A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat
by Walt Stempek
Copyright 1996 Walt Stempek. Used by Permission.
"Hipsters, flipsters and finger-poppin' daddies,
Knock me your lobes!
I came here to lay Caesar out,
Not to hip you to him.
The bad jazz that a cat blows
Wails long after he's cut out,
The groovy is often stashed with their frames.
So don't put Caesar down...."
What a gas! Willie the Shake flipping wigs once again in this wild, crazy, "hipsemantic" translation of Marc Antony's funeral oration. And what sweet, swingin' stud laid this beautiful jazz down? None other than Lord Richard Buckley - a far out, wailin', nonstop, groovy gasser who stomped virtually unknown through the pages of comedic history.
He came upon his title one day while visiting a bankrupt circus with a friend. From one of the wardrobe trunks he pulled a rather large purple robe (it belonged to an elephant) complete with glass emeralds, rubies and sapphires. He draped it around his shoulders and proceeded to march through the streets of Chicago to his party pad, where he began celebrating his new title: Lord Buckley, hip English nobleman. His followers became the Royal Court and were christened with nicknames such as Prince Owl Head, Lady Renaissance, Prince Hair Head, and Princess Water Lily. His Lordship's graciousness was not reserved only for members of the Royal Court, but was extended to all, for he truly believed: "...people, yes people are the true flowers of life, and it has been a most precious pleasure to have temporarily strolled in your garden."
Although his manner was that of an English nobleman, his language was the argot of the streets of black America: "Negroes spoke a language of such power, purity and beauty I found it irresistible. I could not resist this magical way of speaking, nor the great power it had for good in its purity and sweetness. A power that said by hip-zig-zag-urmph, everything is understandable. A voice spoke to me from within. Doesn't it, to you?...And this black riff-voice swung, grooved and gassed me - triple hipped my soul - launching the fabric of my very being into the outer realms of the FARGONASPHERE!!"
The whole world truly was his stage, as his son Fred explains in the liner notes of Buckley's Best: "...his Lordship took every opportunity to perform wherever he happened to be. In a private home or in a supermarket, in a concert hall or standing on the desert at sunrise, his Lordship was prepared to and most often did perform for whoever was present."
One thing was for sure, His Majesty lived every day as if it were to be his last and he never let money get in the way of having fun. He was always broke, and if you knew him, chances were he owed you money. He once bought dinner for thirty people with money he borrowed from those he invited! However, he was as generous with his own as he was with others'. His generosity took many forms and was often extended to other performers. Jazz singer Anita O'Day speaks fondly of Buckley in her autobiography High Times, Hard Times, noting that he took her under his wing early in her career and helped her develop as an artist.
Richard Myrle Buckley was born on April 5, 1906, in Toulumne, California, a mining town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. He was the youngest of eight children (some accounts say ten, some six), and as a boy he and his sister Nell would sing for the cowboys who passed through town in the hopes of earning some small change. In his youth he worked as a dishwasher, truck driver and lumberjack. In the mid-1920's he set off for Mexico to join a brother in an oil venture. He got as far as Galveston where he met up with a Texas guitar player and began his show business career. His first gig was at the Million Dollar Aztec Theater in San Antonio. In a radio interview years later Buckley recalled that the manager of the Aztec called his "the lousiest act I ever played in my life."
"And he was right!" exclaimed the Lord.
The 1930's found Buckley working in Chicago. He began the decade as a walkathon Master of Ceremonies and later gigged in speakeasies run by the mob. During an engagement at the club Suzy Q Buckley hired a hearse to drive around the streets of Chicago. Dressed in a tuxedo he would lie in a coffin in the back, and when cars pulled up alongside he would sit up holding a sign reading, "The body comes alive at the Suzy Q." Buckley eventually caught the eye of Al Capone, who set him up with his own nightclub, the Chez Buckley. His Lordship hired some of the best jazz musicians to blow at his club, and it was perhaps during this period that he developed his love of black dialect. Eventually Chicago vice-squad pressure forced him to leave town.
In the 1940's Buckley worked the vaudeville circuit and developed his "Amos 'n Andy" act, which was the precursor of the routines for which he is noted. Four audience members would be seated on stage with Buckley crouched behind them. His Majesty would supply the black idiom while the participants would lip-snych and gesture when prodded by Buckley. He used this skit on U.S.O. tours with Ed Sullivan during World War II, and Sullivan liked it so much he had Buckley on his show nine times in the 1940's and 50's.
