Riffs Obits
Gregory Toliver Interview at LBC
Published January 15, 2016
Peninsula Shaker
Gregory Toliver [??? - 2016]

There are, on this sphere, beings of tremendous grace, heart, talent and hipness who somehow are subradar to the greater percentage of the populance. They are, as Ken Kesey once said of Lord Buckley, a secret thing passed under the table. To the hipnoscenti they are pure gold and to the rest of the teeming motleys they are, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Their feats and impact go largely unknown and unacknowledged. They can also sometimes be extremely challenging to the rest of us. This day LBC is sad to announce that one of these impossible angels has swooped the satellite and is, as they say, real gone. Gregory Toliver age 63 is reported flipped out with no forwarding address.

The Goodly Prince T came to the attention of LBC in the year of 2K when a casual encounter in a suburban Los Angeles coffee shop patio quickly evolved into a recital of Lord Buckley's "Scrooge". This lead to a series of encounters and interviews with Michael Monteleone and Roger Mexico for their forthcoming documentary film about The Lord. Gregory's ability to speak at length, off the cuff and with tremendous power about nearly any aspect of Lord Buckley: artistic, social, political, spiritual, animal, vegetable and mineral had, as The Swingin' One might say, the power to shake the peninsula.

Roger Mexico shares his impressions:


A gentleman and a scholar.  Holding forth on Lord Buckley, there was this sense that he fully got what this force of nature was all about uplifting and beholding the subject at hand in such a delightfully inspired manner.  The twinkle in his eye as he spun the tale.  He clearly loved Lord Buckley and was able to weave such a refined and audaciously informed story transforming scholarship into pure magic.  He brought His Lordship into the room in a fiercely beautiful way.  Teaching.  On fire with delight.

Some thoughts.  I remember his entrance spilling out of an old pick up truck along with bottles, books and an illuminated manuscript or two.  He may have greeted us with a line from a favorite Buckley routine spoken with a flourish befitting the occasion.  A bop philosopher well journeyed beyond the footnotes and thinking fast on his feet.  Connecting all the dots.  Making sparks fly.  A bagman for His Lordship.


At this juncture the facts sheet at LBC is sketchy on Gregory Toliver's history. It is known he hailed from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He was brighter than about any ten people and he had a way with words that might have made Willie the Shake rethink his style. He was a writer of magnificent short stories that provided glimpses of humanity that made you forget your were reading something on a page. A strong rumor tippy toes through in the land that says he once read Humanities and Music at Oxford. Gregory himself would neither confirm or deny it. He would say something like, "That's right, when I lived in England." He was also a computer network specialist and a father.

Gregory's later years on the sphere were not easy for him. He struggled to put bread on the table and sometimes a roof over his head. He knew what it was to have NOTHING!!! The Bugbird for him came in the guise of vascular issues and finally prevailed at 3AM on January 12th, at Pomona Valley Hospital in Pomona, California. A funeral took place on January 16, 2016 at a church in Pomona.

The way black folks dressed; the way they ate, the way they wrote, the way they talked to each other, the way their music sounded. All these things were, at that time, different than the way white people did such things. Still are to some degree, but more so then. And there was a dividing line. We were not just physically, or politically, or socially segregated. We were culturally segregated. And there was abroad in the land, and had been for decades, in the land, a sort of a notion that the artistic works of black folks were some how inferior to the artistic works of black - of white folks. Oh, there were a few notable exceptions. There was the great Louis Armstrong and there was Miss Lena Horne, who was, you know, prettier than half the white women around her and - OK, and all that. But, we know that from nineteen hundred straight up to the time that I was born, while white America had a sort of fascination with the panache and the grace of black entertainers, there was this sense that, well, there was the white world of art, which was high and sophisticated, and of moment. And there was the black world of art which was entertaining, but after all that's all it was. So, along comes Lord Buckley, and what Lord Buckley is doing is - he is adding substance to something which, up to then, the white world assumed, and, I guess, even most of the black world assumed, had no substance. Which was black humor. He was a white man doing black humor. But his black humor was: political satire, social commentary, had religious overtones. It wasn't buck and wing, and it wasn't, it wasn't Mr. Bones and Mr. Interlocutor. And it wasn't even, I mean, it wasn't even, you know, Moms Mably or Red Foxx. It wasn't jokes about drinking or jokes about sex, you know, alone, you know. It wasn't regular nightclub fare. So, in that sense, all of a sudden, coming out of the face of a white man, a, what I recognize as a distinctly black voice. Was saying the kinds of things that you were reading in the New Yorker about Lenny Bruce saying. And we all today know that what Lenny Bruce was saying and doing was socially significant, and culturally significant and that's what Buckley was doing. He was, in those days, one of that handful of people who rose above the level of being a comedian to being what, in the last century, was called a humorist.


So that what went on all through those years, the upshot, if you will, of it was that, that the ideas of black folks, when they expressed them in their own way, in the way they talk to one another, couldn't' be taken seriously because the mode of expression was "niggerish", "too colored". I grew up hearing things like that in my household from my parents, "Oh, don't talk that way." We grew up in a time, and you saw a great rebellion against this, thank god, in the '60s, my generation. But, my parents generation, you wanted when you talked to talk as much like white person as you could. You wanted your grammar to be the grammar the people on the other side of town used. And it was assumed that in, in what today is, I guess, by some people, who think they are being very chic chic, called Ebonics. It was assumed then that there - nothing valuable could be said in that tone and in that way. Now it's interesting, if you make a comparison of that kind of image. Look, for instance, at how no one thought there was anything wrong with the broken grammar of a Robert Burns. Robert Burns invests the Scottish brogue, which, after all, is not traditional English, with poetry because he is a poet. And what - and the substance of what he says, and the music that he puts into it, invests it with cultural significance and, OK? The street talk that I heard as a boy, and that my parents sort of urged me that I wanted to be a member of an educated class that doesn't talk like that, you know, OK? Comes back to me out of the mouth of Lord Buckley and it's art, it's poetry, it's music, it's a substantive commentary on what's going on around him that actually makes sense. And it is authentically black. He sounds like a black person, he talks like a black person, he knows the linguistic codes and the rhythms of that street talk he's talking as intimately as I do or anybody else around me does as the time. And he's investing it with significance. Here's a white man who is announcing to the world that black folks really have something to say. And they really think something and what they think is, in fact, often quite correct and full of insight. So, he was, yeah he was a revelation. Because, while I always knew that the people around me had something to say, and it was significant. It never occurred to me that there were white people who knew that. And honored it and he did.