Duct Tape Messiah
A Q&A with Gurf Morlix
By Jim Caligiuri,
12:52PM, Thu. Feb. 3, 2011
Blaze Foley, the renowned singer-songwriter who was killed in an unfortunate accident in 1989, is more famous dead than alive, as several events this month point out. Local guitarist/songwriter/producer Gurf Morlix just released a tribute disc, covering 15 of Foley’s songs, and he'll put them to work Feb. 11 at the Cactus Cafe.
Then, Feb. 13-15, the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar screens Kevin Triplett’s Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, a documentary 12 years in the making. As an added attraction, author Sybil Rosen will be present on Feb. 13 to read from her superb book, Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley.
Here’s a conversation I had with Morlix about the making of the album, his involvement with the film, and Foley’s special relationship with the equally celebrated Townes Van Zandt. Note that while Morlix won't appear at the screenings, he and Triplett will be taking the show on the road.
Geezerville: The film has been in the works for 12 years. Were you involved with the making of it? Is the release of the new record tied into it at all?
Gurf Morlix: It’s a timing thing really. I’m in the film. I think it was eight years ago that they interviewed me for the first time. But I’m not connected with the film in any way, except to say that I think the film has gotten great. Over the years I’ve seen six or eight different cuts of it. Every time I see it’s a completely different film and it gets better. Now I think it’s approaching being great. I’ve watched Kevin Triplett’s vision come into focus. I’ve wanted to do a record of Blaze’s songs since he was killed in 1989. I’ve had different ideas. At one point, I wanted to do a tribute record, with a bunch of different people that had known Blaze each singing a song. I tried to get funding for that and really couldn’t find it. Finally it got to the point where about a year and a half or so ago I said, “This is the time,” and I knew that Kevin was going to be finishing his film. So I thought that if we could get them to come out at the same time, we’d have a unique ticket, to show the film and have me play a set of Blaze’s songs. So that was the goal and I had to put my own songwriting and recording career on the back burner so I could make it happen. But it’s something I really needed to do.
G: You were really close to Blaze.
GM: Yeah, we were best friends. When I met him we just kind of hit it off. He was homeless, basically, and me having a home meant he was now living on my couch for the next few years. We played hundreds and hundreds of gigs together.
G: He’s more famous now than alive. Would you agree with that?
GM: Yeah. He wanted to be well known as a songwriter, but he wanted to do it on his terms and he never got what he wanted at all during his lifetime, except that not long before he died, he did get Willie Nelson to cover “If I Could Only Fly.” He actually got a little bit of money for it and actually rented a room in a house in South Austin right down the street from where he was killed. I saw him two or three months before he died. He took me to this room and he was really proud of it. He showed me some artwork. He was on the wagon at that point and he was doing great. I thought, "He’s got money and he’s gonna pull out of this slide.” But that didn’t happen.
G: Did you read Sybil’s book?
GM: Yes, Sybil’s book is really good. I thought that was a book that would appeal to people who weren’t even music fans and had never heard of Blaze. It was just a really touching story. I met her when she was living with Blaze in Austin. I’ve known her all that time and I didn’t know she could write. Then she started sending me manuscripts and told her that I thought it was really good.
G: How many songs did you record for the album? More than are on the disc?
GM: No, I recorded 15. I had a hard time narrowing it down to 15. At my day job as a record producer, I always try to record a few extras. I thought I’d cut it down to 11 or 12, but after I listened to them I decided I couldn’t lose any of these. I like them all too much; they’re such great songs. So I had to break my own rules about how long an album should be.
G: How did you decided which songs you wanted to record?
GM: It was pretty tough. There were some that were obvious, like “If I Could Only Fly” and “Clay Pigeons.” I’ve been singing “Cold Cold World” forever, that’s one of my favorites. So those had to be done. There’s an album that came out four or five years ago called Cold Cold World, that I worked on with Blaze. It’s stuff that we recorded in 1979 and '80. The master tapes got stolen out of the back of his car – it’s kind of a long story – but I was really attached to those songs. I wanted to do some of those songs and I wanted to do some obscure ones, too. I wanted to show the breadth of his songwriting. So I somehow came up with a list of those 15.
G: I’ve never fully understood the connection between Blaze and Townes Van Zandt. A lot of people put the two of them together.
GM: They were really good friends. Blaze met Townes in New York and they just kind of hit it off. When Blaze met Townes was when he started binge drinking. That started an almost decade-long slide. They were bad influences on each other. Everybody that would meet Townes would want to try to become him. He was just a magical person. You’d want to hang with him, and drink with him, and keep up with him. Blaze had that going on. I think it killed him and it killed Townes too.