The 40's were a wild time for Buckley. Berle Adams, his manager in the latter part of the decade, recalled: "Dick was unpredictable even in those days. These were his big drinking and womanizing days. Many clubs wouldn't bring him back, especially hotels. It was precarious to have him work(ing) the hotel or working the floor because you didn't know what was going to happen next." He was known to ridicule an unhip audience, and was not adverse to doing his act with a joint dangling from his lips.
After the war, while acting in a Broadway play called The Passing Show, he met and married one of the show's dancers, a beautiful 20 year old blonde woman named Elizabeth Hanson. The couple moved into a Manhattan apartment and spent the next few years entertaining anyone and everyone. They had two children, Laurie and Richard Jr. (Buckley's son, Fred, was from a previous union) and were together until he died. Lady Buckley: "I loved the man and I loved the artist, too. I was just happy that he passed my way, because he looked at life differently than anyone else. We always ate well and we always were warm and had shelter. We lived in palaces and we lived in tiny places like the Crackerbox Palace. It never seemed to make any difference - we were happy together..."
In 1950 the Buckleys moved West to Los Angeles. With two children money was tight and Buckley was hoping to break into films or at least find work in Las Vegas, Reno or San Francisco. The film career never quite worked out, although he did have a bit part in the 20th Century Fox comedy We're Not Married (now available on video), starring Fred Allen, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe, and a walk-on in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus.
It was also during this time that Buckley began, according to Oliver Trager, Buckley's biographer, "...taking the persona of "His Lordship" both onstage and off. At Lady Buckley's urging, the four-way "Amos 'n Andy" bit was deemphasized in the act. In its place were the classic Lord Buckley raps, recasting incidents from history and mythology into a patois that blended scat-singing, black jive talk, and the King's English."
In California Buckley found the perfect place to continue the free-spirited lifestlye he had pursued back East. It made no difference whether he and his family lived in dilapidated places like the Chicken Coop or the Crakerbox Palace or in a mansion (The Castle) in the Hollywood Hills. The latter, complete with moat, once belonged to the silent movie actress Barbara La Marr. It was owned by an old widow and Buckley used his considerable charm to talk her into renting it to him for a song and a dance. The Castle had its own throne from which His Lordship would hold court for the likes of Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Curtis. Also welcome were junkies, musicians and virtually anyone else who wanted to join the party. It was at the Topanga Canyon art gallery owned by his friend Bob DeWitt that Lord Buckley started the first jazz church, which he christened "The Church of the Living Swing." Said Lady Buckley, "All the people sat on railroad ties, and it was the first time they had a light show. His Lordship would perform, and there would be music. It only lasted four weeks but it was wonderful."
From 1954-1962 Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Oscar Janiger conducted clinical research to study the effects of the then legal drug LSD on a cross-section of the population. Lord Buckley, not one to pass up a possible mind-altering opportunity, agreed to participate in the project. Those who took part were expected to write down their reactions to the experience shortly after taking the drug. The following is an excerpt from His Majesty's encounter with the psychedelic drug:
"LSD, first trip, by Richard Lord Buckley, ordinary seaman on the good ship lovely soul detonator, under the command of Fleet Admiral Oscar Janiger, head detonator and...head head. Introduction: I first felt a tenseness in my groin and chest, as if something big was there, something I knew was going to rise up to break through to something new. My whole body was jingling with alert signals. This is gonna be one mother of a takeoff! Hang on! It felt like a soul pressure. I felt strong. I felt words shooting out of me like projectiles, acres of untapped sound were waiting to be put in the gun of expression! And with the physical feelings of rising and breaking through, came a great sense of expanding freedom. I knew I was there when I saw the high florescency of vivid colors..."
It was also during the 1950's that Buckley made his recordings on the Vaya, World Pacific, hip, Straight and RCA labels (more on these later), did radio interviews in Chicago and San Francisco, and also made appearances on Steve Allen's Tonight Show, Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life, and The Milton Berle Show.
In 1957, their fortunes on the wane in California, Buckley and his family moved to Las Vegas, where he was able to find some work in the nightclubs and casinos. In 1960 they moved again, this time to the San Francisco Bay area. Buckley soon found gigs in places like The Hungry i and the Purple Onion, clubs which were also featuring such talent as Mort Saul, Dick Gregory and Lenny Bruce. That summer, after establishing residence in San Rafael, Buckley left his family behind and was on the move again, this time on his "Cosmic Tour," a cross-country jaunt in a red VW microbus.
