by Julia Buckley
Dick Buckley had this picture of him with Count Basie and Joe Williams hanging on his wall.
Last month my husband lost his only living parent–-his father–-and Chicago lost a jazz legend. If you Google my father-in-law’s name–-Dick Buckley–-you’ll be able to read all sorts of wonderful tributes written to him by people in Chicago radio and television and by people who were devoted fans.
When Dick started his jazz show in Chicago back in the 50s, he did the show from his apartment on Lake Shore Drive. Sometimes you could hear a baby crying in the background (that was my husband’s sister, Jan). Later he did a show called Jazz Forum at Chicago’s WBEZ, and played what he called “The Good Old Good Ones,” by jazz artists who were household names. Dick had met many of them, and he knew all the stories behind the scenes. He told those stories in his show, but he also told people the truth as he knew it: that jazz was the most beautiful music in the world.
When my husband was growing up, he gravitated toward rock the same way his father had honed in on jazz. His father often told him that he was listening to the wrong music. Once, when Jeff was in his room listening to Jimmie Hendrix’ version of the National Anthem, Dick said, “What in the world is that?” Dick’s comment to Jeff was that “if he had ever really listened to the National Anthem, he might be alive today.” Jeff wasn't sure what that meant, but it provides much amusement now. He also recalls that when he listened to Black Sabbath in his room and his dad was listening to jazz in the living room, his dad would turn the jazz up louder. It was clear whose music was going to take dominance in the house.
Generally, though, Dick was an easygoing man. He listened to jazz all day, and his wife Marge ran the household, and they were both okay with that arrangement. In fact, they were one of the happiest and most devoted couples I ever met. When she began to succumb to Alzheimer’s at the turn of the century, he visited her every day until they told him to come less often–-that it was too upsetting to her to see him with such regularity. He was, in fact, the last name and face that she forgot, but she held on to him for as long as she could.
Later in his career, Dick did his show from his home again–this time from the house where he and his wife had lived for more than 40 years. When my high school friend Kevin found out I had married Dick Buckley’s son, he was overwhelmed. He told me how much he loved Dick’s show, how much he had learned about jazz. “One of my favorite things is that his chair creaks when he puts in a cd,” he said.
Not getting it, I said, “Oh–-I should tell him. Maybe he could use a different chair.”
“No!” he yelled. “That’s one of the best things about his show. He’s a real guy doing it from his house. It’s great.”
When Dick died, that same friend e-mailed me and said, “Everything I know about jazz, I learned from Dick Buckley. Everything.”
That was one of many beautiful eulogies I heard in the last several weeks, including one from an 88-year-old fan named Theodore Drew, who drove forty-five minutes to attend the wake and got up to speak when the time came. He said that he had listened to Dick for 50 years, and his wife would say “Is there anything on that radio but Buckley?” and he would tell her “We have two radios in this house.”
The tributes, the memories, are still pouring in. It’s good for us, for my husband and his siblings, because it gives Dick a sort of immortality. His voice lives on, and his voice was amazing. You might even recognize it from television commercials in the 70s and 80s–a side career to be sure, but one much more lucrative than jazz announcer and which, according to my husband, “put siding on our house.”
In any case, some people listened to Dick’s show just to hear his voice, beautiful, modulated, paternal. One fan wrote on a memorial blog that she moved to Chicago as a young woman and listened to Dick’s show every Sunday not because she liked jazz, but because he was her surrogate father.
In the local paper, a fan was quoted as saying "Dick Buckley died, damn it."
Thanks to You Tube, you can experience his voice, his humor, and his style for yourselves. Here he is from a 1989 Documentary called “Radio Faces” that aired on Chicago Tonight after Dick passed away.