Thursday, April 14, 2011

A New Documentary Shines a Welcome Light on Obscure Texas Songwriter Blaze Foley

Posted By on 04.14.11 at 01:09 PM

Blaze Foley (circa 1981)
  • Blaze Foley (circa 1981)
Until Fat Possum Records released The Dawg Years last year I'd never heard of Texas singer-songwriter Blaze Foley (born Michael David Fuller), and I'm sure I have plenty of company in that regard. A new documentary called Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, directed by Kevin Triplett and produced for Austin public-access TV show Between the Scenes, screens at 7 PM on Sunday at the Hideout as part of the closing festivities for the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival. The film goes a long way toward explaining who Foley was, but unfortunately the screener DVD I got from CIMMfest was defective—I got only fleeting glimpses of the final third of the 79-minute movie. What I saw was pretty engaging and lively, though, especially considering that I knew practically nothing about its subject.

Over the past decade or so a growing number of major artists have played and recorded Foley's songs, including Merle Haggard, John Prine, Kings of Leon, Willie Nelson, and Lyle Lovett. Lucinda Williams's stunning "Drunken Angel," from her classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), is about Foley. When he died in 1989, shot in a dispute with a neighbor in Austin at age 39, his only available recording was a live cassette-only album cut at a bar called the Outhouse. Foley was a classic outsider musician: he had problems with alcohol (he was friends with Townes Van Zandt, which says something right there), he distrusted the music industry, he had trouble with personal diplomacy, and he proudly stood behing his quirks (such as wearing duct tape as a kind of fashion accessory). Even though he made some commercial recordings in the 70s and 80s, nothing much came of them. The documentary includes a hilarious story about Foley insisting upon owning the master tapes of his first album; he carried them around in his station wagon until they were finally stolen, leaving no trace of the recording.

The 20 tracks on The Dawg Years are solo performances recorded in the home of some friends between 1976 and '78, and they display a mix of sharp wit, brutal honesty, and observational bite. Foley gets autobiographical on "Fat Boy," romantic on "Livin' in the Woods in a Tree," political on "Election Day," and witheringly funny on "Springtime in Uganda" (a tune skewering African dictator Idi Amin).

Gurf Morlix
  • Gurf Morlix
Earlier this year Gurf Morlix, who played with Foley off and on during his Austin years, released Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream (Rootball), which includes covers of 15 Foley originals. Morlix, a producer and musician who's worked with heavies like Lucinda Williams, Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller, Robert Earl Keen, Slaid Cleaves, and Ray Wylie Hubbard, is also interviewed in Triplett's documentary, and he'll be present for Sunday night's screening. The festival's award ceremonies will follow, and then Morlix will perform a set of Foley tunes. Also performing a set will be Califone's Tim Rutili joined by Gillian Lisee (Roommate, ex-Fruit Bats).

Below you can see a brief clip from the documentary:

Today's playlist:

John Zorn, Dictée/Liber Novus (Tzadik)
Fenn O'Berg, In Stereo (Editions Mego)
Kristóf Bascó Quartet, Alteregos (BMC)
Guillermo Klein, Domandor de Huellas (Sunnyside)
Actress, Splazsh (Honest Jon's)

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