From late August until mid-September he was in Chicago where he worked the Gate of Horn (A short clip of one of his performances appears in an obscure BBC documentary, Chicago: First Impressions of a Great American City.) He also did an interview with Studs Terkel on radio station WFMT. His Lordship fell ill in Chicago but recovered adequately enough to move on to New York, where he was scheduled to work the Jazz Gallery in early October. Novelist Harold Humes had also wanted Buckley to do the voice-over soundtrack for Don Peyote, a film he was working on.
On October 20, while working at the Jazz Gallery, the New York vice squad appeared and confiscated Buckley's cabaret card, a requirement of employment for all restaurant and club workers in New York. The cabaret card law, which had been in effect since Prohibition, prevented anyone with a police record from working in a restaurant or club. Buckley had been busted in Reno in 1941 for public drunkenness and was, according to the New York Post, "accused of having falsely stated on his (cabaret card) application that he had never been arrested." His Lordship maintained that the questions on the application were confusing. A Citizens Emergency Committee, composed mostly of writers and magazine and book editors, came to Buckley's defense. The CEC's accusation that cabaret cards were not issued unless a bribe was paid to the Police Cabaret Bureau made front page news. The committee was counting on Buckley to testify, but unfortunately, The Hip Messiah, as he was then being called, was not going to make the scene.
On November 12, 1960 His Lordship called Harold Humes, explaining he was afraid, broke and hungry (Humes immediately arranged to get him some money), and that the daily rejections by the cabaret bureau were causing him great anxiety. He told Humes he had the "bugbird" in him (a reference to Buckley's "hipsemantic" interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe's, "The Raven"). Later that day he became ill and was taken by ambulance to Columbus Hospital. He died later that night. The original cause of death was given as kidney failure, but the two attending physicians later said he died of a stroke caused by "extreme hypertension." A friend later commented that he died of a broken heart as much as anything. Buckley's friend, comedian Larry Storch, upon hearing of his death, said, "You know, we never really thought Lord Buckley would die. We thought he had it from his mouth to God's ear."
Eventually, the Citizens Emergency Committee succeeded, through public pressure, in forcing New York City to abolish the cabaret card licensing requirement.
A few weeks later a memorial service was held at the Village Gate to benefit the Buckley family. Those in attendance grieved, eulogized, traded stories and toasted His Majesty, while Ornette Coleman and Dizzy Gillespie wailed into the night.
Lord Buckley left behind a substantial, if generally unknown, legacy. Honey Bruce in her autobiography says, "Lenny did vocal impressions of famous stars, but I believe he learned he could use his voice to create many comedy characters from his experiences with Lord Buckley. With Lenny's talents there was no problem coming up with the voices, but it was the dear Lord Buckley who did it first." Larry Storch, Jonathan Winters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams have acknowledged their debt to him. Henry Miller, Greer Garson, and Charlie Parker were some of his admirers. Frank Sinatra was his friend, until His Lordship supposedly marched sixteen naked people through the lobby of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where Sinatra was performing.
George Harrison's 1977 hit song "Crackerbox Palace" was indeed named after Buckley's tiny Hollywood dwelling. The Mr. Greif referred to in the song was once Buckley's manager, and "...the Lord is well inside of you..." refers to the earthly, not the heavenly, divinity. Jimmy Buffett has recorded and performed an original Buckley number called "God's Own Drunk." Bob Dylan fell in love with "Black Cross," the story of a black man who is lynched for his supposed lack of religious beliefs. Written by a Cleveland poet named Joseph Newman, it was one of the few works Buckley recited in its original form. Dylan performed "Black Cross" in concert and two bootleg recordings from 1961 and 1962 do exist. If you look closely at the cover of Dylan's album, Bringing It All Back Home, you will see a copy of Buckley's album, The Best of Lord Buckley (Crestview), on the mantle over the fireplace. And Frank Zappa edited His Lordship's LP, a most immaculately hip aristocrat, when he was sixteen years old.
