Gurf Morlix has had a career as unique as his name. “Once people learn it they don’t forget it. I’m the only one I know. There’s a couple of dogs I know of named Gurf,” says Morlix in his brand of deadpan delivery. He began playing music at the young age of 14 in biker bars near his hometown of Buffalo, NY. “I was in high school and I was playing in biker bars till 4 in the morning and then coming home at 5 in the morning and getting up and going to school at 8.”
He then traveled to Texas searching for real country music and original singer songwriters. He did a decade-long stint in LA producing and backing some of Americana and country’s biggest names in the ‘90s and early 2000s. He’s long been back in Texas and just released his 11th solo album, Impossible Blue
, on his own Rootball Records. He will be performing Sunday March 3 at Cactus Records, 2110 Portsmouth and Friday March 29 at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in Galveston.
Along the way he’s befriended and collaborated with an impressive roster of country and Americana legends, including the late Blaze Foley. “I moved to Texas ‘cause I was looking to play Rock and Roll and Country music. I had only been in Austin a year or two when I met Blaze and I was just looking to play with songwriters, I wanted to write original music. We became best friends and partners.” The duo spent some time living in Houston. “The scene in the Montrose area was incredible at that point. It was lots and lots of clubs and people in them every night it was the best local scene I’ve ever experienced. I really like Houston, it’s a big city that works.”
Nowadays Morlix only passes through our city and though he continues to draw a crowd he knows times have changed. “There’s so much going on these days. There’s a lot of competition for your time and energy and money. There are so many options. It’s not like it was in the late ‘70s.”
In Morlix’s 54-year career he has spent the majority of his time backing and producing an impressive array of singer songwriters including Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Slaid Cleaves and Robert Earl Keen. You can bet you’ve heard any number of songs where he has played or produced even if you’re not familiar with his solo work.
Morlix first stepped into the role of producer when his old band mate Lucinda Williams asked him to produce her career changing self titled album, Lucinda Williams
. “I said, ‘I can do that’ and then I just kinda pulled my foot out of my mouth slowly. And it worked.” Morlix learned on the fly and his natural scrappiness led him to build his own studio, home of Rootball Records right outside Austin.
His producing style has come to be known as minimalist, clean and precise. “It’s not a commercial studio so I’m not having to be competitive with other studios. I didn't want it to be a money pit I wanted it to be a place where I could go and make records that sound good, relatively inexpensively, and it’s still working for me.” Morlix continues, “My brain is not wired for a lot of things to be happening at the same time so I make my records the way I think they should sound and then other people like them too it seems so I guess I’m doing OK.”
In the past decade Morlix has slowed down on producing others and has instead focused on perfecting his own songs. Morlix notes changes in the industry as well as himself for the shift. “I still produce some other people but I used to do a lot. I used to do six or eight a year. The budgets have gone away. Everybody wants to make an album for next to nothing. That’s not how I’m interested in working. I want to spend two or three weeks and make sure every note is where I want it to be and just put the time and thought into it. So I end up doing one or two a year now not anywhere I used to be but that’s OK because I’m playing more and I like that.”
Stepping out from behind the curtain and his role as producer to others has proved Morlix is not only a talented musician but also a natural poet. Who else could rhyme “primordial ooze and the blues”?
Being front and center has also made him more aware of the importance and joy that openness with others can bring. “I used to be kinda afraid. I’ve only really been playing my songs out in front of people for the last ten years or so. Before that I kinda put records out but I would only do a handful of shows. I would be like scared to talk to people after the gig. People would say ‘You gotta go talk to your fans.’ I’d say ‘No I don’t want to.’ I would be shamed into it and I’d go out there and then I’d find out that I liked talking to them.” Morlix says.
“I’ve learned pretty much not to be afraid of anything.”
“Now I kind of don’t wanna play any place bigger than where I can talk to everyone who wants to talk to me afterwards. I like meeting new people and it’s just really rewarding so I’ve learned not to be afraid of it.” Morlix says earnestly, “I’ve learned pretty much not to be afraid of anything.”
Not having fear often comes after a hard lesson in life. For Morlix this came in the form of the death of many friends and his own heart attack back in 2016. “I’ve had a lot of friends die over the years. Some of them way too young but now I’m 67 years old and I’m going to be getting soon to where my friends are dying because of old age. It’s gonna be happening more and more and it’s not fun but it’s just a part of life. You just have to deal with it. That’s what’s been showing up in my song writing. I don’t really have much choice in what I write about these things just sort of present themselves to me and I kind of have to roll with it.”
The honorary Texan has just released his 11th solo album, Impossible Blue
, an album rooted in blues that explores mortality. Impossible Blue is a 9 track reflection of Morlix’ increasing confidence, openness and ability to wear many hats in the studio. He not only wrote all the songs but plays the majority of instruments, vocals, and engineered the album. It features the romantic “2 hearts beating in time” and “Backbeat of the dispossessed” a tribute to his late friend, and fellow Buffalo musician, Michael Bannister.
“I’m not trumpeting the fact that these are the best songs I’ve ever written, I think it’s just that I keep getting better. I also feel like every album sounds better than the one before and my songwriting is getting a little better and I find my voice a little more with each album.”
His good fortune is not lost on him. “That doesn’t happen to everybody as they get older. Some people just kind of lose the thread a little bit but I feel like everything I’m doing I'm getting better at so far so I may as well put more effort into keeping that going.”
Impossible Blue also saw Morlix reuniting with old friends in the studio like longtime drummer Rick Richards, “He is just the Buddha of the beat. I use him on everything that I can put him on. He’s on all of my records and for me he’s the perfect drummer.” Morlix gets some B3 magic from Texas’ own Red Young who adds just the right amount of his own unmistakable sound. “He’s really great he’s one of the best in the world.” says Morlix. He also counted on Austin’s Jaimee Harris for background vocals and the result is beautiful, haunting harmonies. Morlix describes Harris as “a really good singer, and a really good songwriter and a really good person. She has a new album out and it’s really good. She’s worth looking for.”
Just as Morlix has learned not to fear anything in this life he says no one should be afraid to approach him despite his cloudy energy. “No one should be afraid to come say hello.” he says and for those who still might feel a little apprehensive about approaching the serious looking singer, “I don’t smile a lot and I think that has a lot to do with it, but I’m smiling on the inside.”
Gurf Morlix will play at 2 p.m. Sunday March 3 at Cactus Records, 2110 Portsmouth. Free.
And 8 p.m. Friday March 29 at Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe, 413 20th in Galveston $15 in advance, $20 at the door.