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Buckley's Big Voice Built a Loyal Following

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Rock musicians, from Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant to Bono to Tori Amos to Elvis Costello, all believed that Jeff Buckley was the most gifted singer of his generation. Buckley died 10 years ago, today.

And NPR's Guy Raz offers this appreciation.

GUY RAZ: The thing about Jeff Buckley was he had this otherworldly voice, like he'd made a deal with the devil for it.

(Soundbite of song, "Mojo Pin")

Mr. JEFF BUCKLEY (Singer): (Singing) If only you'd come back to me, if you laid at my side, wouldn't need no mojo pin to keep me satisfied.

RAZ: When she first met Jeff, his friend, the musician, Elizabeth Fraser says it was like being a kid and given a set of paints, that he had this range and intensity and versatility that made her feel alive. It made every one who love Jeff Buckley's music feel alive - me too - like that day, June 24th, 1995, when I saw him perform live.

He could take his voice from Nina Simone's standards to MC5's "Kick Out of the Jams", to Leonard Cohen, to religious hymns. He could do it all in the same it.

(Soundbite of song, "Corpus Christi Carol")

Mr. BUCKLEY: (Singing) Lully lullay, lully lullay. The falcon hath borne my mate away. And on this bed there lyeth a knight. His wound is bleeding day and night.

RAZ: Jeff Buckley sang about love and belief or disbelief, but he also sang about death and the father he never knew, Tim Buckley. Jeff met his father ever so briefly - as a kid - and yet, he was his father in so many ways. Tim Buckley was a musician in the 1960s. He also had this incredible vocal range. And like Jeff, he also died young - only to be rediscovered after he was long gone.

Jeff Buckley's fans are haunted by something he sang, something prophetic, almost as if he wrote his own epitaph in the song, "So Real".

(Soundbite of song, "So Real")

Mr. BUCKLEY: (Singing) And I couldn't awake from the nightmare that sucked me in and pulled me under, pulled me under.

RAZ: That line, it sucked me in and pulled me under, it's how Jeff Buckley died. On May 29th, 1997, the sun was shining in Memphis and Jeff was there to start recording his much-anticipated second album.

That evening, he switched on the radio, Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lot of Love" was blaring out and Jeff jumped into the Mississippi River for a swim. He was singing his heart out with Robert Plant on the radio. The rushing undercurrent of the Mississippi pulled Jeff under and took him away from the rest of us.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: That appreciation was from NPR's Guy Raz. You can hear more of Jeff Buckley's music at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Guy Raz is an independent producer who has been described by the New York Times as "one of the most popular podcasters in history."