Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s01e08 Episode Script

Blaze Foley

1 (CRICKETS CHIRPING) (COUNTRY MUSIC PLAYING) So far in this series, we've focused on the country music outlaws, artists who refuse to follow the rules of the record business or the rules of polite society, for that matter.
These have all been pretty big names, but we're gonna end this season with a guy who was every bit the outlaw artist in his own way, but who never quite achieved that same level of fame.
And to be honest, it just seems wrong that hardly anybody knows his name.
I'm going down to the Greyhound station Gonna get a ticket to ride Gonna find that lady with two or three kids And sit down by her side And ride till the sun comes up and down around me About two or three times Smoking cigarettes in the last seat Try to hide my sorrow from the people I meet And get along with it all Go down where people say "y'all " Sing a song with a friend Change the shape that I'm in And get back in the game Start playing again MIKE: Willie Nelson recorded one of his songs alongside Merle Haggard.
In fact, Merle called it the best country song he'd heard in 15 years.
Lucinda Williams wrote a song about the guy, and Townes Van Zandt called him a brother.
Remember this name: Blaze Foley.
He was the nicest asshole you'd ever meet.
And that's something, with his looks, you'd never guess.
He was a very scary-looking guy.
Scary-looking guy, yeah.
MIKE: Hank Sinatra and Chuck Lamb witnessed the magic of Blaze Foley more times than either of them can count.
They remember Blaze as an intimidating presence on first impression.
HANK: Blaze walked with a big limp, and that even made him more scary, more pirate-like, you know.
He even scared some of the bikers.
He was just a big 'ol goon.
And when he started singing, you just completely lost all thoughts of what you thought when you first saw the guy.
I'd like to stay, but I might have to go To start over again Might go back down to Texas Might go to somewhere that I've never been Blaze had a bet with somebody, a hundred dollar bet with somebody that he could get kicked out of every bar that had live music in Austin.
Yeah, he literally got thrown out of every bar in town.
The Outhouse was the last place.
(LAUGHS) I was not gonna help Blaze win that bet.
So we managed to put up with him.
Met this character, Blaze Foley, back in 1977, and, uh, he had this guitar in this case that he wanted to show me.
Actually, he wanted to sell it to me.
MIKE: Singer-songwriter Gurf Morlix, maybe the greatest name in country music history, was playing a gig when Blaze Foley approached him with a proposition.
I was in the middle of a set, and he came up to me and wanted to talk to me, like, in between songs.
And he's, like, six-three, six-four maybe, long hair, cowboy hat, just looked like a weirdo.
And I said, well, you know, "When I take a break, can we talk then?" And a little later on, he showed me this guitar that he wanted to sell me.
It was an old acoustic guitar from the early 1900s, and, uh, I found out later it wasn't his guitar.
He always had to borrow somebody's guitar to play most of the time.
Yeah, I don't know if he ever actually owned one.
I guess he sold that guitar to about four different people.
(LAUGHS) And none of 'em ever got it.
MIKE: A few days later, Blaze played his first-ever performance in Austin, the city where he would build his legend.
He got a gig in a it was in a disco, just a ridiculous place for him to be, and we kind of sat around, and he had a valise with a bunch of stuff in it, and he would pull out pictures and say, "Well, here's the person from this song," and he'd play the song while the picture was being passed around.
MIKE: One of the pictures he pulled out was of himself as a kid, for a little number he called, "Fat Boy.
" I won't be a fat boy anymore LINDSEY HORTON: He used to tell me about when he'd be at home as a kid that he'd sit down and eat a stick of butter.
He'd just sit down for a snack and he'd just eat a stick of butter.
And of course, you do things like that, it's gonna pack some weight on you.
I first met Blaze when I was working the Sears store, when I was in high school.
MIKE: Lindsey Horton was in automotive.
Blaze, or Michael Fuller, as he was known then, worked in paint and hardware.
He was a big kid from Malvern, Arkansas, who had a thing about his weight and his name, apparently.
He started introducing himself on stage as Deputy Dawg, like the cartoon.
Deputy Dawg, of course, was destitute, so I went with him a few places around trying to sell the guitar.
Someone said, well, you know, Kinky Friedman buys guitars.
