Lord Richard Buckley (Richard Myrle Buckley; April 5, 1906 – November 12, 1960) was an American stage performer, recording artist, monologist, and hip poet/comic, who in the 1940s and 50s created a character that was, according to The New York Times, "an unlikely persona ... part English royalty, part Dizzy Gillespie." Michael Packenham, writing in The Baltimore Sun, described him as "a magnificent stand-up comedian... Buckley's work, his very presence, projected the sense that life's most immortal truths lie in the inextricable weaving together of love and irony -- affection for all humanity married to laughter." Buckley's unique stage persona anticipated aspects of the Beat Generation sensibility, and influenced contemporary figures as various as Dizzy Gillespie, Lenny Bruce, Wavy Gravy, Del Close, and, even after Buckley's death, Ken Kesey, George Harrison, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Robin Williams, and Jimmy Buffett. Bob Dylan in his book Chronicles, said "Buckley was the hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels."
Buckley's father, William Buckley, was from Manchester, England. He stowed away on a ship that eventually arrived in San Francisco. In California, William met Annie Bone. They married, and Richard Buckley was born in Tuolumne, California, what was then a boomtown in a mountainous region where lumbering was a major industry. As children, Buckley and his sister, Nell, would often perform on the streets of Tuolumne, singing for change from passersby. When he was a bit older, Buckley got a job in the local lumber camps as a "tree topper", which was considered an especially dangerous position. It involved climbing up to the very top of a tall tree, cutting off the tip and then securing ropes that would guide the rest of the tree as it was felled. Buckley is referred to as an "ex-lumberjack". By the mid-1930s, he was performing as emcee in Chicago at Leo Seltzer's dance marathons at the Chicago Coliseum, and worked his own club, Chez Buckley, on Western Avenue through the early 1940s. During World War II, Buckley performed extensively for armed services on USO tours, where he formed a lasting friendship with Ed Sullivan.
In the 1950s, Buckley hit his stride with a combination of his exaggeratedly aristocratic bearing (including waxed mustache, tuxedo and pith helmet) and carefully enunciated rhythmic hipster slang. Occasionally performing to music, he punctuated his monologues with scat singing and sound effects. His most significant tracks are retelling of historical or legendary events, like "My Own Railroad" and "The Nazz". The latter, first recorded in 1952, describes Jesus' working profession as "carpenter kitty." Other historical figures include Gandhi ("The Hip Gahn") and the Marquis de Sade ("The Bad-Rapping of the Marquis de Sade, the King of Bad Cats"). He retold several classic documents such as the Gettysburg Address and a version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." In "Mark Antony's Funeral Oration", he recast Shakespeare's "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" as "Hipsters, flipsters and finger-poppin' daddies: knock me your lobes." Reportedly, some of his comedic material was written for him by Hollywood "beatnik" Mel Welles.
Lord Buckley appeared on Groucho Marx's popular TV programme You Bet Your Life in 1956. In 1959, he voiced the beatnik character Go Man Van Gogh in "Wildman of Wildsville", an episode of the Bob Clampett animated series Beany and Cecil. (The character reappeared in several episodes made after Buckley's death, when he was voiced by Scatman Crothers.)
Buckley enjoyed smoking marijuana. He wrote reports of his first experiences with LSD, under the supervision of Dr. Oscar Janiger, and of his trip in a United States Air Force jet. Ed Sullivan reflected "...he was impractical as many of his profession are, but the vivid Buckley will long be remembered by all of us."
On October 19, 1960, he was scheduled to play club dates and another appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York managed by Harold L. Humes, but his cabaret card was seized, purportedly because of a 1941 arrest for marijuana possession. The card was necessary to appear in nightclubs, and cards were often withheld for political reasons, and as a way to solicit payoffs. He attempted to get the card reinstated, and more than three dozen major figures in the entertainment and arts world were present for a hearing on the matter. He never worked again.