His Lordship lives on in other ways. In 1983, English actor John Sinclair performed a one-man stage show called Lord Buckley's Finest Hour in Los Angeles and London. A Santa Cruz jazz musician named Don McCaslin has produced a radio show called The Nazz: A Bebop Drama, based on Lord Buckley's work of the same name, and is currently working on a related venture called Lil' Nazz, the story of the birth of Christ. In 1960, and again in 1980, City Lights Books in San Francisco published the lyrics to some of His Lordship's routines called Hiparama of the Classics. (It is currently out of print.) Since 1988 an annual Lord Buckley Memorial Celebration has been held in the hills near Santa Barbara, California. In addition to commemorating His Lordship, the non-profit event raises money for such causes as Amnesty International and Greenpeace. Oliver Trager, a New York writer, has been assiduously compiling a biography of Lord Buckley over the last few years.
And let us not forget the legacy Lord Buckley left to his children. A tribute to His Lordship from his daughter, Laurie: "He kept my brother Richard and I separate from the crazy world he lived in. He always made sure we were well-spoken, led orderly lives, and got to bed at the right time. He made us believe in goodness and honor. I may've had my rude awakening later, but he tried to live on a level of graciousness. He didn't want the past to be forgotten. He wasn't always understood. In fact, you either loved him or hated him. He gave his money away to anyone who needed it. I think he created the Royal Court to protect his own mind, because he was always so far ahead of everybody else. He consumed people. He digested their minds. He was a magnificent spirit. He made a great impression. When you heard Lord Buckley, you were never the same again."
In 1946 jazz bandleader Lyle Griffin (who later produced and played on Buckley records for the hip label) recorded a tune called "Flight of the Vout Bug" for his own label, Atomic. The song was reissued on IRRA and reissued again on hip. Buckley dubbed a vocal over Griffin's instrumental track in 1956 resulting in "Flight of the Saucer", a far out audio exploration of the solar system.
Two of Buckley's first known commercial recordings, Euphoria and Euphoria, Volume II, were made for the Vaya label. Both were recorded in 1951; Euphoria was most likely released in 1955 with Euphoria, Volume II following in 1956. Euphoria was released in three variations, all containing the same material. There was a twelve inch version called Euphoria, Volume 1, and two 10" releases, both called Euphoria, but one pressed in black vinyl and one in red vinyl (with a different label and number). This LP contains Buckley's most famous work, the story of Christ, otherwise known as "The Nazz":
"...and I dig all you cats out there whippin' and whalin' and jumpin' up and down and suckin' up that fine juice, and pattin' each other on the back and tellin' each other who the greatest cat in the woild is. Mr. Malenkoff, Mr. Dalenkoff, Mr. Eisenhower, Woozinweezin, Weisenwoozer, and Mr. Woodhill and Mr. Beechhill and Mr. Churchhill and all them Hills, they gonna get it straight. If they can't straighten it they know a cat that knows a cat that's gonna get it straight. Well, I'm gonna put a cat on you was the sweetest, gonist, wailinest cat that ever stomped on this sweet swingin' sphere. And they call this here cat...the Nazz, that was the cat's name. He was a carpenter kitty. Now the Nazz was the kind of a cat that come on so wild, and so sweet, and so strong and so with it, that when he laid it -WHAM - it stayed there..."
Also included on Euphoria are "Marc Antony's Funeral Oration," an exercise in "hipsemantic"; "Nero," an outrageous account of the infamous Roman emperor; and "Murder," a crime we have all daydreamed about committing at one time or another. The latter is a Buckley original and one of a number of routines which is done straight, that is, not translated into "hipsemantic." This album is representative of the range of Buckley's passions. It eloquently displays his sense of rhythm, his love of language and literature, his admiration for historical figures who did good for humankind, and his fascination with the dark side of the human soul.
Euphoria, Volume II contains other popular Buckley numbers, including "Jonah and the Whale" (complete with a marijuana smoking Jonah), and his tribute to an obscure Spanish explorer, The Gasser, who landed in Florida in 1528 (not 1410) and "made a connection that shook the peninsula." Interestingly enough, Buckley misnames this historical figure, calling him Cabenza De Gasca. In a live version of "The Gasser" recorded in 1959 he uses his correct name, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. "The Hip Gahn" recalls an incident in the life of another Buckley hero, the "all-hip" Mahatma Gandhi. The remainder of Euphoria, Volume II consists of Buckley's interpretation of four of Aesop's Fables: "The Dog and the Wolf"; "The Grasshopper and the Ant"; "The Mouse and the Lion"; and "The Lion's Breath." These routines do not appear on any other Buckley recording.