He might be interested in that.
Kinky was playing down at the Armadillo World Headquarters, so, uh, we sent word in that we'd like to talk to him, and sure enough, he came out and sat down with us.
And Blaze showed him his guitar, and Kinky played it a while, played a few little, little runs of this and that and whatever on it.
And, uh, said, "Well, thank you very much for showing me your guitar.
" And got up and went back inside.
I don't remember precisely meeting anybody.
I'm sure it was on the gangplank of Noah's Ark, you know, but, uh, you'd have to tell me and then it comes back to the Kinkster.
There was one night when we went to a, a Willie Nelson concert, and somehow we ended up right in front of the stage with this guitar.
At some point, Willie Nelson, you know, sort of leaned down and Deputy said to him, "Would you like to buy this guitar?" you know.
Nobody would buy it.
MIKE: In 1974, Michael met Sybil Rosen while performing at an artists' commune 45 miles west of Atlanta.
It was during that time that he was working on the name, Blaze Foley.
It was just like, you know, watching someone being born.
MIKE: He called himself the illegitimate son of Red Foley, a country music legend who was an inveterate drunk, and Blaze Starr, a stripper whose specialty was a stage effect that produced smoke from between her legs.
We was in love.
At some point, I thought that it was probably time to introduce him to the folks.
Here's my middle-aged, middle-class Jewish parents from Brooklyn.
You know, they sweated blood to send me to college.
And I come in with this big cowboy with boots and a hat, this big handlebar mustache, and he has my IUD in his ear.
(LAUGHS) I'd gone to, you know, Planned Parenthood and asked for an IUD, and my body couldn't tolerate it, so they removed it and they gave it to Blaze, and he put it in his ear, you know.
And my mother, God bless her, she takes one look at Blaze, turns around, goes into the bedroom, starts crying.
(LAUGHING) But Blaze starts singing these songs, and, um, once he sang, they really couldn't resist him.
With sad, pretty blue eyes MIKE: Blaze was with Sybil when he first visited Austin, home of sorts to another singer-songwriter, a hard-living crooner who would become a legend, Townes Van Zandt.
Blaze was a homeless person, I think, you know, intentionally.
I always got the impression, he just slept on people's couches all the time, you know? And that must have been a horrible feeling.
But he seemed to be comfortable with it.
MIKE: Harold Eggers spent 20 years booking Townes Van Zandt and trying to stay sane.
He tried several times to get a record deal for Blaze.
They were gonna put him on the road with Townes when Heartland Records, we made the record deal, they had said well, you know, "Can you keep a lid on him?" And you know, I always say yes to everything.
It's like, "Sure, man, we can keep a lid on Townes and the two of 'em," you know.
But to be honest with you, there's no lid for those guys.
It was They were full tilt.
MIKE: If the two of them weren't bad enough, they used to run around with this guy.
I used to manufacture methamphetamine.
I used to be a pretty good chemist.
The reason I learned to make methamphetamine because I liked it more than anybody else.
MIKE: Leland Waddell claims that his side business kept him in skins and sticks as a drummer.
I met this guy, he turned me on to it.
I said, "Damn.
Where'd you get that? That's good.
" He said, "Oh, I made it.
" "You what? You made it!" You know, and I didn't let that motherfucker leave my sight until I learned how to do it.
You know, I mean, I said goddamn, this is the best thing I said, this is the best thing of all.
It's like goddamn, why do I have to worry about money? I can actually make fucking speed.
MIKE: That was Waddell in 2002.
This is him now.
He survived, mostly intact.
Blaze was staying with Townes.
Townes lived like four blocks from me at the time.
And so, um, Townes called me, he said, "Come on over, Blaze is here, man.
We got some Kamchatka Vodka, come on over, man.
" Kamchatka is the cheapest vodka that you can buy.
It's like a dollar and 60 cents for a half-pint.
So I went over there to Townes', and the minute I showed up, Jeanene, who's Townes' wife, you know, she knew what was about to happen.
Pretty much at that time, they were pretty much best friends, running buddies.
So Townes says, "Hey, man, "I'm gonna die pretty soon.
"I want you and Blaze to go out and help me find a gravesite.
