LIVE FROM THE AUSTIN OUTHOUSE REVIEWS & ARTICLES
BLAZE FOLEY: Live at the Austin Outhouse
Nate Dow. Boston Herald. April 2, 2000.
"Four Stars (Out of Four)"
If you've ever pondered the identityof Lucinda Williams' "Drunken Angel," wondered who made even Townes VanZandt feel blue, or what songwriter Merle Haggard would turn to in a momentof spiritual crisis, the answer is simple: Blaze Foley - all of the above.
Foley, a disparate voice even in theiconoclastic circles of Austin, wasn't much known outside of the handfulof artists who remember him in their songs and deeds. But before his murderin 1989 at 39, Foley was embraced in Austin for a heart as large as hisframe, a soul as deep as his voice and for a self-fulfilling poverty thatled him to be remembered as much for his duct-taped shoes as his songs.It's no surprise that Foley died in another losing battle: gunned downwhile trying to protect an elderly friend's government pension checks.
Thanks to Lost Arts Records' new release,"Live at the Austin Outhouse," the world can now hear the gift of thissongwriter's soul. The first published recordings of Blaze Foley, tapedjust four weeks before his death, it captures the simplicity and honestyand of Foley's artistry. From the achingly simple "If I Could Fly" (whichHaggard performed for Tammy Wynette's memorial service), to the hauntingloneliness of "Picture Cards Can't Picture You," the 12 cuts on this CDcapture the forsaken beauty of Foley's music - warts and all - as Foleywould only want it.
Performed with a "borrowed guitar"and recorded before an audience so sparse one can hear every aside, here'sthanking Lost Art Records for finally allowing that audience to swell.
BLAZE FOLEY: Man of Truth.
Ten years after his untimely death, BlazeFoley's remarkable voice and message rise again
John T. Davis. Austin American-Statesman. Dec. 16,1999.
"Some kind of savior singin'the blues
A derelict in your duct tape shoes
your orphan clothes and your longdark hair
Lookin' like you didn't care
-- "Drunken Angel,"
by Lucinda Williams
There was duct tape on Blaze Foley's coffin.
It was an appropriate send-off for the hard-luck singer-songwriter (who sometimes patched his broken-down shoes with duct tape) who embodied Kris Kristofferson's portrait of the modern troubadour: "He's a walking contradiction/Partly truth and partly fiction/Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home."
Homeless by choice, implacably devoted to his craft, Foley had demons inside him that came out when he drank -- and he drank heavily toward the end of his life. He slept where he fell, crashing on friends' couches or under beer-joint pool tables. And sometimes the accommodations were even worse. Foley used to joke that the ubiquitous blue BFI dumpsters around town stood for "Blaze Foley Inside."
Ten years after his untimely and violent death in a domestic dispute at age 39, Foley's voice is being heard again on record, thanks to the efforts of old friends and fans who never saw him play live.
The CD release of "Live at the Austin Outhouse" follows on the heels of two posthumous tribute albums (a third is in the works) that chronicle the respect and affection that Foley and his music engendered among his songwriting peers. Merle Haggard called Foley's signature tune, "If I Could Only Fly," "the best country song I've heard in 15 years."
Tom Tobin picked up a copy of the original 1989 cassette release of "Live at the Austin Outhouse" years after Foley's murder and became enamored of a singer he had never met. Together with a partner, Craig McDonald, Tobin formed an independent record label, Lost Art Records, primarily to re-release the "Outhouse" sessions on CD. They went to musician/engineer Lost John Casner, who had produced the original recording on Dec. 27-28, 1988, and together they labored to give Foley's lonesome songs a new, digital home.
Two concerts (with proceeds benefiting the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless in Foley's name) celebrated the release of the "Live at the Austin Outhouse" last week. Colleagues and admirers joined together to reprise Foley's blues-tinged repertoire of hard living and small pleasures.
