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The colorful yet tragic life of Austin singer/songwriter Blaze Foley -- who was shot and killed in 1989, at the age of 39, while trying to defend an elderly friend -- reads like the most heart-piercing of country ballads. It's no wonder then that extraordinary artists like Foley's friend and hero Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams penned odes to him (Van Zandt's "Blaze's Blues" and Williams' "Drunken Angel"). As for Foley's craft, no less than Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered Foley's "If I Could Only Fly" in 1987. (Haggard would go on to re-record the song and make it the title track of his 2000 album.) Unfortunately, it seems that a good deal of Foley's energies went toward the art of living; therefore, while he has left listeners with his vivid legend, his recorded output is frustratingly scarce.
Blaze Foley (born Michael David Fuller) was raised in West Texas and sang with his mother, brother, and sisters in a gospel act called the Fuller Family. Taking a pseudonym borrowed from Red Foley, Blaze performed in Houston, New Orleans, and Austin through the 1970s and '80s, developing a strong following and respect from fellow musicians. But it was the Austin music scene, among friends like Van Zandt and Timbuk 3 -- whose work Foley was an early champion of -- that would become his spiritual and geographical home.
While Foley recorded a now impossible to find studio album in the early '80s at the famed Muscle Shoals studios, he's remembered more for his vivid character. He was known as much for his kindness and philanthropy, even in the face of his own poverty, as he was for his drunkenness, ornery nature, and downright weirdness. Foley was also known for his uncanny fascination with duct tape, which he used to hold the various pieces of his life together, most notably his shoes (as immortalized in the lyrics of Lucinda Williams' aforementioned "Drunken Angel").
Fittingly, his one readily available work, Live at the Austin Outhouse, was recorded on December 18, 1988 (his 39th birthday), at one of the few music establishments in town that would tolerate him. The album was released as a cassette and Foley intended to donate a percentage of the profits to a homeless shelter, but after he was shot and killed on February 1, 1989, sales were instead earmarked for funeral costs. Live at the Austin Outhouse, re-released on CD in 1999 by Lost Art Records, captured him in his element. Through the bleed of a guitar microphone, you can hear stools squeaking, snatches of conversation, and general bar ambience -- but at the center of it all is Foley, his deep gritty voice and songs that, much like Van Zandt's, seem to emerge from a place of bruised, yet hopeful, solitude. Foley was the subject of an episode of Between the Scenes, an Austin based public television program that focuses on the independent film community. The episode was was entitled Duct Tape Messiah: Blaze Foley. There is a documentary in the works also called Previously Unknown: The Legend Of Blaze Foley, directed by Kevin Triplett. Also in 2010, Fat Possum Records uncovered three reel-to-reel tapes from Foley's earliest years (when he was known as Dusty Dawg) in rural Georgia that had lain at the bottom of a closet for 25 years. They released a 20 song album from these source reels entitled, Blaze Foley - The Dawg Years in the summer of 2010.
Michael David Fuller (December 18, 1949 – February 1, 1989), better known under the stage name Blaze Foley, was an American singer-songwriter.
Foley was born Michael David Fuller in Malvern, Arkansas, but grew up in Texas. He performed in a gospel band called The Fuller Family with his mother and sisters. After leaving home, he performed in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and finally Austin, Texas. He was close friends with Townes Van Zandt.
His song "If I Could Only Fly" became a hit in the interpretation of Merle Haggard. His song "Election Day" was covered by Lyle Lovett on his 2003 album "My Baby Don't Tolerate" and his song "Clay Pigeons" was covered by John Prine on his Grammy Award winning 2005 album "Fair and Square." Joe Nichols pays tribute to "If I Could Only Fly" by recording it for his album "Real Things" released in 2007.
In 1989, Foley was shot in the chest and killed by Carey January, the son of Foley's friend Concho January. Carey January was acquitted of murder in the first degree by reason of self-defense. He and his father presented completely different versions of the shooting at trial.
Foley jokingly claimed to be the illegitimate son of Red Foley and Blaze Starr.
Foley placed duct tape on the tips of his cowboy boots to mock the "Urban Cowboy" crazed folks with their silver tipped cowboy boots. He later made a suit out of duct tape that he used to walk around in. At his funeral, his casket was coated with duct tape by his friends. Townes Van Zandt was quoted as saying that he'd "have to dig Foley up to get the pawn ticket for his guitar that was in his pocket".Delgato, Berta, "Self-defense claimed in singer's death", Austin American Statesman, September 28, 1989, p. B1.
Music and lyrics
The master tapes from his first studio album were confiscated by the DEA when the executive producer was caught in a drug bust. Another studio album disappeared when the master copies were in a station wagon, which Foley had been given and lived in, was broken into and his belongings stolen. A third studio album, "Wanted More Dead Than Alive," had almost disappeared until, many years after Blaze died, a friend who was cleaning out his car discovered what sounded like the Bee Creek recording sessions on which he and other musicians had performed. This album was Foley's last studio project and he was scheduled to tour the UK with Townes Van Zandt in support of the album. When Foley died, his attorney immediately nullified the recording contract and the master tapes subsequently went missing (and reportedly were lost in a flood).
Foley worked among others with Gurf Morlix, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Schwartz, Billy Block, and Calvin Russell.
Townes Van Zandt wrote the song "Blaze's Blues" about his friend and recorded it a few times, notably on his 2-disc "Live at Union Chapel, London, England" album. Townes reportedly composed "Marie," a song about a homeless couple, on Blaze's guitar after Blaze had died.
The song "Drunken Angel" by Lucinda Williams, which appears on her 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, is a tribute to Foley.
Gurf Morlix released a song on his 2009 album, Last Exit to Happyland entitled "Music You Mighta Made" about his longtime friend, Foley. On February 1, 2011, Morlix released Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream, a 15-song collection of Foley's songs.
Three songs, posthumously co-written by Jon Hogan at the request of the Foley estate, were released in 2010 on the album "Every Now and Then: Songs of Townes Van Zandt & Blaze Foley." They include "Every Now and Then," "Safe in the Arms of Love," and "Can't Always Cry."
Foley's music is featured prominently in a feature-length documentary film about him entitled "Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah," released in 2011 by filmmaker Kevin Triplett.