Buckley died November 12, 1960 at New York City's Columbus Hospital as the result of a stroke. His final New York appearance at the Jazz Gallery in St. Mark's Place had been halted by the police because of "falsified information" on his cabaret card application. A hearing held two days afterward developed into a confrontation between Police Commissioner Stephen Kennedy and Buckley's friends and supporters, including Quincy Jones, George Plimpton and Norman Mailer. The scandal of Buckley's death, attributed at least partly to his loss of the card, helped lead to the removal of Kennedy in 1961 and the abolition of the cabaret card system by 1967, some 7 years later. His funeral was on November 16, 1960 at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on 81st Street and Madison Avenue in New York City. Lord Buckley was cremated at the Ferndale Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
Lord Buckley recorded over 15 long playing albums in a studio setting. His original vinyl releases, as compiled by Walt Stempek and Oliver Trager, include:
- Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin' Daddies Knock Me Your Lobes, RCA Victor, catalog #'s LPM-3246 (10" 33 rpm LP) and EPB-3246 (7" 45 rpm two EP record set), 1955
- Euphoria, Vaya Records, catalog # VLP 101/2, 1955
- Euphoria Volume II, Vaya Records, catalog # LVP-107/108, 1956
- Way Out Humor, World Pacific, catalog # WP-1279, 1959
- Buckley's Best, Liberty, catalog # LBS 83191E, 1960
- Parabolic Revelations Of The Late Lord Buckley, Pye Records/Nonesuch, catalog # PPL 208, 1963
- The Best of Lord Buckley, Crestview Records, catalog # CRV-801 (mono), 1963
- Lord Buckley In Concert, World Pacific, catalog # WP-1815, 1964
- Blowing His Mind (and yours too), World Pacific, catalog # WP-1849, 1966
- The Best of Lord Buckley, Elektra Records, catalog # EKS-74047, 1969
- The Bad Rapping of the Marquis De Sade, World Pacific, catalog # WPS-21889, 1969
- a most immaculately hip aristocrat, Straight Records / Reprise, catalog # STS-1054 / RS-6389, 1970
Tributes and legacy
George Harrison's solo song "Crackerbox Palace" was inspired by Buckley's former home in Los Angeles. The song mentions Buckley in the line "know well the Lord is well and inside of you", as well as Buckley's manager George Grief,
Jimmy Buffett performs a cover version of Buckley's "God's Own Drunk" on his 1978 live album You Had to be There. In his introduction, Buffett states that the song is performed "with much respect to Lord Richard Buckley."
In his acceptance speech at the Second Annual Comedy Hall Of Fame Awards, comedian George Carlin mentioned a long list of his comedy influences, and ended with "the great, great, great Lord Buckley". This can be heard in the televised show.
His work has been sampled by the likes of Jaylib and Madvillain. A quote from 'The Gasser', saying "They didn't know where they was going but they knew where they was, wasn't it", was sampled in "Everyday Robots" by British singer and Blur frontman Damon Albarn, the lead single from his debut solo album of the same name.
In November 2015, City Lights will release a new edition of Hiparama of the Classics. First published in 1960, this new expanded edition contains, in addition to Buckley's hip-semantic raps, a new foreword by Al Young and photographs by legendary music photographers Jim Marshall, Jerry Stoll, and others.
- Zinoman, Jason. "And Jonah Said, Can You Dig Me Here in This Fish?" The New York Times. December 10, 2005
- Pakenham, Michael. "A Biography of Lord Buckley". The Baltimore Sun. April 28, 2002
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley Welcome Rain Publishers. 2001
- Dylan, Bob. Chronicles Simon & Schuster. 2005 Chapter 5. ISBN 0743244583
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley Welcome Rain Publishers. 2001. p. 10
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley Welcome Rain Publishers. 2001 p. 13
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley Welcome Rain Publishers. 2001. p. 16
- The Last Carousel by Nelson Algren, p. 219
- Hoberman, J (31 August 2014). "Video: Drugs, Bets and Other 1950s Perils". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley Welcome Rain Publishers. 2001. p. 79
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley Welcome Rain Publishers. 2001. p. 372
- New York Times obituary, "Richard Buckley Dies; Entertainer, 54, Was Known as the Hip Messiah", November 13, 1960. Pay availability only. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley Welcome Rain Publishers. 2001. p. 350
- Sounes, H. (2001). Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan. Doubleday. p. 182. ISBN 0-552-99929-6.
- Buckley. "Scrooge". Retrieved 25 December 2011.
- Doyle, Patrick (November 26, 2014). "Arlo Guthrie looks back on 50 years of Alice's Restaurant". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
- Thirty Three & 1/3 (CD booklet). George Harrison. Dark Horse Records. 2004. p. 5.
- Trager, Oliver. Dig Infinity: The Life and Art of Lord Buckley, Welcome Rain Publishers (2002), hardcover, 416 pages, ISBN 978-1-56649-157-0
- LordBuckley.com includes biographical material, discography, transcriptions, and an extensive archive of writings by and about Buckley.
- Wig Bubbles Wig Bubbles has some accurate transcribings of Lord Buckley's hipsemanticisms.
- The Nazz Audio recording of Buckley's comic recapitulation of the Life of Christ.