Legends often grow where they're left untended. Jeff Buckley, the alt rock angel, had released a single studio album and a handful of live recordings when he died in the Mississippi River at 30 years old. Still, that tiny body of work has garnered him a seat at most discussions about extraordinary vocal talents.
In the time since his death, the appetite for more moments has produced a number of compilations, live albums, and demos. When Sony Music was doing research for the 20th anniversary of Grace, they found in their archives what had been called the Addabbo Sessions, Buckley's first recordings for Columbia Records, which they've now packaged to release as You And I.
Steve Addabbo, a producer and engineer, who operates Shelter Island Sound in New York City had made Shawn Colvin's first record and Suzanne Vega's first two albums (along with Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group). Columbia Records contacted him about bringing in a young singer named Jeff Buckley that they'd recently signed, "just to see what he does."
Buckley spent three days at Shelter Island Sound, recording whatever he felt like: covers of The Smiths and Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone, tiny sketches of songs he was working on, an early version of "Grace."
About a year later, 1994, Buckley released what nobody would have bet could be his only studio album. Addabbo has had to keep quiet about his recordings for 23 years. But no longer. He was kind enough to tell us what it was like to be the only other guy in the room.
Watch exclusive clips from the documentary accompaniment to You And I below, which detail Buckley's early days with never-before-seen footage and interviews about the making of the album. Jeff Buckley's You And I is out March 11 on Legacy Recordings.
Chart Attack: Can you begin by telling me how these sessions came about?
Steve Addabbo: Well through a connection with Shawn Colvin. I had known Shawn from the studio scene in New York. We played in the same country and western bands back then. It was kind of the urban cowboy period in New York City, there were a lot of country bars, the Lone Star Cafe. So she was on the scene as a singer and I was on the scene as a guitar player and a budding engineer. When it came time to find a background singer for Suzanne’s record, I called Shawn. She’s the one who’s singing backgrounds on “Luka.” And then we hired her to go on the road and she gave me a demo, and when I realized I hadn’t taken it out of my cassette player all summer, the light bulb went off: let’s try to sign her. Columbia Records was looking for their Suzanne Vega and I was the guy to bring her in.
Dutifully sitting on [these recordings] and going 'What the hell! Why aren’t these out in the world?’ — it was frustrating at times.
Was that an unusual thing? For a record company to throw new talent in the studio to gain some experience?
No. And it wasn’t even so much for the experience, it was just to see what he did. I did the same thing with Suzanne. I just invited her into the studio to sit down and play. I’m not going to produce you or anything, just put up some nice mics and some nice reverb and this is how first albums are formed, you start to work with the clay. It’s a starting point. We weren’t doing his first record. It was just an exploratory session to let him stretch out a little bit. Now 23 years later, it kinda turns out to be his first record.
You would have been familiar with his father’s music, right?
Somewhat. I wasn’t a huge Tim Buckley fan honestly. You couldn’t avoid Tim Buckley in those days, growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I knew of him. I knew of his stature. But I wasn’t this huge fan expecting the next Tim Buckley to walk through my door.
What were your first impressions of Jeff?
I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard the buzz about him: there was this kid Jeff Buckley coming up. It’s Tim Buckley’s son. I think we all expected him to be this folkie like his dad, and he just wasn’t. From the moment he started playing, it was obvious he had a very special talent. his voice was gorgeous, his guitar playing was great, and his interpretations of the songs were complete. Whether it was Sly and the Family Stone or Smiths or Jim Morrison — I mean, there’s stuff that’s not released on this record that exists — he could just inhabit it in his own way. That was my first impression. His voice was just phenomenal, you know, from a whisper to a roar in no time at all, just effortlessly and perfect.
Absolutely. Everything. This was the stuff he had studied, he sought out, he was drawn to. He’d get inside these songs. When he said “I’m going to play ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’,” I was expecting a Gerry and the Pacemakers song. Nah, we had nothing to do with his choice of songs at all. Maybe Berkowitz might’ve said, “Oh, I heard you do that other one at the show,” just to remind him of something, but no, it wasn’t our place to do that.
And what did you think of the original material he recorded? “You And I” and that early version of “Grace”?
We weren’t doing his first record. It was just an exploratory session to let him stretch out a little bit. Now 23 years later, it kinda turns out to be his first record.
These are pretty minimal recordings. How did you decide on the approach that would best serve Jeff and the songs?
Well, I think our whole concept going in, and it’s something I’d done many times before, was to set him up. Get a guitar amp set up, get an acoustic guitar set up, get a Wurlitzer piano set up, get his harmonium miced, he also had his Dobro there, which he uses on the blues tune. Just have it all set up so he could wander around from this instrument to that instrument with no break in the momentum or flow and keep it as low-key as possible. Just let the tapes roll. If he screws up, start again.
The first day he was more concerned about getting good takes. He’d do “Just Like A Woman” two or three times. By the end of the second day, he’d just rip through a take and if he really screwed it up, maybe he’d start again. The whole point was to get some very simple stuff without putting undue pressure on him. He felt enough pressure already being signed to Columbia Records. The actual approach was simplicity. Make it as good as we can. I have some nice mics and mic pres and reverbs and stuff I’ve used for 25 years. What you hear is exactly what Jeff and I heard. It’s not remixed or touched up in any way. Just live two-track mixes going into a DAT machine. It’s just as we heard it then.
Jeff’s body of recorded work is tiny and you definitely knew there was an appetite for this album. What was it like to just sort of dutifully sit on these recordings for 23 years?
That’s exactly what it was like: dutifully sitting on them and going 'what the hell! Why aren’t these out in the world?’ It was frustrating at times. There’s nothing else recorded for Jeff that we know of. Some of the moments on this record are just spectacular. And there’s a lot where this came from. We did this for three days. We probably have close to four or five hours of recorded stuff. I was careful with them. They weren’t my tapes to put out there. They’re owned by Columbia. On occasion, if somebody special came by, I’d play them a little glimpse.
Was it something you were proud to have?
Of course. I knew I had a little goldmine there. The Live at Sin-é approach is there, but then it’s a different thing. The recording is so intimate here and right in your face. I think it’s going to impact a lot of Jeff Buckley fans. And hopefully, get him a lot of new fans, too. I’m happy it’s coming out.
Grace was a big album for me, for a lot of people, it’s just cool to have more.
Well, here you go, a year before he went and did any of that.