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Outlaw Sounds

Ethan Hawke and Ben Dickey on their favorite Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt songs

By Ben Dickey and Ethan Hawke, August 17, 2018, Features

An Introduction to Blaze Foley

Here 'tis, a list of 10 songs, hand-picked by me (Ben Dickey). I reckon it can serve as an introductory listenin' course to the artist that was/is Blaze Foley aka Deputy (Dep'ty) Dawg aka (born to the world as) Michael David Fuller.

I'd wager that a good amount of folks might have heard his most famous of songs, "If I Could Only Fly" and "Clay Pigeons." If not, them two numbers are the biggin's, the ships with the big sails. Heavy guns. They are both outrageously brilliant songs. Go listen to 'em if'n you haven't heard 'em. They are diamonds. These 10 are gems, too. They represent the heart and soul, curse and praise, and the joy and pain of ol' Blaze. His wit, too.

Blaze was a tenderhearted critter. True, too, he was an angry soul. Human. Bearlike. Protective. In love and in sorrow, for the goings-on of this cold, cold world. – Ben Dickey

“Livin’ in the Woods in a Tree” One of the first songs he ever wrote. Representing the sweet, innocent days/daze of his time in a rural Georgia treehouse with his sweetheart Sybil Rosen. Simple. Fun. Sweet. The song represents Blaze and Sybil's time in Eden. Sounds like a lovely place to be.

“The Moonlight Song” Blaze is still in Eden with his babe in his arms. The stars are up and the sky is dark, and the moon shines bright up above. Such a lullaby. This is a fine song to be learning and to be singing to the one you love. A good song to help us remember taking deep breaths and lazing about with friends and lovers, being still. At ease.

“Oval Room” and “WWIII” Two songs. But at their heart, they are the same. Blaze had a heavy allergy to jive turkeys. Double allergy to Jive Turkeys in the Polit­ical Theatre. Namely Ronald Reagan in his song "Oval Room." It's a sing-along, friends. We ought to be learning this song and singing it loud. Maybe even add some verses. "WWIII" is some insight into the Blaze Foley philosophy of war. He wasn't fond. Nor was he fond of the folks sending young people to die.

“No Goodwill Stores in Waikiki” Blaze's songwriting skills were sharp by the time he wrote this one. It rolls. It's got something about it that reminds me of The Muppet Show. Blaze could be a bit Muppet-like. Blaze roamed. He was poor. He was proud of this – he stood with the downtrodden. He sings about woeful experiences to the beat of a jolly melody we can easily imagine the Muppet band swinging out to.

“Cosmic Doo Doo” Blaze Foley was a funny human being. This song is supposed to make you giggle.
Cosmic doo doo, cosmic giggle, cosmic cuties sure can wiggle
Sit their asses on your face, listen to the tune
Cosmic karma, cosmic city, cosmic girls got big big titties
Got some quaaludes in their purse and they won't give me none

“Sittin’ by the Road” This here is my favorite Blaze song. It feels like a mantra. Something he might'a sung to himself on his travels. Maybe at one time it had 177 verses? I find myself singing it to myself all the time.
Sittin' by the road lookin' at the sky
Wondering where do we go?
Why do we die? What did I say?
Did I really try? Just sittin' by the rooooad
Gurf Morlix told me he just up and stopped playing this song one day. Not sure why.
I love it so much I recorded it for my next record.

“Baby Can I Crawl Back to You” Great fingerpicking song. Tricky, but simple. Something you sing to your sweet darlin' when you are the roaming type and you want to come home. Blaze in his early wandering years. Searching. Great tune.

“Picture Cards” Now, this song is a cannon. Hits you in the heart. I am most fond of the version on Blaze Foley & the Beaver Valley Boys' record. Strong. Sorrowful. Honest. He saw daylight in his lover's eyes. Lit his world up. Time is running on by. Can we trust ourselves or each other? Unsure. But that light. That bright light.

“Cold, Cold World” Friends, when I tell you that this might be one of the finest songs ever written across the mighty expanses of time, eras, countries, mankind, womankind, elves, aliens, talking wolves, wizards, sorceresses, singing gas giants, and gods alike, I mean it. It's as heavy as a collapsed star and weightless at the same time. I love it so much.

“Faded Loves & Memories” When I was 29 I was the youngest member of a Bob Wills tribute band by 37 years. We played strictly Western swing songs, a few Hank songs, and the occasional Merle Travis or Carter Family traditional. We also played this lovely song called "Faded Loves & Memories." I always thought it was a Bob Wills song. I bet I performed it 40 or 50 times. When I was 39 I learned that Blaze wrote it! I had heard his recording of it, but always assumed it was a cover. Yes, Blaze Foley could write country classics from another time altogether. Blew my mind. I'd been playing Blaze the whole time.

10 From Townes Van Zandt

The poet laureate of the South. The unassailable reigning lyrical king of country music. Here is a list introducing TVZ to any to whom he may need introducing. – Ethan Hawke

“Pancho and Lefty” Willie and Merle made this song world-famous, and it is one of the greatest American poems ever written. I know they put Chuck Berry on the Voyager and sent it into outer space ... but this would be my choice. Townes says, "I wrote this song about two Mexican bandits I saw on the TV two weeks after I'd written the song."

“Marie” This is a song that drives its knife into your heart. "I wish Blaze could have heard that song," Townes said, "because he was really interested in, you know, the dispossessed in the world, in America and in the world. I thought about Blaze a lot when I was writing that song." Willie Nelson covers this song beautifully as well. 

“To Live Is to Fly” This one is one of the rare Townes songs that is sincerely uplifting. I was introduced to the song through the wonderful Cowboy Junkies cover. But I actually love the way Guy Clark did it best.

“No Place to Fall” Charlie Sexton's version in our film, Blaze, was reason enough to make the movie. My daughter sings this song beautifully. I've heard Norah Jones sing it too. Incredible. It's another rare ray of hope.

“If I Needed You” Listening to Townes himself sing this song sometimes hurts so much I don't know if I could call the experience enjoyable. When other people sing it – it's a classic.  

“Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel” Just another masterpiece. Townes' great hero was Lightnin' Hopkins. I wish I could hear them play this together.

“Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold” This song gets to Townes' great sense of humor. Which is genius in its own right.

“Loretta” I love John Prine's cover of this loving portrait of a friend.

“Nothin’” Apparently written after finishing reading The Last Temptation of Christ. It's like Samuel Beckett if he was best friends with Hank Williams.

“Waiting Around to Die” Michael Kiwanuka slays this song. This was Townes' first great song and strangely carved a path for the rest of the music.

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