Blaze Foley – The fall and rise of Blaze Foley
Edwin Fuller, the handsome father who was a gambler and a rambler and a ladies man, came and went. When he was with the family, he was known to trade food the Singing Fuller Family brought in for liquor. Edwin worked as a trucker when he worked, and battled demons most of his life. But after going to a Christian rehab facility, he played it straight for almost four years, long enough to buy the family home in Irving. After Edwin’s mother passed away, his dark side emerged for good. “Ours was a dysfunctional family,” Blaze’s sister Marsha, now Marsha Weldon, said with understatement.
Mike had polio as a baby. Despite that affliction, he was known for his sweet disposition. His interest in music transcended the family gospel band. In his early teens, “he’d go into the bedroom and shut the door, playing a Chet Atkins record on and on until he learned the notes,” Marsha recalled.
From the beginning, he was driven to tell his life in songs. His first known composition was “Fat Boy”, which expressed the frustration of being fat during adolescence. He dropped out of MacArthur High School in Irving during his senior year and moved in with his brother Doug in Arlington, where he took a GED test to get the equivalent of a high school degree in 1968.
He took a coat-and-tie gig at Sears Store #4017 in Irving, working alongside his buddy Lindsey Horton (“He was in paint; I was in automotive,” Lindsey said) and was engaged to Nell, the sister of his older brother’s wife. But when Mike started going out to clubs to listen to music, Nell broke off the engagement.
He quit his job and left town, drifting around on his motorcycle. He first landed in Memphis, where he lived with relatives and then in a small trailer until his father Edwin showed up and tried to move in. He spent a year and a half in northern Georgia as roadie for a progressive bluegrass band called Buzzard’s Roost that moved around like gypsies and gave him the nickname Depty Dawg.
In 1974, Fuller showed up at Banning Mill, a hippie art colony in the ruins of a 19th-century yarn mill 45 miles west of Atlanta. The mill had been purchased by a wealthy young visionary named Mike McGukin, who refashioned the space as an alternative arts complex with a theater, studios, and a restaurant and bar with a music stage.
Fuller wound up playing rhythm guitar in the mill’s house band. Whenever the band tired of playing, Depty Dawg stepped out to do a solo set. One night, Dep solicited requests. Joe Bucher, who did carpentry work at the mill, asked for “anything by John Prine.” An instant bond formed. They drank beer and talked about Prine, who they both thought was the best songwriter in the world, and about life. Sometimes Depty helped Bucher when an extra carpenter was needed.
Depty Dawg had arrived at the mill accompanied by a girlfriend and her child. But in the spring of 1975, he fell in love with Sybil Rosen, an actress in the mill’s theater troupe. “I thought he was the most gifted person I ever met,” Rosen said. “The first real dose of him was his voice, hearing him sing in the bar. The simplicity and honesty, it was very deep and really compelling. There was something very vulnerable about him, very open and very emotional. He was handsome, tall, funny and smart. There were many, many things to recommend him.”
They took up residence in a treehouse that was being built on land owned by Joe Bucher. It was a sweet setup. After five solid years of drifting, Fuller found his place living in the branches. He’d dropped 150 pounds in weight and felt like a new man. He was loved by a woman who encouraged his art, as he encouraged hers. What more could anyone want?
The next nine months were about as idyllic as life got for Mike Fuller, Depty Dawg, and Blaze Foley. He and Sybil cooled off in the trees, took long drives in the countryside, listened to music, encouraged each other’s creativity, and hung out with their friends at the mill just down the road. They lived the hippie life, smoking a little weed, drinking a little beer, even dropping LSD a few times. Dep and Joe Bucher went to Atlanta and actually met John Prine, backstage at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta. Depty Dawg told Prine he lived in a treehouse. “Then you must be one squirrelly motherfucker,” Prine replied.
“He had pieces of songs he’d been working on, but he was very shy about his own work,” Sybil Rosen observed. “That summer was the start of a torrent of songwriting that lasted for the next four years.”
Fuller and Rosen gave each other enough confidence to dream. For him, that meant going to Austin, where Willie Nelson and outsiders like himself were making authentic music. Depty Dawg had written at least ten solid songs, and Austin was the place to sell them.
Fuller and Rosen hit Austin in the spring of 1976 after hitchhiking to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and detouring through Dallas. They dived in to the music scene. Sybil quickly figured she had neither the stamina nor appetite to stay out all night drinking and listening to music, though Depty Dawg did. He had to, if he was going to be a songwriter. “It was a different emotional landscape for us,” she admitted.
For all its vaunted reputation as a hippified musician-friendly place with the lowest cost-of-living of any major American city, Austin proved a tough nut to crack for an aspiring singer-songwriter. Pickers and writers were a dime a dozen. Scoring stage time was a job unto itself. While Sybil hustled rent money by waiting tables at Les Amis (the inspiration for Richard Linklater’s film Slacker), the Nighthawk and La Fonda and appeared in a couple of student films, her boyfriend wrote songs. But he was too shy, or too intimidated, to perform them.
Depty Dawg retreated to more familiar ground in the late summer. People knew him in Georgia, which made it easier to take the stage. He was transforming from Depty Dawg to Blaze Foley; he’d always liked the last name of country legend Red Foley and was going to call himself Blue Foley until Blaze popped into his head.