In 1963 the Crestview label issued an album called The Best of Lord Buckley, which contained all the released Vaya material except the Aesop's Fables, "Murder," and "Cabenza De Gasca, The Gasser." In 1969 Elektra released in the U. S. and England a duplicate of the Crestview album, also called The Best of Lord Buckley. These recordings both include an additional cut, "Gettysburg Address," Buckley's hipsemantic translation of "Lanky Linchistoric speech. In 1992 the Discovery label reissued most of the Vaya material on a CD entitled His Royal Hipness, Lord Buckley. All the routines from Euphoria, Volume I and Euphoria, Volume II are included, except the fables and "Murder." Like the Crestview and Elektra vinyl it has the additional cut, "Gettysburg Address."
A historic Buckley recording has surfaced recently which apparently was released only in England. Issued by Nonesuch Records in the 1960's, the album is entitled The Parabolic REVELATIONS of the Late Lord Buckley and was recorded in a Hollywood studio in front of a small audience in 1952. It includes "The Nazz," "Jonah and the Whale" (minus the marijuana reference), and "Murder," plus His Lordship's version of the origin of the "Chasitiy Belt" (a live version of which appears on a later U. S. release, "Bad Rapping of the Marquis De Sade"). "Governor Gulpwell" is a straight Buckley story about a corrupt, greedy, hypocritical politician, and also appears on the U. S. album, a most immaculately hip aristocrat, under the title, "Governor Slugwell." Here Buckley displays his remarkable voice by taking the parts of the musical instruments providing fanfare for the governor. The real treasure on this album is "Georgia, Sweet and Kind," a cut until recently only rumored to exist. Buckley sings the standard "Georgia" a cappella, pausing occasionally throughout the song to tell the chilling story of a black man who is harassed by whites and eventually hanged - a story line identical to that of "Black Cross."
In 1955 and 1956 Buckley released his only seven inch extended play recordings. Nineteen fifty-five's Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin' Daddies Knock Me Your Lobes was issued on RCA in a two EP gatefold format (it was also released as a single ten-inch LP). Lord Buckley himself wrote the liner notes; here is what he has to say about four of the EP's five cuts:
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen" - "I lay the true story on you about Marc (Antony). He swung like nobody before him has ever swung. In fact, I spread the word like it has never been spread before."
"To Swing or not to Swing?"- "Have you ever tried to decode what that cat (Shakespeare) was trying to say about the stud with the flipped lid, Hamlet? For the first time in history the true story of Hamlet and his Number One chick, Ophelia (who, if you remember correctly, was a seven-ply gasser), is told."
"Hip Hiawatha" - "He was a jumping, stomping, hopping hipster that really cut a mean groove. His was the tale that history was so easy on that you won't believe it until you've heard it."
"Boston Tea Party" - "Do you realize (this fact never came out in history books) that those cats in Boston poured so much tea in the ocean that all the fishes in that area got hung on tea balls and the only way to catch fish in the next fifty years was to tie a tea ball on the end of a hook? Without it, man, they were dead."
For some reason His Lordship makes no mention of the fifth cut, "Is this the Sticker?" which is his translation of the last half of Act II, Scene I of "Macbeth."
The three Shakespeare pieces are remarkable in that Buckley's narrative is done in graduate level "hipsemantic," perhaps as a tribute to The Bard. By this I mean that most of his routines (e.g. "The Nazz," "Jonah and the Whale") can be appreciated and enjoyed even if one is not familiar with many "hip" terms. But unless one is very familiar with Shakespeare, the Buckley excerpts, ironically, have to be translated line by line in order to be understood.
Buckley's other three seven-inch EP's were released in 1956 on the hip label. "The Gettysburg Address" appears on both sides of one disc, Buckley giving his own rendition of the actual address on one side, and a "hip" translation on the other (this version is different than the one on The Best of Lord Buckley LP's). The only known copies of this disc are in red vinyl, some of them even signed by Lord Buckley. "James Dean's Message to the Teenagers" describes Buckley's only meeting with the teen idol, which took place at Jazz City in Hollywood. Buckley was very impressed with Dean, who had none of the affectations of the stereotypical Hollywood star. Dean thought that the youth of America ("the brightest, strongest, and most intelligent of all the generations") were "looking for some kind of a cop-out in the face of the bad jazz of the atomic age." He felt they were having "a ball before the blast," and that Buckley's hip translations of the works of Christ and Gandhi could help them understand the power of love. "James Dean" is backed with "Speak for Yourself, John," Buckley's version of the love triangle in Plymouth Colony between Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla. The third EP, "Flight of the Saucer," Parts 1 and 2, is a science fiction fantasy with a message. It is the story of a spaceship from Jupiter which lands on Earth. While stopping on Mars to refuel on its return voyage, a reporter from Earth interviews a Martian, who tells Earthlings not to "play the fool and lose the cool" with our Atomic and Hydrogen bombs.
