Blaze Foley was born in Marfa, Texas. But Michael David Fuller was born in Malvern, Arkansas, on Dec. 18, 1949.
Fuller liked country star Red Foley’s name, so much he nearly chose Blue Foley as a stage name before he came up with Blaze. Foley’s songs have been recorded by Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett and John Prine, among others, and the songwriter himself has been the subject of songs by Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt and beyond. Years after the Hot Spring County native’s murder, Blaze Foley’s songs and persona continue to be inspiring to other artists.
But before he was Blaze, Michael Fuller got his musical start in Arkansas singing gospel with his family, the Singing Fuller Family, when he replaced his older brother. Foley’s mother, Louise, the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, led the group. His father, Edwin, played by Kris Kristofferson in the movie, sometimes drove a truck — and sometimes traded the Singing Fuller Family’s earnings for liquor, according to Michael. (Another musician making her acting debut in “Blaze,” Hurray For the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, plays Michael’s sister, Marsha Fuller. Segarra also sings a duet with star Ben Dickey.)
Stricken with polio as a baby, and growing up in a dysfunctional family, the younger Fuller immersed himself in music and spent hours in his room with his record player and guitar.
When the Fuller family moved to Texas, Michael continued to hone his craft there, and later in Chicago and Georgia. While establishing himself in Atlanta politician Newt Gingrich became a Foley fan. Gingrich apparently liked hanging out with hippies during this period, and called Foley “his Bob Dylan.” (Years later, Foley would write such biting anti-Reagan songs as “Oval Room.”)
Foley moved to Austin, Texas, in the 1970s, and became part of the outsider songwriter movement there whose figurehead was Townes Van Zandt. Van Zandt would reach national acclaim when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard took his song “Pancho & Lefty” to No. 1 in 1983. Fuller and Van Zandt became volatile friends in south Austin, with their shared love of composing songs sometimes colliding with their shared love of alcohol.
Foley’s noted obsession with duct tape began innocently enough; he taped some to the tips of his boots to mock the widespread American trend of “going country” in wake of the success of the movie “Urban Cowboy” (a 1980 film directed by Paris [Logan County] native James Bridges). Soon, he was putting the tape on everything, even creating an all-duct tape suit.
As Fuller became Foley — though he was also nicknamed Deputy Dawg after the early 1960s cartoon lawman hound — he continued on the fringes of the Texas singer-songwriter scene through the 1980s. He couch-surfed all around south Austin, proud to not have a day job to distract from his craft. To Austinites, a Dumpster emblazoned with the BFI corporate logo stood for “Blaze Foley Inside.”
Some recording opportunities that did arise for Foley ended remarkably badly — with producers’ assets being seized by the DEA here and producers attempting a record-label tax dodge there. Things finally were looking on the up when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard recorded Foley’s song “If I Could Only Fly.” The song was offered to the country stars by the same lawyer that had brought the duo “Pancho & Lefty,” and all thought a similar chart-topper was at hand. But even after Haggard said it was the best country music song he had heard in 15 years, Willie and Merle’s “If I Could Only Fly” duet was yanked as a radio single in 1987.
Foley recorded a country demo and a live set as 1988 ended. That summer, he had befriended an older man named Concho January. They were
J.J. was his father’s official
At 39, the life of Blaze Foley had ended. Foley’s legend, of course, had already long since started. Which is the way Michael Fuller wanted