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Country music is no laughing matter for this Dave Foley

By Jon Johnson, July 1999

Let's get it out of the way right off the bat: No, this isn't the Dave Foley from the sitcom "Newsradio" and the Canadian comedy show "Kids In the Hall." In fact, it could easily be said that country music is no laughing matter to the 36-year-old Foley.

Though Foley, who recently self-released his debut album, "Holey Moley, It's Dave Foley," has been playing music since he was a teenager, he never marked time with suburban punk or heavy metal bands like so many of those who came of age - musically speaking - in the Boston of the late '70's and early '80's.

Instead, Foley would occasionally sit in with his father (steel guitarist Art Foley, who also appears on Foley's album) and his country group and listened to his parents' Hank Thompson and Merle Haggard records.

"I like rock 'n' roll, but I love country," says Foley in a phone interview from his home in Nantasket Beach on Boston's South Shore. "When I was a teenager, I'd go to some of the things where my father would play, and I'd sit in with him and sing the few songs that I did. I had a band, but I never tried to put a country band together because it wasn't a smart thing to do around here, you know? We played in the Irish pubs around Boston for years and years and always did pretty good."

"But one day I just decided that I was sick of the music we were playing, so one night I threw in a Johnny Cash song, and we got a great crowd response to that. Then people started yelling out for Hank Williams and stuff like that. Before you knew it, we threw in more and more country songs during the night and the rockabilly that we used to do. We got phased out of some of the places we were playing in because of what we were doing, but we found other venues to play in where they liked it."

Though heavy on cover material, the album is a good indication of Foley's notion of the "old time country sound."

And indeed, there isn't a single one of the album's seven covers (from George Jones, the Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and others) that was written after 1959, which is right in keeping with Foley's idea of what country should be but all too often isn't these days.

Foley's originals, such as the western swing number "Change Your Mind," fit right in with the older numbers.

Foley and his band have also performed on WHRB's long-running Saturday morning "Hillbilly at Harvard" radio show as Foley is practical about his album's chances with New England commercial country radio stations.

"I like the college stations and the old-time country radio shows. Not the commercial stations. I like music from the '20's to the '60's, and I never really warmed up to anything after that," though Foley adds that he's also a fan of younger honky-tonk traditionalists like Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock and Big Sandy.

Foley and his wife relocated to Nashville during 1995 and 1996 with Foley in search of audiences who were more sympathetic to his notion of traditional country music. Foley performed in the same Lower Broadway circle that included BR5-49, fellow expatriate Bostonian Paul Burch and Greg Garing, though Foley and his wife eventually returned to New England.

"Financially, it's pretty tough to do it there. My wife worked full time, (and) I played on Lower Broadway full time. I played two or three gigs a day sometimes just because I needed to make ends meet. That and the frustration of not getting anything going down there with a band. I'd watch BR5-49 and go, 'Gee, that sounds like me and Rich (Holbrook, Foley's bassist) back home and the stuff we used to play.' So I decided to go back home and get something like this started up (in Boston)." Foley adds that he made a number of friends in the Nashville music scene and returns to the city on occasion to perform and record.

A May show opening for Loretta Lynn at Lowell Memorial Auditorium prompted Foley to pull together an album's worth of material as quickly as he could that he could sell at the show.

"I (had) recorded seven songs just because I wanted to record some old-time country songs with my father on pedal steel Then we got a call to open up for Loretta Lynn, so I wanted to get something out to sell. So I went down to Nashville and recorded four of my songs with some guys from George Jones' band, and we mastered them all together and made the CD. We're already working on the second one. It's going to be all my own songs this time. We're working out the songs live right now and want to put out the new CD in early fall."

Foley's regular group includes upright bassist Holbrook, steel guitarist Frankie Blandino (also known in the Boston area for his work with the Cranktones and the Spurs), fiddle player Dan Gessier and drummer Mal Shaw.

Foley says his second disc will have a more live sound than the first album. For now, Foley is listening to a lot of old records.

"You know who I'm really getting into lately? Gene Autry. Last month, it was a Lefty Frizzell revival for me. I go through phases where all of a sudden I'm in a George Jones late '50's/early '60's mood. Or if I feel like my singing is waning I listen to a lot of Lefty Frizzell. I'm always making tapes of these old records and listening to them in my truck."