On Saturday, September 29, Austin Hall of Famer Gurf Morlix will perform for Flying Cat Music at the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM). The ESRM is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $18 or $15 with reservations. For information or reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-688-9453.
Gurf Morlix is a hallowed veteran of the fabled alternative country scene that took shape in Austin Texas during the 1970’s, having moved to that city in 1975 from the Buffalo region of New York. Today he is a part of Austin’s musical DNA, enshrined in the outlaw country music capital’s Music Awards’ Hall of Fame for his seminal contributions as a record producer, instrumental accompanist, and singer-songwriter.
Gurf Morlix first came to prominence during the eleven years he spent as Lucinda Williams’ accompanist, when he also produced her first two break-out albums: Lucinda Williams and its follow-up, Sweet Old World. But that’s just one chapter in his rich and varied career. Prior to that, Gurf had forged a deep and lasting musical bond and friendship with Blaze Foley, whose musical reputation continues to grow since his tragic death in 1989 at age thirty-nine. Foley is the subject of the recently released and highly regarded biographical drama Blaze, a story that Gurf, too, has a role in (more on that below). In following years, Morlix toured with luminaries such as Warren Zevon, Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, and Steve Earle, while doing studio work for a host of other major talents. And in 2009, Gurf Morlix won the prestigious Americana Music Association award for Instrumentalist of the Year.
As for Gurf’s solo career, Mother Jones Magazine sums it up well, “Since the end of his collaboration with Lucinda Williams in the ’90s, singer-guitarist Gurf Morlix has produced a series of striking solo albums marked by dark visions and virtuosic, albeit tastefully understated, musicianship.” Substance and emotion are themes reviewers often return to when discussing Gurf Morlix compositions. A Houston Press review of his 2009 release states, “Last Exit to Happyland is full of aching songs full of deep humanity and decency.” The Austin Chronicle says of Morlix “there’s a depth to the veteran guitarist, producer, and singer-songwriter that others can’t touch“.
Another point reviewers frequently make, when discussing Gurf Morlix, is his quest for the unadorned core in every word and note he writes and plays. In a 2004 review of Gurf Morlix’s third solo release, Cut ‘N Shoot, a Waxed reviewer observed, “If honky-tonk country were written in haiku, Gurf Morlix could be the music’s Zen master . . . Terse and laconic, he reduces each lyric to its bare-bones essence, as if he’s singing in Morse code or emotional shorthand.” A Sing Out Magazine review of Gurf Morlix’s 2013 release says, “Finds The Present Tense is a haunting set that in its apparent simplicity is deceptively deep and complex.”
Gurf once shared, “My songs are often perceived as dark, by a lot of people, but I don’t think they are. I think there’s a message in them, and the message is that life is a short movie, so it should be valued fully. You can’t afford to wait for tomorrow. Tell those wayward souls you love them, now.”
No Depression has this to say about Gurf’s most recent release, “The ninth album from Gurf Morlix, the ace Austin producer and guitarist, finds him digging deeper and seeing the light. On The Soul and the Heal the deep is dark. The light is love… As always, every note is in place and not one is wasted—the arrangements are elemental, organic, the spare interplay almost telepathic”. In reviewing that same album, Lone Star Magazine observed “His voice has grown to find its sweet spots, ironically marked by a raspy timbre and bluesy tinge that skirts around the note with an affecting relative pitch not unlike the vocals of the artist he was longest associated with, Lucinda Williams… Though this is Morlix’s best album yet, it leaves a lingering promise of even better to come.”
Gurf Morlix’s keen sense for music dynamics, of what does and does not illuminate a song, defines his own music. It is also why Gurf is so highly regarded as the producer of watermark albums for artists like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen and Mary Gauthier. Noted Texas songwriter Butch Hancock says of Gurf, “He’s got some kind of transcendental understanding of this whole musical mélange. When you’re working with him, music rides so high above anybody’s ego.” AmericanaUK definitively fixes Gurf’s importance as a producer of Americana music, “What Gurf Morlix has done for the Austin, Texas, scene can easily be compared with what Phil Spector did for the girl groups back in the ‘60s. In other words, the Austin-based producer and multi-instrumentalist has become the go-to-guy for Southern songwriters for years now,”
Perhaps Gurf Morlix has taken on that mantel because he understands that music so well. He lived through much of the creation of the prototype underground Southern-based Americana music often associated with 70’s and 80’s Austin singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and, increasingly, Blaze Foley. Gurf and Blaze were friends for over ten years, sometimes housemates as well, playing together at countless Texas gigs. A Houston Chronicle story covered part of that period:
“We played Montrose clubs almost every night,” Morlix says. He recalls times when they played about 25 gigs a month in Houston, spending the other five nights in Austin or other towns or “just watching our friends in Houston. That was probably ’79, ’80 and the beginning of ’81. All these clubs were walking distance. And they threw us money. It’s the best scene I’ve been involved in my entire life. It was before the oil bust, when people were out every night. And Blaze was different. He was so funny and odd that he had crowds. People loved him.”
Blaze Foley was shot dead in 1989 while trying to defend an older man he had befriended. Gurf had stopped playing with Blaze years before, but the bond between them never faded. Recalling that earlier period Gurf told the Houston Chronicle “The binge drinking started before he met Townes, but it didn’t get better after. But we used to drink beer and tequila every night, and we’d wake up sober and he’d work on songs. Then alcohol took over, and that became the goal. He started blowing off gigs. And I moved to Los Angeles. I could handle a lot, but I couldn’t stand to see him blowing off gigs.”
The aforementioned movie Blaze opened in Austin in August, with national distribution beginning in September. The September 6 issue of the New York Times contains a long, positive and personal review in which the reviewer says in part “Even if the film were no good at all — and I’m relieved to say that it’s pretty darn good — I would be 100 percent here for a biopic about Blaze Foley,” Other reviewers have similar positive feelings about Blaze, including 98% of Rotten Tomatoes approved critics.
Gurf Morlix appears in Blaze in several different ways. First, he plays himself on film as a musician playing with Blaze Foley. Gurf also covers one of Foley’s songs on the soundtrack for the film. But his most important role is slightly less overt. A reviewer of Blaze in the Houston Chronicle notes “Josh Hamilton (the dad in “Eighth Grade”) shines as the composite character of Z, a musician and friend who tries to bring some sense of stability to Foley’s whirlwind of a life.” Ethan Hawke, who co-wrote (with Sybil Rosen) and directed Blaze revealed to an interviewer for Town and Country Magazine that “Gurf Morlix in a lot of ways is the real guy Josh Hamilton’s character is based on.”