A most immaculately hip aristocrat was recorded in 1956 but was not released by Straight Records until 1970. It was also reissued that same year by Reprise, which reissued a number of Straight and Bizarre recordings. Although the sound quality is good, it is a somewhat amateurish recording with starts/stops, airplane noises in the background, and people talking. But it does contains some classic Buckley riffs. Side one's "The Bad Rapping of the Marquis De Sade/The King of Bad Cats" is Buckley's defense of the historic villain (more about this routine later). "Governor Slugwell" is virtually identical to "Governor Gulpwell" on Parabolic REVELATIONS. Side two has three recordings found on no other commercial release. "The Raven" ("so many times when you don't want the bird, when you don't need the bird, when you haven't got the first possible use for the bird, that's when you get it.") is a wonderful tribute in hip to that tortured soul, Edgar Allen Poe. Buckley has another peek at the dark side in "The Train," the tale of a seemingly ordinary train ride that ends in disaster. His voice is extraordinary on this track as he recreates the various sounds of a locomotive. "The Hip Einie" could refer to none other than that "sphere gasser," Albert Einstein:
"He became the king of all space-heads. He goofed through the zonasphere and the voutasphere and the routasphere and the hipasphere and the flipasphere and the zipasphere and the gonasphere and the waygonasphere - he was way on out there."
A most immaculately hip aristocrat was reissued twice in 1989, on vinyl by Demon Verbals in England and on CD and cassette by Enigma Retro in the U. S.
In 1959 Buckley gave a series of concerts at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood, California. His performance on February 12, 1959 (Lincoln's birthday) was recorded and released that year as Way Out Humor, the first of five LP's issued on World Pacific Records. It is on stage where Lord Buckley's genius is most noticably in evidence, fueled by a rare synergism between audience and performer. His Lordship's performance is so natural and relaxed it seems as if he is having a dinner conversation with a close friend. Indeed, he is so appreciative of his audience that at one point he asks them, "My Lords and My Ladies, Beloveds, would it embarass you very much if I were to tell you that I love you?"
Way Out Humor contains a wonderful version of "The Nazz"; a moving "Black Cross"; a short tribute to Shakespeare ("Willie the Shake"); and four original routines which, interestingly enough, are not done in hip. On "Supermarket" His Lordship excoriates the "greedheads" who own the supermarkets and expect us to do their work for them, "pushin' the mother cart." "Lions" is a short take about some foul smelling beasts on a boat, possibly Noah's ark. "My Own Railroad" is a fanciful, and supposedly autobiographical, sketch about getting away from it all by going for a drive and winding up cruising out of town on Chicago's State Street trolley tracks. The fourth original number is a "creative wig-bubble" about a man of temperance who watches over his brother-in-law's still and becomes "God's Own Drunk."
What is particularly significant about Way Out Humor is that for the first time on record Buckley presents the philosophy which is a driving force in his life: "Laughter, it truly is religious; it gives off vibrations from the subconscious...when a person is laughing he's illuminated, he's illuminated the full beauty of a human being, and the womanhood, when she's happy and laughing is ooooh mother magnate...it's a prayer." He demonstrates this with a selection from Joyce Cary's "Horse's Mouth." In the last scene of the book the main character, Gulley Jimson, is brought, dying, into a Catholic hospital, but "he's swingin', he's leapin, he's jumpin', he's layin' it down." When a nun comments that at such a serious time it would be better for him to pray than to laugh, Jimson replies, "It's the same thing, madam."
Way Out Humor was also reissued by World Pacific in 1964 as Lord Buckley In Concert. The jacket cover photo of Buckley wearing his favorite pith helmet is the same on both albums, as are the liner notes and the material; however, "Lions" is not listed as a track on the In Concert LP. Way Out Humor was also issued with an alternate jacket which says "Far Out Humor" on the back, with the words "High Fidelity Long Playing" near the upper left and right hand corners. A British label, Demon Verbals (a subsidiary of Demon Records), re-released Lord Buckley In Concert in 1985. The cover photo is identical to the World Pacific releases, and the inner sleeve has some interesting and amusing liner notes as well as rare Buckley photos taken at The Music Box, a club in Los Angeles.
