Welcome back to Album of the Week on WFNP! This week we’re going to change gears from covering newer music and talk about a project and artist frequently overlooked and forgotten in the musical zeitgeist of both today and the time it was released. This is Blaze Foley’s Sittin’ By The Road.
Blaze Foley, born Michael David Fuller, was raised in West Texas and throughout the 70s and 80s played in several scenes and circuits, most notably those of New Orleans, Houston, and Austin. I won’t divulge his whole life story because part of the fun of listening to him is discovering his wild, and fascinating, story. Blaze was considered a loose cannon, even by outlaw country music standards of the time, from getting kicked out of bars he performed in, living in a treehouse for several years, or even showing up to shows with old broken cowboy boots wrapped together with duct tape.
Despite this wild man appearance and history Foley’s music has proven to me to be thoughtful, poetic, and frankly underappreciated in the history of country and American folk music. Blaze Foley was tragically shot and killed in 1989 at the age of 39, while defending an elderly friend of his, and as a result his songs are found within a scarce catalog of tape recordings. The influence of these recordings is massive, with songs being covered later by the likes of Willie Nelson and John Prine.
The actual project that I think does Blaze foley’s catalog proper justice is Sittin’ by the Road, a collection of his tape recordings in the mid 1970s during Blaze’s “treehouse days” in Georgia, recorded on a home reel-to-reel machine. The recordings are definitely fuzzy and demo style quality but that doesn’t stop Blaze’s bassy voice and guitar playing from coming across as warm and truly endearing.
The true star of these tracks is the songwriting. Blaze had a way of writing simple lines that carry a lot of weight, just look at this example from his track “Clay Pigeons”
I’m tired of runnin’ ’round
Lookin’ for answers to questions that I already know
I could build me a castle of memories
Just to have somewhere to go
Or this example from his most covered song “If I Could Only Fly”
You know sometimes I write happy songs
Then some little thing goes wrong
I wish they all could make you smile
Coming home soon and I wanna stay
Maybe we can somehow get away
I wish you could come with me when I go again
These tracks have such a simple, almost quaint, feel but something to me about Blaze’s cadence and lyrics can make it sound unbelievably poignant and lonesome. It feels extremely personal, almost like he’s a close friend showing you something he wrote. There aren’t a lot of songwriters I can think of that provide that same, intimate, experience.
I’ve heard a lot of people, especially in college music circles, have some hesitation when it comes to exploring country music. I’ve found that a lot of these feelings come from the oversaturation of modern pop country and so some listeners are turned off to the entire genre. This has been my most recent music dive and I can tell you that like any genre, this music has a rich tapestry of sounds to explore. Any discerning music listener can find value in this style of music, and especially this album. Take a listen, you won’t regret it.