Gurf Morlix lived in Montrose in one of its most creative heydays. He first laid eyes on Houston when he left Buffalo in 1975. He bounced around couch-surfing in Austin and Houston for a bit, but by 1978 he was living in Montrose with songwriting genius and wild-drinking Blaze Foley, a Houston legend in his own right. Morlix also quickly rose among the city’s myriad guitarists to be a go-to sideman for lots of Houston and Austin artists. When he wasn't playing with Foley, he was a member of the popular Danny Everitt Band.
“Man, rent was cheap, food was cheap, and sometimes we could squeeze in three gigs in a night and make our nut for the week,” he explains via phone from his Rootball Studio in Austin, where he’s produced albums by Slaid Cleaves, Robert Earl Keen, Jr., Mary Gauthier, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Ian McLagan. He’s also produced 2 ½ Lucinda Williams albums and gotten a Grammy for his participation in her classic Car Wheels on a Gravel World.
But Morlix is much deeper than just his producer accomplishments or the nine solo albums of his own he’s produced since 2000, when he returned to Austin after a decade in Los Angeles with Williams. Morlix has toured or recorded as guitarist with an astonishing gaggle of singers and players: Warren Zevon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Jimmy Lafave, Eliza Gilkyson, and dozens more. He was voted Best Instrumentalist by the Americana Music Association in 2009.
In 2011 Morlix recorded and released a loving tribute to his old roommate Foley, Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream, which was accompanied by a documentary, Blaze Foley: The Duct Tape Messiah. He spent the next year touring with film.
Morlix comes to town for two shows this week, Thursday at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Coffehouse and Friday at Anderson Fair.
“Houston has been so good for me over the years,” Morlix reflects. “Every gig selling seats is an issue, of course, but folks in Houston keep showing up and I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I have so many great vivid memories of Houston and Montrose. Living was easy and it seemed like a magical time. And there was so much talent around.”
Explaining he plans to tour heavily the remainder of 2016, Morlix notes that the southeastern U.S. has become a tough nut to crack in the touring game.
“It’s sad, really, but except for Atlanta the southeast just doesn’t seem to have the money to support artists like me for the most part,” he explains. “It's sad, because I used to do pretty well in places like Birmingham and Montgomery, but that seems to have vanished.
"I’m from Lakawana, New York originally and I’ve still got something of circuit up that way and I do pretty well on the West Coast still, but it gets tougher every year. I don’t know how a lot of bands manage it. I’m glad I’m just me."
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Morlix has just finished recording a new album, but suspects that by the time he tweaks it and goes through the usual drudgery of actually getting it ready for release that it will be early next year. The tentative title is The Soul and the Heal.
“Yeah, I like it but we’ll just have to see what happens,” Morlix laughs. “But since I’m finished in the studio that’s just another reason I’m going to tour most of the next nine months or so. Then I’ll see about getting the album out and we’ll see what happens.”
He notes that producing has been a dwindling part of his schedule the past couple of years.
“I get nibbles to produce people all the time, but I’ve only had a couple of projects lately that I had any interest in doing,” says Morlix. “I don’t really produce records just to produce records, I need to believe in a project and be able to invest in it mentally. That’s what was so fun about doing the album with Blackie Farrell last year.”
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Along with twangbanger Bill Kirchen, Morlix produced Farrell’s recent release Cold Country Blues (Houston Press premiered a track from the album last month). Morlix also played bass on all the tracks.
“Blackie’s writing always reminds me of my favorite films like Bonnie and Clyde, The Last Picture Show, or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. His songs are like little perfect movies, there’s not a word out of place or a single phrase that’s superfluous. When you can put words together and make pictures the way Blackie can, you’re at the top of this game in my opinion. Blackie writes songs you can’t get out of your head.
“Bill and I had been pestering him for years to make a record,” Morlix laughs. “Bill and I were talking about it and we found a gap in our schedules where we could do it, so he told Blackie it’s now or never. I think it turned out very well.”
Gurf Morlix performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 31 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and at 9 p.m. Friday, April 1 at Anderson Fair.