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Friday, April 25, 2014

Blaze Foley: 'Duct Tape Messiah' redux

DUCT TAPE MESSIAH: Blaze Foley circa 1981.
  • Courtesy Blaze Foley Estate
  • DUCT TAPE MESSIAH: Blaze Foley circa 1981.

In 2011, a couple of local venues paid homage to the tragic life and evocative music of Blaze Foley, the iconoclastic Malvern, Arkansas singer-songwriter who was shot and killed in Austin in 1989. Recent developments have compelled a refrain of performances and events, this time at Criminal Records in Little Five Points on Sat., April 26, designed to spread the art and legend of "the Duct Tape Messiah" to an even wider audience.

The festivities at Criminal Record mark the release of a repackaged and greatly expanded DVD version of Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, a documentary film by Kevin Triplett. The film's penetrating narrative, presented through archival footage, contemporary interviews, and animated sequences, paints an emotionally resonant portrait - inspiring and hilarious, honest and sad - of an exceptionally gifted, deeply troubled artist. The new DVD includes more than two hours of material not included in the original release.

To accentuate the exclusive (for now) availability of Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah at Criminal Records, graphic artist and musician Jason Hatcher, who handled layout and design of the DVD packaging, will be screening excerpts from the documentary. Special guest author Sybil Rosen will read passages from her memoir, Living in the Woods in a Tree (University of North Texas Press, 2012), which chronicles the mid-1970s period when she and Foley shared a treehouse on the site of an abandoned mill in Carroll County.

Also on Saturday, a house band featuring Bryan Brownlow (drums), Phil Anderson (bass), and Michael Goldman (guitars and mandolin) will be supporting local singers Blake Rainey, Michael Bradley, and Joseph Lazarri in performances of Foley's songs.

In addition to the Carrolton art compound where Michael David Fuller (Foley's birth name) took on his first nom de art, Deputy Dawg, Foley is linked with Atlanta in a number of ways. He frequently traveled through and performed in the city, most notably at the famed (or infamous, depending on the tale and narrator) Rosa's Cantina.

By all accounts, Foley was a keenly intelligent, highly sensitive, complex and perplexing person. Restless and driven, plagued by depression and self-doubt, he pursued his muses with fervent intent and reckless abandon. In Austin, he befriended Townes Van Zandt, a similarly iconoclastic musician. Like Van Zandt, Foley wrote universally poignant, heart-achingly poetic songs, which have been revered by more celebrated performers. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett, and John Prine have covered Foley's songs. Van Zandt penned "Blazes Blues" in tribute to his friend and Lucinda Williams captured his cantankerous, contradictory spirit in "Drunken Angel."

Foley's ill-fated career is pockmarked by the vagaries of the business, freaky bad luck and self-induced mishaps, circumstances which also account for his meager recorded output. Live at the Austin Outhouse (Lost Art), which was recorded only weeks before his death, is probably the best starting point for Foley newbies. The Dawg Years (Fat Possum), a collection of 20 tracks recorded in mono in a friend's living room between 1976 and 1978 provides an aural glimpse into the "treehouse period." Clay Pigeons (Secret Seven), released as a limited run of 500 LPs in 2011, is especially prized by Foley aficionados.

Based on the legacy so eloquently rendered by Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, the man deserves his place in the pantheon that includes the finest singer-songwriters ever to become associated with the Lone Star state - and its most tragic characters.

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