As much as the music, the artists and fans at the shows savored old memories, tall tales and war stories, all starring an unlikely hero who succeeded on his own terms, if on no one else's. Here's a sample of some of the stories Foley's memory conjure up:
Casey Monahan (director of the TexasMusic Office): "He did everything he could to not be successful . . . he wanted to tic people off because he distrusted authority, completely. Anybody who ran a folk festival or booked an important club was almost somebody he wanted to scratch to see if he could get them to bleed. But if you passed Blaze's test, you were in like Flynn."
Gurf Morlix (producer, and Foley's bass player from 1977-1981): "He was such a beacon for the truth . . . If you weren't an honest person, Blaze could tell that right away. And he had these eyes that could stare right through you."
Mandy Mercier (singer-songwriter,guitarist and fiddler): "We had a romance in 1980; we stayed at the Alamo Hotel. I would go to work and Blaze would drive around all day in my car with Townes (Van Zandt), drinking vodka and taking acid. It was one of the great romances of the century!
"He actually made me feel guilty for having a job. Even when I was supporting him! He would say to me that if I was a true artist, I would go sleep at the hobo camp by the railroad tracks behind Spellman's and just play my guitar all day.
"I think that the side of him I saw was very real and very sensitive and very brilliant. And very vulnerable. He also was a real pain . . . but he didn't have a malevolent bone in his body. He was a true champion of the down trodden."
Casey Monahan: "How he died? I'll tell you what I know about that. There was this old guy, he lived over on, like, Annie Street, and Blaze would crash over there, but he would also take care of the old guy. And the old guy really liked Blaze. But his son really hated him. So he came over there one night . . . they got in an argument and Blaze raised an ax handle that the old man kept for protection, and the son shot him."
Lost John Casner: "We actually finished (the "Austin Outhouse") project a week before he was killed. It's interesting that he's been gone for almost 11 years, but his friends refuse to let the music die. There have been two tribute CDs and they're working on another one. These are people that loved Blaze and know that the music's important,so they go and cut songs for free and kind of keep the Blaze thing going."
Mandy Mercier: "It's kind of interesting how so many years later he's still so mythic. There was one afternoon when we were shooting pool at Spellman's, and he got a little table roll and he said,'This pool table's so crooked, it's a wonder I can sleep on it at all.'"
"He destroyed himself and any chance he had at a career. But in a way, he chose that. He set standards for himself and everybody else that were literally impossible to meet. And he literally died trying."
BLAZE FOLEY: Live at the Austin Outhouse
3rd Coast Music. December 1999. #35. 124.
Rated: 5 Stars. (Essential).
Having rather despaired of seeing an actual Blaze Foley release this (or any other) decade, I gave the first cover of 1999 to a tribute album, covers of Blaze’s songs by his friends. So it gives me enormous pleasure to close the year with the real thing, particularly as it was my January story that brought John Casner, who recorded it, together with Tom Tobin & Craig McDonald of Lost Art Records. However, as I’ve already said my piece about the great singer-songwriter, I’m giving this space to Casner to recount some of the background to this album. John mentions 115 minutes of tape, so obviously some songs have been sacrificed, but the most important, Clay Pigeons, If I Could Only Fly, Small Town Hero, Our Little Town, Picture Cards, Election Day and Faded Loves And Memories, are all there. On December 12th & 13th, Mandy Mercier will lead a Blaze Foley Supergroup at CD releases (see John The Revelator). JC
Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt were drinking vodka and coke on the side porch of Spellman’s Lounge early one sunny November afternoon in 1980. I’d just moved to Austin and was playing a demo tape for the manager, looking for my first Austin gig. After negotiating a future Sunday night engagement, I was told Townes had sent word for me to join them and hurriedly turned off the tape, as Pancho & Lefty was coming up next, and I wasn't sure Townes would appreciate my interpretation. Both Townes and Blaze were very encouraging and provided me with several leads where singer-songwriters could find work in Austin, including the Bentwood Tavern (soon to become the Austin Outhouse). Blaze and I became friends, often playing at the same clubs and sitting in at each other’s gigs. Blaze’s shows at places like Spellman’s, the Outhouse and Taco Flats were like attending a Songwriters Anonymous meeting, as there were usually more songwriters than citizens in the audience and you never knew who you might get to hear perform. Blaze always shared his stage with friends and fellow songwriters.
