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Gurf Morlix takes "Last Exit to Happyland"

By Brian Baker, January 2009

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Morlix's songs are typically populated with a wide variety of characters in a similarly varied set of circumstances but, from his perspective, the residents of the songs are all on the verge of deciding their own fates.

"In every song, just about, there's a character who's at some major crossroad, a fork in the road, and he's got to make a decision," says Morlix. "It's kind of about that. It's completely unintentional, as was 'Diamonds to Dust.' It's just what I found when I went to make the record. I found what I had been writing about."

Morlix has fashioned a number of inspired-by-life characters to tell the tales on the CD, but on "Music You Mighta Made," he speaks directly to the spirit of his good friend and former band mate Blaze Foley.

Foley was a larger than life figure in the Austin music scene when Morlix moved to Texas in 1975; the pair played together until Morlix relocated to Los Angeles in 1981, where he met and joined forces with Lucinda Williams. Foley was tragically killed while trying to break up a fight between a father and his violent son in 1989.

"Blaze was an old running buddy of mine back in the late '70s and early '80s," recalls Morlix. "Blaze was a character. He was this giant, drunken asshole who wrote these amazing sensitive songs that could just make you cry. He was this walking contradiction, this giant, brawling, drunken person who was really sensitive. Blaze ended up getting murdered protecting an old man, and I wasn't really surprised by that. I knew something like that was going to happen to him. After he died, I tried to write a song for him, and I tried two or three times, and they just weren't good. I didn't have the perspective on it. Finally, in the last couple of years, I think I got it."

The gorgeous closing track, "Voice of Midnight," is also dedicated to real life friends of Morlix; former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan and his late wife Kim. McLagan relocated to Austin several years ago and routinely plays out with his Bump Band. Kim, his wife of nearly 30 years and the former Mrs. Keith Moon, was killed in a car accident outside of Austin two years ago. Her passing was one of the many that had an impact on Morlix's songwriting focus.

"That was one that just popped out," says Morlix. "I wrote the song in about 15 minutes, and I didn't know what I was writing about until it was over. Those songs are gifts. They just pop out. That song just dropped in on me, and it spooked me. I played it once when I wrote it, and then I couldn't even play it again for awhile. I was trembling. That was a special one. Those are few and far between. You're lucky to get those. I've only had a couple of those. No one knows where they come from, but they come from somewhere else, they come from outside your body and your mind. They just float in."

Just as Morlix knew "Voice of Midnight" was special when it arrived in his songwriting subconscious, he instinctively knew that it would be the track to end the album.

"I recorded it the next night, and I set up some microphones and came out in the living room and recorded it, and when it was done, I put my guitar down, and I walked back into the studio and closed the door," says Morlix. "I left all that on the recording. It seemed appropriate. It seemed like a door closing was the right way to end the album."

As on "Diamonds to Dust," Morlix plays everything on the new CD other than drums - more than capably handled by Rick Richards, who has kept time for Morlix since "Toad of Titicaca" - but he's joined by a trio of Texas sirens who lend their considerable vocal skills to the proceedings.

Ruthie Foster provides atmospheric wailing on "Drums from New Orleans," Patty Griffin mesmerizes on "She's a River," "I Got Nothin'" and "Voice of Midnight," and Barbara K, better known in her former role as half of Timbuk 3, joins Morlix on the Foley tribute.

"Barbara K was the perfect choice for the song I wrote about Blaze because they were good friends; it couldn't be anybody else but her for that one," says Morlix. "Blaze sort of discovered Timbuk 3 when they first moved to Austin and championed them, and they had an amazing short relationship right before he died. Patty has the voice of an angel and when she agrees to come sing with me, she makes me sound almost good. And Ruthie has the deep soul, and I needed someone to wail and moan, and she did that perfectly."

When Morlix assesses all of the things that he has learned and applied to his work over the years, he's fairly pleased about the state of his career as a singer/songwriter in general and about the results on "Last Exit to Happyland" in particular.

"The songwriting is getting better and that's the important thing, that's what I care most about," says Morlix. "The sounds get better, and my voice has gotten better. Something has gone seriously wrong with it, and I like it a lot. It's deepened and roughened, and it seems very appropriate. But it's all about the songs. If you don't have the songs, then you're not going to go anywhere, and no one's going to want to hear you. So, I'm trying to raise the bar constantly with that, and so far, it seems to be working."

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