"A most immaculately hip aristocrat," Lord Buckley was the epitome of comedy cool; a onetime vaudeville performer and a hulking ex-lumberjack, he was a comic philosopher, a bop monologuist whose vocalese fused the rhythms and patois of the street with the arch sophistication of the British upper-crust to create verbal symphonies unparalleled in their intricacy and dexterity. A comedian who didn't tell jokes and a word-jazz virtuoso riffing madly on the English language, Buckley combined the frenetic intensity of Beat poetry with the lessons and moral heft of Biblical tales and historical discourse; holding court over the "hipsters, flipsters and finger-poppin' daddies" of the postwar era, he was a true visionary, the original rapper.
His Lordship was born Richard Myrle Buckley on April 5, 1906 in Tuolumne, California, a mining town located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. After spending his formative years as a lumberjack, in the mid-1920s Buckley set out to find work in the oil fields of Texas and Mexico; he never made it, instead teaming with a traveling guitarist to form a musical comedy act. By the 1930s he was in Chicago, emceeing in mob-owned speakeasies; there he became a protege of Al Capone, who set up the comedian with his own club, the Chez Buckley, where he performed backed by a cadre of jazz musicians. Constant vice-squad pressure soon forced Buckley out of town, however, and throughout the early 1940s he worked the vaudeville circuit, gaining a notorious reputation for ridiculing unhip audiences and smoking dope onstage.
After touring with the U.S.O. during World War II, Buckley relocated to New York City, where he acted in a Broadway production titled The Passing Show. After marrying Elizabeth Hanson, one of the show's dancers, the couple and their children moved to Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1950s; after attempts to break into films proved largely unsuccessful, Buckley began taking on the persona of "His Lordship," an aristocratic hipster madman clad in tuxedo, pith helmet and Salvador Dali-esque waxed moustache. He quickly emerged as an underground legend, partipicating in LSD experiments while throwing wild parties at his rented Hollywood Hills mansion (dubbed the Castle) where the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tony Curtis mingled with jazz musicians, junkies and poets. At a Topanga Canyon art gallery owned by his friend Bob DeWitt, he also founded the first jazz religion, "The Church of the Living Swing."
In 1951 Buckley made his first recordings for the Vaya label, Euphoria and Euphoria, Volume II. The first album contained his most legendary routine, "The Nazz," a "hipsemantic" retelling of the life of Christ ("the sweetest, gonest, wailinest cat that ever stomped on this sweet, swingin' sphere"); the latter featured a number of riffs on Aesop's Fables as well as "Jonah and the Whale," complete with a pothead Jonah. Despite a series of well-received appearances on The Tonight Show, The Milton Berle Show and You Bet Your Life, Buckley did not re-enter the studio until 1955, when he cut Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger-Poppin' Daddies, Knock Me Your Lobes, which spotlighted his adaptations of scenes from the Shakespearean dramas Julius Caesar, Hamlet and Macbeth.
After issuing a trio of singles in 1956 — "Flight of the Saucer, Parts 1 and 2" (an excursion into outer space rapped over the 1946 Lyle Griffin track "Flight of the Vout Bug"), "The Gettysburg Address" and "James Dean's Message to Teenagers" — as well as recording the LP A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat (which went unreleased until 1970), Buckley moved to Las Vegas, where he worked the nightclub and casino circuit. In 1959 he returned to play Hollywood; the majority of a February 12 appearance at the Ivar Theatre was soon issued as the album Way Out Humor, while the remainder appeared in 1966 as Blowing His Mind (and Yours, Too). Ever the nomad, Buckley and his family moved to San Francisco in 1960, where he took up residency at clubs like the Hungry i and the Purple Onion; a performance at Oakland's Gold Nugget formed the basis of the 1970 release The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade.
In the summer of 1960, Buckley set out alone in a red VW microbus to tour the country; in August he arrived in Chicago, where he fell ill. Still, he forged on to New York for a series of October performances at the Jazz Gallery; during one of his shows, the city's vice squad confiscated his cabaret card — a document necessary to play area clubs — on the grounds that he lied about having a prior arrest record. On November 12, he called the novelist Harold Humes, complaining of great anxiety triggered by the cabaret bureau's daily refusals to reissue his card; he also said he was hungry and broke. Within hours of hanging up the phone, Lord Buckley was dead of a stroke brought on by "extreme hypertension; " he was 54 years old. A few weeks later, civic pressure forced a repeal of the cabaret card law.
While never a mainstream figure, Buckley's stature grew to mythic proportions in the months and years following his death. Lenny Bruce was an avowed fan, borrowing much of his attitude and rhythms from Buckley's lead, and everyone from Jonathan Winters to Robin Williams acknowledged His Lordship's influence. Bob Dylan was also enamored of his work, and at the outset of his career frequently covered Buckley's rendition of the poet Joseph Newman's "Black Cross." Jimmy Buffett performed the Buckley original "God's Own Drunk," and George Harrison's hit "Crackerbox Palace" drew inspiration from the comedian's life and its title from the name given his tiny Hollywood home. Still the subject of a fanatical cult following and a true underground hero, even decades after exiting "this sweet, swingin' sphere" the self-styled Messiah of Hip lives on.
Review by Lindsay Planer
This is arguably the best of the Lord Buckley recordings to have made the transition from vinyl to CD. Buckley's unique brand of storytelling incorporates references to the burgeoning beatnik counterculture into his already Bunyan-esque tall tales. The fluidity of Buckley's delivery is likewise enhanced by his inimitable ability to verbally improvise with a feline-like sense of timing and precision. The results as heard throughout the routines on this album vacillate between mildly amusing to deeply and often profoundly funny. On the 1996 reissue, the program order has been amended slightly from the original 1969 disc. The final track, "Nero" — available on the Buckley CD compilation His Royal Hipness — is substituted for two additional extended studio recordings: "Maharajah" and "Scrooge." These tracks were initially issued on the second side of the 1966 release Blowing His Mind (And Yours Too). Lord Buckley's humor is normally relayed through extended narratives, such as the disc's infamous title track or his musings on the origination of the "Chastity Belt." Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade also includes a shorter work, "His Majesty the Policeman." His ability to shock and surprise is not based upon working "blue" (read: dirty or pornographic). His many references to sex, drink, and the consumption of questionable ingestibles are used to create and maintain a setting realistic to his socially subcultured audience, rather than being the substance of his shtick. The point at which Lord Buckley, humorist and human intersect is aptly stated at the outset of the "H-Bomb" in the assertion that "people should worship people." Not only does Buckley use various levels of humor to espouse and exemplify his philosophy, it is done in such an innocuous way it becomes practically subliminal. Part of the real beauty of the live portions — recorded at the Golden Nugget in Oakland, CA, during the months just prior to Lord Buckley's death — is hearing the immediate exchanges between the lords and the ladies of Buckley's "royal court of hip," which only adds psychic energy and fuel to the intensity of his recitations and interactions. Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade is nothing short of an essential — yet oft overlooked — treasure in the rich social tapestry of recorded American comedy.