Who was Blaze Foley?
Michael David Fuller was a country music singer-songwriter from America. Popular by his professional name, Blaze Foley, he was also a poet and artist. An Arkansas native, he was raised in Texas and sang in a gospel band with most members of his family. He was given the nickname “Deputy Dog” quite early in his career. In the mid-1970s, he resided in a small artistic community in Georgia. It was there that he met Sybil Rosen. After they left the community together, Foley travelled to various parts of US in order to establish himself in the music industry. His relationship with Rosen eventually ended right after he had finished writing his most popular song, ‘If I Could Only Fly’. In the next few years, he penned memorable tracks like ‘Clay Pigeons’, ‘Ride in Your Big Cadillac’, and ‘Wouldn’t That Be Nice’. Foley was killed in 1989 by the son of a friend over a monetary dispute. Considered to be a quintessential Americana artist, he was the subject of the 2018 biographical drama, ‘Blaze’.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on December 18, 1949, in Malvern, Arkansas, Michael David Fuller was the son of Louise and Edwin Fuller. He was brought up in San Antonio, Texas, and was musically talented like several others of his family.
His older brothers, Doug and Pat, performed with their mother in a gospel band called The Singing Fuller Family. After Doug left home, “Mike” joined the band, and following the departure of Pat, their sister Marsha was brought in.
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Art & Music
Michael David Fuller had weight problems throughout his teenage years. This led him to write true-to-life songs, including ‘Fat Boy’, which is believed to be his first-ever composition.
After he obtained his GED, he resided with his brother for a short while. Then, he stayed with his relatives in Memphis before making his way to northern Georgia and was employed as a roadie for Buzzards Roost. It was there that he fully became Deputy Dog or “Deputy Dawg”.
In 1974, he joined a house band at Banning Mill, an alternative arts complex 45 miles west of Atlanta, as a rhythm guitarist. By the spring of 1975, he had become a member of a community comprised of artists, musicians, actors, and hippies. He met Sybil Rosen there at some point. She was an actress, performing with Banning Mill’s theatre troupe. Soon, a relationship started developing between the two.
While Fuller and Sybil Rosen were attending the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta, they became acquainted with John Prine. However, Fuller did not speak about his own song-writing to the seasoned songwriter, as he was feeling too shy.
In 1976, Fuller and Rosen tied the knot in an unofficial ceremony. They then moved to Austin, Texas to be part of the Outlaw music movement. Rosen worked as a waitress and provided for both of them, while Fuller wrote songs. However, his stay in the Texas capital was not long. Although Rosen remained there, Fuller came back to Georgia.
Fuller had been thinking of using a new stage name for a while. For a short period, he used the name “Blue Foley”, drawing inspiration from country singer and TV star Red Foley. Later, he changed it to “Blaze”.
For a period of time, Blaze Foley and Rosen were not living together and eventually came up with the plan of relocating to Chicago together, which was Rosen’s hometown.
In Chicago, Rosen began noticing that Foley often sabotaged his own performances, especially when the audience was inattentive or worse, hostile. The relationship ultimately ended but not before Foley composed ‘If I Could Only Fly’ and sang it to her.
Throughout his career, he had worked with the likes of Gurf Morlix, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Schwartz, Billy Block, and Calvin Russell.
Foley encountered various problems while trying to release his music. The executive producer who worked on his first album was arrested by the DEA after a drug test, and they impounded the album. Another studio album vanished after the master copies were taken by thieves along with his belongings from a station wagon that Foley had been using as a temporary home.
His last album, ‘Wanted More Dead Than Alive’, was thought to have vanished as well but was discovered by a friend and co-performer in his car several years after Foley’s death.
Death & Legacy
On February 1, 1989, Blaze Foley was gunned down by Carey January, the son of Foley's friend Concho January, at a house in the Bouldin Creek neighbourhood of Austin, Texas. He was there to ask why the younger January had been taking his father's veteran pension and welfare checks. Despite Concho’s testimony against his son, Carey was not found guilty of first-degree murder by reason of self-defence.
Foley used to put duct tapes on the tips of his cowboy boots to make fun of the “Urban Cowboy”-crazed people who wore silver-tipped boots. He even had a suit made out of duct tapes. At his funeral, his friends placed duct tapes all over his casket.
In 2008, Rosen published the memoir, ‘Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley’. She and Ethan Hawke co-wrote the script for ‘Blaze (2018), in which Foley was portrayed by Ben Dickey.
In 2005, Prine released his Grammy-winning LP, ‘Fair and Square’, which contains Prine’s cover of Fuller’s ‘Clay Pigeons’.