“I ain’t headed down this highway all alone”
Editor’s note: More than a decade after he was shot and killed in a domestic dispute in February 1989, Blaze Foley is once again kicking up dust in Austin. Before his death at age 39, Foley had made a name for himself as one of the city’s most talented, if difficult, songwriters. His tune “If Only I Could Fly” was covered by Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard on their 1987 album Seashores Of Old Mexico, but Foley’s occasionally ornery behavior during bouts of heavy drinking alienated some club owners and other potential benefactors.
Yet he also became beloved to a legion of fellow artists — among them Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams, both of whom later recorded songs about Foley (“Blaze’s Blues” and “Drunken Angel”, respectively). Two Van Zandt recordings of Foley songs are featured on In Tribute And Loving Memory, a collection of Foley covers released in 1998. Other contributors to the disc include Kimmie Rhodes, Calvin Russell and Timbuk3 — the latter of whom Foley befriended when they first moved to Austin in the mid-’80s by dragging a dozen of his friends to see them play their first gig at the Austin Outhouse. A second tribute volume, Blaze Ablaze, was released last year, and a third is in the works.
The most significant recent release regarding Foley, however, is Live At The Austin Outhouse. The 12-song disc features many of Foley’s best songs, captured during performances at the sublimely funky but now defunct dive on December 27-28, 1988 (a little over a month before his death). A photo on the back of the disc shows the Outhouse’s chalkboard rundown of the weekly schedule, including a Tuesday gig featuring Timbuk3 and Foley. We asked Barbara K of Timbuk3 if she’d write something about Blaze for us; what follows are her thoughts about a long-gone but hardly forgotten friend.
Blaze — the first night I met him he gave me hope. Hope is one of those things that sometimes never pays off, but in this case, hope was food for my starving artist’s soul. Sure, it’s only bread, and maybe a little wine. Bread and wine, it’s kept the Catholics going for centuries. But Blaze — he believed in me, and I believed in him.
No matter how drunk he was, Blaze always sang in key. And the rhythm of his guitar would rock you steadier than a woman could rock her baby in her grandma’s rocking chair.
We’d hole up at the Austin Outhouse, the only bar I played that never banned Blaze from taking the stage. I can understand why he might have made the club owners a little uneasy. Like the night he passed his hat for us at Maggie Mae’s. He got a little belligerent with the customers if they didn’t put what he thought was enough money in the hat. He looked out for his own kind.
Blaze would come stay at our house and sleep on the couch. We had a pretty babysitter back then. He loved our kid. I still have a little ball of wax that he used to roll between his fingers, shaping it into animals and things. He gave it to our son as a creative opportunity.
I love Blaze’s songs. “Clay Pigeons” is one of my favorites. It’s all about having the courage to start over again. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, you can always start over again. If you mess up a song, if you mess up your life, you can always start over again. Just as long as your heart knows what you really want to do.
Blaze’s heart knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to sing his songs. He wanted to tell the truth. The truth, no matter what the cost, even if it meant his life.
Blaze’s death was real hard for everybody I knew who knew him. Perhaps it was the hardest for my son, who was only five years old when Blaze checked out. My kid’s first lesson in death: that awful emptiness when you know you’ll never see him again, never hear him singing on your front porch, never feel that cold blue steel of his penetrating gaze when he looked into your soul just to meet you on the inside.
And that’s where Blaze is hanging out now. On the inside of every heart who ever loved the truth as only Blaze could tell it. My life is blessed for having known him.