In 1966 World Pacific released Blowing His Mind (and yours, too). Side one was recorded at the same Ivar Theatre concert (February 12, 1959) as Way Out Humor and includes "The Gasser" as well as four new tracks. "Subconscious Mind" is the story of a beautiful daydream someone has while driving on a sunny afternoon. "Fire Chief" is a short bit about a fireman who drops a woman he's trying to rescue. "Let It Down" is a "commercial kick" about a farmer urging his reluctant cow to give milk. The final live cut, "Murder," is a shortened version of the Vaya recording. Side two was recorded at World Pacific Studios in 1960. "Maharaja" is the story of "The Cop-out," a man who has done something so outrageous as to be unforgivable, yet manages to talk his way back into the maharaja's good graces. "Scrooge" needs no explanation, "You can get with it if you want to - there's only one way straight to the road of love." Blowing His Mind was also released in England (Fontana) and reissued by Demon Verbals in 1985.
The fourth World Pacific album, Buckley's Best, was issued in 1968. Six of the seven selections are from the February 12, 1959, Ivar Theatre date and are available on either Way Out Humor (Lord Buckley In Concert) or Blowing His Mind (and yours, too). They are: "Supermarket," "The Naz," "The Gasser," "Subconscious Mind," "Willie The Shake," and "God's Own Drunk." The only new cut, "Martin's Horse," was also recorded at the Ivar, most likely on the same date. It is another story of love, this time between a jockey and his horse.
As great as the Ivar concert albums are, the quintessential Buckley disc is his last officially released recording, made in the year of his death. The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade (World Pacific, 1969; Demon Verbals, 1986), recorded live in Oakland in 1960 at "The Gold Nugget", is the culmination of a lifetime of work. The club atmosphere is intimate, Buckley is at his funniest, his timing is impeccable, and he is one with his audience. He raps about his favorite subjects: history, literature, the outrageous, social concerns, and between cuts he philosophizes about religion and the nature of humor. And yes, we have that marvelous Buckley voice, sometimes singing, sometimes imitating musical instruments, sometimes stentorian, sometimes whispering, but always stimulating.
Side one opens with The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade, which, as mentioned earlier, is Buckley's defense of the "hero in evil." How can one defend the man whose actions gave us the word "sadism"? Buckley's point is that de Sade never forced his desires on anyone, yet "they bad-rapped the poor cat every step of the way." As he is about to translate one of de Sade's favorite stories, a hilarious tale about the cannibalistic Prince Minski (The King of Bad Cats), Buckley explains:
"You know, there's a lot of times when you hear of something wild, something crazy, something insane, and you see the humorous thing will reach such a high altitude, that you say to yourself, 'Man, that's, that's no longer funny.' But, if it is humor, and you proceed further, instead of earning a negate under the license of humor, you'll find out there's a whole new strata up there. 'Cause humor goes in a complete circle, like the world. Humor is the oil of the soul."
We get a glimpse of Buckley's religious leanings in "Black Cross" (Way Out Humor; Lord Buckley in Concert), when main character, Hezekiah Jones, declares: "I believe that a man should be beholdin' to his neighbor without the reward of heaven or the fear of hellfire." Here, he takes this philosophy a step further: "I'm a people worshiper. I think people should worship people, I really do." He apologizes for offending anyone's religious beliefs, but his credo is: "I like to worship somethin' I can see, somethin' I can get my hands on, get my brains on. I don't know about that Jehovah cat, I can't reach him. Seemed like every time I found myself in a bind nothing mystic came to help me, some man or some woman stepped up there..." Indeed, he opens side two by informing his audience that they are not in a bar but in a modern chapel and welcomes them to high mass.
The second, and last, cut on side one, "H-bomb," revisits a theme touched upon in other recordings, the fear of impending nuclear holocaust. Buckley's antidote for such fear is, of course, humor. Invoking British philosopher Lord Boothby and American humorist James Thurber, he contends that in times of urgency it is the responsibility of a nation's humor "to attack the catastrophe that faces it in such a manner as to cause the people to laugh at it in such a way that they do not die before they get killed." Buckley's plan would be to spend a billion dollars on an advertising campaign to make people laugh at "The Bomb."