Let's go today, because I know I'm gonna die any minute.
" So I said, "Sure, man, let's go take a look.
" Well, we went to Texas Cemetery, where all the senators and and all of those were buried, and way too hifalutin.
Stopped by the liquor store, got us a half a pint each or whatever, spent another 30-45 minutes looking around.
We were right over here off the interstate.
Blaze looked over, he said, "Man, there's a cemetery right there.
" So we said, "All right, let's go take a look.
" Well, Blaze stumbled out, sat down on a gravestone.
Townes couldn't walk, so Blaze grabbed his feet and I grabbed his arms, and we drug him through that cemetery.
And every time we'd get to one of them old crosses, you know, "Damn, man, what do you think about this, man?" "Ah, yeah, man, I like that, but let's look.
" So we went to the back of the cemetery, and as we went over that hill, there was an encampment of homeless people right at the edge of the cemetery.
As we drug him across there, man, they was headed out of there.
They thought he was dead.
So finally, "We found you the one we like.
" "Um, this is What do you think about this?" Well, that by that time, he was totally out, so I told Blaze, I said, "Well, let's go back, get in the car and go get some more booze, and we'll come back and get him.
" So we left him leaned up against that headstone in that cemetery, passed completely out.
He looked as dead as anybody you ever seen.
Blaze says, "Hey, man, I think we did all right, don't you?" MIKE: Townes went on to live another 16 years.
The first time I remember actually seeing him or knowing who he was, he was asleep under the pool table at a singer-songwriter bar here in Austin.
MIKE: Larry Monroe was a local DJ who frequented the Outhouse and became friendly with Blaze.
I remember he had Mercurochrome on his face, you know, just he had painted his face with it.
And he was sprawled out on his back, people just playing pool, and every time somebody would make a ball and it would drop down and then roll across, it would wake Blaze up just momentarily.
And he'd kind of rouse up and hit his head on the underside of the pool table, and then he'd just sprawl back out and go back to sleep.
When I met Townes, I was just kind of thrown into Townes' world overnight, and one of the first things we did was go find Blaze.
And he was sleeping under that pool table.
It was early in the morning, Blaze comes crawling out, you know, "Good morning," and, you know, "Who's this little darling?" And actually, I was quite frightened.
You know? I'm like, "What in the hell?" MIKE: Blaze also had another kind of bizarre habit: duct tape.
He used a lot of duct tape.
Duct tape He had some outfits with duct tape lapels Yeah.
This craze developed around the movie Urban Cowboy.
All of the sudden, people are showing up, wearing expensive country and western jewelry, and accouterments, as Blaze would call 'em silver collar tips, and silver boot tips, and they were going to these bars and spending all this money on this stuff.
And Blaze, he would talk about how ridiculous it was that these people were spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on on these pieces of silver, when duct tape was almost as good.
So he started duct taping his collar tips and his boot tips, and then it kind of it took off from there.
He started making clothes out of duct tape.
He made shoes out of duct tape, made a set of cowboy boots.
Nobody questioned it.
I mean, I never asked him about the duct tape.
Maybe that duct tape was the only thing holding him together.
(LAUGHS) MIKE: At some point, he stopped living under pool tables and other people's couches and moved into an actual car.
It was a wood panel, avocado green Esquire station wagon.
And, um, I remember one time my car had broken down, so he, like, generously said, "Oh, you can use my car.
" So, Townes and I and some other girl were out partying all night, and we were, like, talking and stuff, and I look up and there's another exact car, avocado green, wood panel, Esquire station wagon on the other side of the road and it jumped the median right when I looked up.
It was like, boom! Pretty bad wreck.
And we couldn't figure out which car was whose afterwards.
But then, one of the first people on the street after the wreck is Blaze.
And I'm standing in the median, crying, "I'm a home-wrecker!" 'Cause he lived in the car.
"I'm a home-wrecker! I wrecked your home!" And so we gave him a key to the house and gave him permanent couch privileges.
MIKE: By 1978, Townes Van Zandt was working on his seventh studio album.
Blaze couldn't get arrested.
Well, in the figurative sense, at least.
Harold Eggers had been trying to get Blaze to do an album, and Blaze was not happy about contracts.
