Gurf Morlix – the ultimate one-man band
When Gurf Morlix makes an album, