called me. He says it’s urgent. He needs to talk to you. I’m gonna put the phone up to my cell. OK, Gene, I’ve got Dave.”

I can just about hear Gene Bowen, Jeff ’s tour manager. He’s agitated, shouting so that I can hear him from 5,000 miles away. There’s a weird noise in the background that I can’t make out, like motors running.

“Dave! Jeff ’s gone missing.”

“What do you mean he’s gone missing?” 

I work it out. 1am in Memphis. The band had flown in that evening. They were due to start rehearsing straight away. Jeff was late for the session. Really fucking annoying, but he’s always pulling that shit. He’s just being Jeff. He wants to know everybody has missed him. He’ll show up. 

“He was swimming in the Mississippi. Two tug boats came along and he went underwater. We can’t find him.” 

Something punches me in my stomach with all its force. I drop the phone. 

“Dave? Dave?”

I take a deep breath and pick the phone from the floor.

“Shit, Gene, is this real? Am I having a bad dream?”

“It’s real, Dave. There are helicopters shining searchlights on the river. There’s a team dragging the water.”

Helicopters. That was the sound I couldn’t identify. My brain doesn’t know what to ask, but my mouth comes up with something.

“When did he go into the water?”

“Around 9pm,” said Gene, his voice breaking. “Four hours ago.”

“He’s not coming out, is he?”

We share a silence. Into it rushes a sound like someone pounding on my hotel room door. It’s blood racing around my head. I try not to pass out.

“Ok. give me a minute, Gene,” I say. “I’ll call you back when I've worked out what to do, but call again if there’s any development. And tell everyone there to say nothing. No press.”

Putting the phone down, I felt like I’d let go of a lifebelt at sea, a slow-motion pulse of panic and confusion. I looked around me, shocked at how tranquil it was in this room, in this hotel, considering what had just happened. Why weren’t alarms ringing? Why weren’t people hammering on the door? Was anyone coming to help me?

I got a sudden pang of hope. What if he’d just walked out of the river downstream, wandered dripping wet into a bar and a girl had said: “You need to get out of those wet things...” The fantasy was stupid. He was about to cut his record, for Christ’s sake. He’d been hyped up about it. Excited enough, apparently, to walk fully clothed into a muddy river. Why would he ever think he wouldn’t come out again? Jumping into things is what he does. He never packs a parachute or a guardian angel.

I called Katell. It was still early. I’d woken her up. I told her the news as calmly as I could. She howled with pain, dropped the phone and I heard her screaming “Nooooooo” and sobbing in the background. We were still connected. I had to run down to the lobby, call her band, tell them to get over there, look after her and put the phone back on the hook.

Then I called Sam, my wife, who’d been Jeff ’s promotions manager and Abbo [Steve Abbott head of Big cat Records who released Live at Sin-é in the UK]. I was expecting Sam to be shaken and emotional but she detected the steel in my voice and was rock solid, practical, going straight into business mode. Abbo was the same. They both agreed to Fly out to Dublin on the next possible plane from London to support Katell while I did what I needed to do. Tonight was her launch show. It had to go ahead.

Next, I called Howard Wuelfing, our publicist at Columbia. I woke him at around 2.30am, New York time, and asked him to go into the office and prepare a press statement. I called George Stein; Steve Berkowitz, Jeff ’s A&R; Andy Wallace, who was expecting to produce the new record; all the people heavily involved in Jeff ’s career who needed to hear the news from me first.

Finally, I asked Jack to call Jeff ’s mother, Mary, and have her meet me in Memphis. And all the time, something at the back of my mind was nagging, “Why Jeff, why? How could you do this?” I felt like a parent feels as they watch their child run across a busy street without looking: horror, dismay, guilt, anger, and that recurring thought, “All those times we talked about crossing the street! Were you even listening?”

MAY 31, 1997

After Katell’s show – she was understandably shaky – I drank myself to sleep. My flight was at 6am. Dublin to Memphis with a jackhammer hangover. I watched all the passengers buzzing around me and craved their normality. None of them realised what i was dealing with. The newsstands were full of Jeff’s disappearance. The TV news showed Bono stopping U2’s show at Meadowlands with a version of Hallelujah. The huge crowd paid silent tribute. That flight was the longest I ever took.

When I arrived, George, Gene, Steve and Mary were waiting for me. I told them what we were doing and asked Mary for some words for our press release. Dated Monday, June 2, the release was issued under the headline: Jeff Buckley Still Missing As Search Continues; Family And Friends Believe He Has Drowned. Mary’s quotation read: “It has become apparent to me that my son will not be walking out of the river. It is now time to make plans to celebrate a life that was golden.”