So him and Harold had gone around and around and around about selling his soul to the devil, you know.
Yeah, I would say, "Now, look.
If Townes is willing to sign it, come on, you can't be that paranoid," I said, you know.
Then finally he signed it, and threw it on the floor, and said, "There it is, man! Now you own me like everybody else.
" So Harold, one night says, "Okay, I want to do a video on the front porch with Blaze.
" I was like, "You bet, man, no problem.
" So here they came, and I started videotaping.
Well, Blaze is shit-faced, totally smashed.
And he's got that album cover sitting here beside him on the chair, and Harold says, "Well, hold up the album and talk about it, you know.
" And, "You got to straighten up.
Come on, this is serious, you know.
" Blaze just reaches down there and picks up that album cover, "Screw your album.
Screw your contract.
Screw you.
" And Poom! Like a Frisbee.
Knocked his hat off.
It was that close Schoomp! I told him, I said, "Blaze, you do that one more time, I'm gonna kill you.
" And he laughed, you know, and, uh Well, he could've been a Vaudeville character, you know.
MIKE: At the height of Houston's oil boom, Gurf Morlix remembers that Blaze found some money guys to back his first real studio session.
It was an oil trading company named Zephyr Records, who were looking to, uh, lose some money, I think, and so they formed this record company and signed Blaze.
He had met Kinky Friedman somewhere, and Kinky invited Blaze to come to New York City and open for him.
And so Blaze talked Zephyr Records into buying him a ticket, and of course, it was a disaster.
As we say in New York, "Never 'hoid of him!" Fuck, I don't know.
I have forgotten the first half of my life.
By the time that I got up to New York to play these shows with Blaze, he was ensconced in the Gramercy Park Hotel and up to no good.
Amphetamines and binge drinking.
He just had this amazing ability to fuck it up.
MIKE: Zephyr Records went bust with the energy crisis, but not before pressing some 45s of the best song Blaze had in his repertoire.
I remember him playing, "If I Could Only Fly" for the first time, and both of us crying, and, you know I see that song as, um, sort of a lament about the consequences of rootlessness.
You know, he was saying, "This is who I am.
" BLAZE: When I go again If I could only fly If I could only fly I'd bid this place goodbye To come and be with you Blaze got singles pressed and so we had, we had thousands of 'em, and Blaze, of course, was trading them for drinks in bars.
LARRY: I never knew him to have a job.
He said, "I have vowed never to have a day job, because it would interfere with my artistic pursuits.
" And lie beneath the laughter of your eyes MIKE: His best friend had made this hard-living lifestyle work for him, to a certain extent.
Snowing on Raton Come morning, I'll be Through them hills and gone He was making decent bucks at the time, Townes was.
He had entrée into a lot of circles that Blaze didn't have, like the Kerrville Folk Festival.
(LAUGHS) MIKE: The Kerrville Folk Festival had hosted artists like Townes, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, and Peter, Paul & Mary, since 1972.
It's a big event around here, especially for us songwriters.
You got on the campground, people jamming, everybody's singing their own songs.
Singer-songwriter Ky Hote hosts the Underground Kerrville Review, and has been playing the festival for decades.
Rod Kennedy runs the Kerrville Folk Festival, and Rod's kind of a He can be a little reactionary.
A few people have been kicked out of there for swearing on-stage, you know, banned for years, you know, just for, for saying "fuck" or something, you know, and Blaze wasn't gonna shy away from any of that.
He had these songs and he was just gonna play them.
Townes got him a guest spot at Kerrville, and he sang the song about Idi Amin.
MIKE: Idi Amin was the dictator of Uganda at the time.
He was all over the news with rumors of having killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and engaging in cannibalistic rituals.
Kampala, Uganda, on Saturday night Idi Amin just stepped out for a bite The waitress, she asked him "Can I help you, please?" "A platter of elbows, a bowl full of knees" Rod Kennedy told him, "You're banned from here for life.
You cannot ever come back here.
" That was his response to the "Springtime in Uganda" thing.
Rod got the hook and got him off stage.
MIKE: Folk singer Carlene Jones and Ky Hote were both there when Blaze tried to come back to Kerrville.