Side two opens with perhaps Buckley's funniest routine, a fantasy on the origin of "The Chastity Belt," complete with a white duke, a black duke, the holy grail, and a golden belt with "little phallic figurines, each and every one of them engraved in virgin pearls." His Lordship's love of literature is in evidence in "The Ballad of Dan McGroo," a "hipsemantic" treatment of the Robert Service poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." In the finale, "His Majesty, the Policeman," he not only sings but plays the parts of an entire marching band. How ironic, given the circumstances of his death, that Buckley should pay tribute to the "draggiest job in the world" on the last song of his last recording.
In 1991 Shambala Lion Editions (a division of Shambala Publications) released a cassette called Lord Buckley Live, produced by Buckley's son, Richard, Jr. Most of the cuts are available on the World Pacific/Demon Verbals recordings, including "The Hip Ghan," "The Gettysburg Address," "God's Own Drunk," "The Nazz," "Scrooge," "The Gasser," and "Murder," although some are slightly different versions, possibly unreleased hip label material. "Is This the Sticker?" and "James Dean" are available on the EP's, but these are very difficult to find. Two of the tracks are not available on any other commercial recording. "Baa Baa Black Sheep" is the allegorical tale of a large family of sheep, one pink (the mother), one blue (the father), nine white and one black. The black sheep is scoffed at until one day he helps out a small boy and girl in trouble by giving them not one, but three pounds of wool ("he turned out to be whiter than the rest of them"). In the story the song "Baa Baa Black Sheep" is sung by a young boy, most likely Richard, Jr. In "Trouble" Buckley does a hip/scat interpretation, with piano accompaniment, of the standard "Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen."
There are five known compilation albums with Buckley cuts. In 1970 Reprise issued two Bizarre/Straight samplers called Zapped, each with a different cut from "a most immaculately hip aristocrat." One has Frank Zappa on the cover and includes "Governor Slugwell." The second has a collage cover with Zappa and other artists whose work appears on the album, including His Lordship; the Buckley cut is "The Train". Elektra released a three record comedy album called "Garden of Delights" with one Buckley track, Little Black Samboder the name Richard or Dick Buckley; however, no copy of the recording has ever surfaced.
Enigma Retro's a most immaculatey hip aristocrat (1989), Shambala Lion Editions' Lord Buckley Live (1991), and Discovery's His Royal Hipness, Lord Buckley (1992) are the only Lord Buckley albums still likely to be in print. The World Pacific, Demon Verbals, Straight, Crestview, and Elektra releases are out there and can be found with a little effort. (There always seems to be a Buckley LP in Goldmine). The Parabolic REVELATIONS of the Late Lord Buckley, the Vaya recordings and the seven inch EP's are very difficult to find.
How does one classify Lord Buckley's work? In the liner notes of Blowing His Mind (and yours, too) producer Jim Dickson offers this explanation: "When his first album was made, there was no category it could be filed under. In a sense, he was a jazz comic. Jazz in the sense of improvisation on a theme - comic in that he certainly made people laugh. But his delight was that of dramatic storyteller, limited only by the audience's ability to stay with him." Add humorist and philosopher to jazz comic and dramatic storyteller and one begins to appreciate the complex nature of this comic genius's work.
Buckley was at times incorrectly labeled as a satirical or even "sick" comedian by those unhip souls who thought his "hipsemantic" renderings of the classics were irreverent. As Dan James noted in the liner notes to Way Out Humor: "In an age worshipping the negation with a humor that is sick sick sick, Lord Buckley insists on being triumphant, joyous, positive, proclaiming himself the poet of the well well well." Studs Terkel mentioned there was an element of compassion in his work, and Buckley himself insisted, "I am not a sick humorist."
Let us not forget, too, that Buckley was a fabulous performer, and this is a side of his brilliance most fans will never get to experience. Oliver Trager: "In performance Lord Buckley was a most immaculately hip aristocrat, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, twirling his waxed Daliesque mustache and gracefully drawing on his omnipresent cigarette, his massive frame cloaked in a tuxedo, a fresh carnation attached smartly to the lapel."
Lord Buckley's influence was perhaps best summed up by author Ken Kesey in a conversation with Oliver Trager: "Lord Buckley is a secret thing that people pass under the table. You ask writers who they think is the best writer, and they all mention someone above them. Gradually you get up at the top, and you get to Samuel Beckett and not many people have read him. But a lot of people have been influenced by Beckett. I think the same was true of Lord Buckley. There were a lot of people influenced by Lord Buckley who never heard his material."
The good Prince Walt can be reached at his email address: email@example.com