Blaze came up with the idea to record two nights at the Outhouse. He wanted to get as many of his songs as possible on tape for demos and maybe find a European label interested in releasing a live album. We scheduled December 27th & 28th, 1988 to do the recording and Blaze, of course, took the opportunity to invite several friends, including Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, to do guest sets, so they too could have live recordings of their songs. As we were setting up, I realized Blaze didn’t have a guitar. Townes had bought him a nice Takamine with a built-in pickup with his royalties from Willie and Merle’s recording of Pancho And Lefty, but that guitar was in the pawn shop. Not to worry. Blaze never did sweat the small stuff, his good friend Tony di Roadie would bring a guitar. Roadie’s guitar had no pickup, requiring the use of a microphone, which accounts for much of the “Outhouse ambiance” on the tape, including sounds from the cash register, the tip jar, squeaky bar stools, the ladies room door and intermittent harmonies from the audience. Blaze did most of the two nights solo, occasionally inviting Ed Bradfield (the bartender) to join him on harmonica. Champ Hood had come to play with Sarah Elizabeth and sat in on a couple of songs.
During the first week of January 1989, we rerecorded Oh Darlin’ and Oooh Love in my garage studio (this time Blaze played one of my guitars). Blaze and Sarah Elizabeth added some harmony tracks, David Waddell bass tracks for a few songs and I added some piano. During these sessions, we whittled the six hours of recording down to about 115 minutes, to fit on a cassette and scheduled a tape release party at the Outhouse for February 26th, 1989. Our intention was to make 50 or so tapes, enough to cover the cost of the recording. When discussing how much to charge for the tapes, Blaze was unsure at first. Then he said he wanted to charge $5 and donate $1 from each tape sale to the homeless shelter.
On the afternoon of February 1st, 1989, I took a press release for the tape release party to the Outhouse, only to find Blaze had been shot and had died that morning following surgery. My first inclination was to cancel the party, but Blaze’s attorney and several close friends insisted he’d absolutely want the tape released, and anyway the money was needed to help pay for his funeral. Two runs of 250 were produced, money from the second run being donated to the Austin homeless shelter in Blaze’s name. The original Outhouse tape has been out of print for at least six years.
In 1998, Ray Benson called to say he would be glad to play at a tribute show to honor the late Jubal Clark, but needed some flexibility in the scheduling because Merle Haggard was at his studio that day. I took the opportunity to leave Merle a Blaze tape, assuming (correctly) he’d never heard Blaze perform, even though he and Willie had recorded If I Could Only Fly in 1987. A few weeks later, Merle’s manager called and said Merle wanted to get several more copies of the Outhouse tape, and tapes of anything else Blaze had ever recorded. I met with Merle on his bus before a show in Dennison, Texas, and hand-delivered the tapes. Merle was genuinely interested in Blaze, where he had grownup, who his friends were, who had played with him. Merle asked if the Outhouse was still open, suggesting he’d like to make a video there with musicians who’d played with Blaze. I told Merle that when If I Could Only Fly was first released, a trade paper in Nashville had quoted Merle saying it was the best country song he had heard in 15 years. When I told Merle that Blaze kept a copy of that magazine rolled up in his boot for months, Merle visibly shuddered. A few weeks later, I got a call from Merle saying he had been listening to Blaze every day on the bus and that, even though he'd recently rerecorded If I Could Only Fly, he intended to record it again, feeling he better understood the song after listening to Blaze sing it.
Lost Art Records has generously brought together the resources to remix and edit the Outhouse tapes for CD. We were able to structure the financing so that Blaze’s mother will get the largest share of the proceeds, with 20% of the net income donated to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless in Blaze’s name. Blaze’s attorney, Peggy Underwood, was very helpful in taking care of legal issues and contracts and making arrangements for Blaze’s mother. Blaze was one of the most powerful songwriters and performers to come out of the Austin music scene in a longtime and he deserves to have his music and songs available for people to hear—and feel. This CD will, I hope, give more people the opportunity to experience Blaze. John Casner