It was the middle of the night, we're all camping out there.
So I wake up early in the morning and I'd been up late, and I'm tired, I haven't had coffee.
I walk over to this campfire, I sit down.
I look to the left of me and here's this big woman, I think.
Ugly, ugly.
I just look away.
He decided to put on a disguise, and, uh, he painted his fingernails this god-awful color of maroon, and he had this batik skirt, and a frilly white blouse, a bandana around his head, you know, lipstick.
And then I hear this voice, "Ky "It's me, Blaze.
I'm incognito.
" MIKE: Rod Kennedy threw him out again.
But as the man himself remembers, that wasn't nearly the end of it.
I think it was probably two or three months later, we were in Emma Joe's, and he spat across the room and hit me in the face.
He just spit on him.
Blaze had a bad habit of, when he'd get really wasted, spitting on people.
He never did it to me.
(LAUGHING) I would have vomited on him.
Rod Kennedy was a badass, - and Blaze took a beating on that one.
- Yeah.
I'd been out of the Marine Corps too short a time to control what was an instantaneous, almost involuntary reaction.
And I think I flew through the air and hit him about chest high.
He was sitting at a table, and grabbed him by the ears and slammed his head on the floor until somebody pulled me off of him.
I'd heard that he had spent the Christmas holidays of 1988 in jail, that he had beat up somebody.
And it sounded out of character to me.
MANDY: He was always really sweet to children and older people, and anybody he thought had soul and was cool.
He liked this older man, an elderly African-American gentleman named Concho January.
I said, "I heard you just got out of jail.
What happened?" And he said, "Well, I know this old guy named Concho, "and his son beats him up "and takes his Social Security money and spends it on heroin.
"And I just won't let him do that.
And we got in a fight and I kicked his ass.
" And I said, "Well, Blaze, you got to be careful.
" He said, "Well, this kid may kill me, but I'm not gonna let him beat up his dad.
" Apparently, there had been several confrontations, and the reason I know it, it happened more than once, was that Mr.
January's son actually took out a restraining order against Blaze.
He was supposedly not even supposed to be over there anymore.
Concho, he loved Blaze, he really did.
Blaze was the person who cared about him, and who was trying to take care of him, trying to protect him.
It was his character.
That's the way he was right up to the time that he was shot.
You know, he was defending another guy.
MIKE: On the first day of February, 1989, the day the government checks arrive, Concho January's son came to the house.
By the time he left, Blaze Foley had a bullet wound in his liver from a .
22 rifle.
He was dead within hours.
The day of the funeral, once some songs got sung, people decorated the casket with the duct tape, and I remember as it was being lowered down that that Blaze probably would have got a kick out of seeing that happen.
They labeled him the Duct Tape Messiah.
MIKE: Seven months later, Concho's son was acquitted of first-degree premeditated murder.
Even though the old man could not have been more clear in his deposition, the jury found that Concho's son shot Blaze in self-defense.
The spookiest thing about it was before Blaze got killed, he finally got a song covered by Merle Haggard.
He recorded, "If I Could Only Fly.
" I almost felt you Touching me just now I wish I knew which way To turn and go Blaze was just so proud that he was actually gonna have some success, and this was gonna open a lot of doors for him.
If I could only fly If I could only fly I'd bid this place goodbye To come and be with you I think he got one royalty check, and actually for the first time, he rented a room in a house in South Austin.
And I came back from LA, where I was living, and he took me into his room, and he showed me his room, and he was so proud of it.
And then, a couple of weeks two or three weeks later, he was dead.
If I could only fly If you could only fly If we could only fly There'd be no more lonely nights (SONG ENDS) MAN: I've always been A rolling stone I've lived hard and on my own I've dressed in black And never really wondered why I've been trouble from the start I broke my poor mama's heart God loves sinners Outlaws And troubadours In the '70s, I was fucking 25 fat girls to get 'em to go get diet pills.
All the fat girls in town was over at my house.
I'd say, "Baby, go on over there and get them pills, now, and come on back over here.
" And, I mean, I had all the fat women in town bringing me speed in the '70s, till they cut that out, you know, in about '73.
No one, no one.
You couldn't get no diet pills.
(CAR ENGINE REVS)