Meanwhile, we had to organise sealing off Jeff ’s apartment in New York, talk to the band and make arrangements for them to leave Jeff ’s house in Memphis, meet with the police and the National Guard to discuss what would happen if Jeff was discovered, organise an autopsy, arrange the taking of DNA samples to protect his estate from any future paternity disputes, plan his eventual cremation and so on. It was terrible, shitty stuff. A chilly numbness flooded me.

Keeping me sane were my good friend Danny Goldberg and his brilliant colleague Janet Billig. Danny had managed The Allman Brothers Band with me. He and Janet had managed Nirvana together. They had been here. Danny called to check my family and I were OK as soon as he heard the news. “Dave, you’re now part of a club you never want to belong to,” he said. He also said I’d get the call one day from another manager going through this. He was right; it happened a few years later when Michael Hutchence died.

JUNE 1, 1997

After breakfast with Steve Berkowitz, I went with Keith Foti – Gene’s blue-haired assistant roadie, who was with Jeff when he disappeared – to Wolf River Harbor, the scene of the incident. He told me his account of what happened. I felt sorry for him. He was still in shock and worried about getting blamed, but we all knew there was nothing more he could have done. I asked to be left alone for a minute, and I stood by the murky water trying to imagine it as night fell and wanting to walk into it. I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather do less.

“Jeff, you stupid fucking...” tears began to gush down my cheeks. I wasn’t sobbing, I just had water pouring out of me, as if something inside was trying to get to the river, join it and escape. I picked up the biggest stones on the shore and started hurling them into the water with all the fury that was rising in me.

“How dare you leave me with this shit!” I shouted, so loud that it felt like I’d pulled a muscle in my throat. I felt like I was throwing everything we’d done together into the river after him. “You promised me you knew how to cross the road. We said we’d see this out together.”

The irony wasn’t lost on me. Jeff, who’d grown up fearing rejection and people walking out on him, had shoved it back in all our faces. I cried for him and I cried for us. Everything I’d bottled up these last few days drained into the river.

JUNE 2, 1997

I felt like shit the next morning, back in New York, on my way from the airport to 550 Madison Avenue, to sit in the office of Sony president Donnie Ienner, with steve Berkowitz, Tommy Mottola, chairman of Sony Music Entertainment, and Michelle Anthony, executive vice president.

By this point I had absolutely no faith in Sony to do the right thing by Jeff. I was furious that this meeting about posthumous releases had been called so soon. I’d had a ton of calls from distressed Sony employees who also thought it was insensitive. I went around as many desks as I could to support those who were in bits over Jeff ’s death.

Outside Donnie’s office I saw a copy of that week’s Billboard, the trade publication. Someone had taken out a page ad with a photograph of Jeff and a line saying how much Columbia had loved him. It was a photo that people there knew Jeff hated, and when I saw it I lost it. Berkowitz saw i was fuming. “Hey Dave. Go easy in there.”

I walked into Donnie’s office with a tightly clenched jaw. My resolve lasted four seconds. I yelled asking why they’d called a meeting, why they’d chosen a picture Jeff hated, and why they thought we could discuss future releases before we’d even found his body. Donnie looked at me like I was a kid having a tantrum.

Finally, Tommy Mottola spoke up. Tommy was the guy who had discovered, developed and married Mariah Carey, and two days before this meeting it had been announced that their marriage was over. I bet he didn’t want to be in this room either, but he laid a steadying hand on the meeting and it sighed with relief.

After I left Sony, I headed to my apartment to take a shower and repack for my flight back to the UK. I appreciated the quiet of the empty rooms. It was around 1pm and I decided I was off duty, so poured myself two fingers of Jack Daniel’s to numb the pain. Well, give it two fingers, anyhow.

Without even thinking about it, because it’s what I did when I came home, I went over to the answering machine and hit the playback button. the first few messages were nothing, the dry cleaner, a friend of Sam’s, and then there he was. Jeff was speaking. “Hi Samantha and Charlotte, hope you are both OK. Play the music, play it loud, love Jeff.” The timer had it at about 15 minutes before he went out that evening. It could have been the last call he made.

Every message after that was someone calling to see what I knew. They went from “Dave, I heard a rumour”, to people just crying and screaming. It was awful, crazy, the saddest parade you ever heard go by.

I don’t remember going to the airport.

JUNE 4, 1997

Back in London. After another day of meetings I wished I wasn’t having, I was collecting my key at the Royal Garden Hotel. “Mr Lory?” said a girl on the front desk. “I have a message for you.” she handed me a note: “We found him. Call me. Gene.” 

 

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