Giving Blaze his due

Texas roots singer Gurf Morlix wants to introduce his good friend, the late Blaze Foley: “He was both the funniest man and the most tragic man I ever knew.”

Gurf Morlix

Gurf Morlix

Texas roots singer Gurf Morlix wants to introduce his good friend, the late Blaze Foley: “He was both the funniest man and the most tragic man I ever knew.”

Foley, who was murdered at the age of 39 in 1989, was many things. The homeless Arkansas native was the kind of guy who slept on friends’ couches despite having written songs covered by Willie Nelson and John Prine. He was a charismatic personality with a drinking problem and a heightened sense of justice.

He was also one of the most talented songwriters that Morlix had met.

“It took me 30 years to learn to write songs that people connect with,” admitted Morlix. But he believes Foley had an innate understanding of how to grab people by the heart with his music.

The two musicians first ran into each other at an Austin, Tex., bar in 1977.

“He came up and introduced himself at one of my gigs and we just hit it off,” recalled Morlix, who intends to perform tunes by Foley on Sunday, June 12, at The Hideout, in Gasoline Alley south of Red Deer.

A documentary film about the largely unknown songwriter will be aired the same night.

The goal is to finally give a good friend his due, said Morlix, a music producer and multi-instrumentalist who is probably best known for working with Lucinda Williams. “He never had the success he deserved. . . . ”

More than 20 years after Foley was gunned down by the son of a man he had tried to protect, Morlix remains staggered by his poetic genius and sharp insight into the human condition.

“He played songs that were really, really great. Tender love songs and sad songs and funny songs. He was just really different, like nobody I’d met before, and I fell in love with his music.”

So, eventually, did more successful artists, including Nelson and Merle Haggard, who recorded Foley’s ode to distant love, If I Could Only Fly. Prine covered Foley’s Clay Pigeons, a song about taking a journey — both inward and on the road.

Morlix takes consolation in the fact that Foley — who spent a decade, on and off, sleeping on his couch — got a small taste of success before his murder.

While his death was untimely, it wasn’t unexpected, said Morlix, since all of Foley’s friends saw tragedy coming at him like a runaway train.

By the late 1980s, Foley was drinking heavily. He became fixated, even belligerent, about various injustices, Morlix recalled. For instance, Foley became enraged when an older buddy was repeatedly mistreated and robbed by his son, a heroin addict. He even roughed up the son once, in an attempt to save his friend, and did jail time for it.

Foley “used to say, ‘That kid’s going to kill me, but I’m not going to let him beat his father,’ ” added Morlix, who eventually got the news he’d half-expected. “His death was very sad, but he died a hero.”

Foley’s abbreviated life, including a harrowing childhood in which he, his mother and sisters kept running from his abusive father, is recounted in a one-hour documentary film called Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah. It’s a first effort for filmmaker Kevin Triplett, who never knew the songwriter but was moved by his story.

The film has already inspired a book. Living in the Woods in a Tree was written by Foley’s former girlfriend Sybil Rosen, who had long put him out of her mind, said Morlix. But after seeing Duct Tape Messiah, Rosen “fell in love with him all over again” and felt she had to write a book about their time together, part of which was spent living an a tree house.

Morlix, who is 59, said he’d long considered recording an album of Foley’s songs and decided this was a good time to do it — so he could tour with Triplett’s film and complete the perspective on a unique artist and friend.

Morlix wrote a song about Foley on his last album, Exit to Happyland. And he expects the tune Music You Mighta Made will be the only one of his own songs he will sing in Red Deer. “The night is about Blaze Foley.”

Tickets for the 6 to 9 p.m. event are $20 from The Hideout, 403-348-5309.

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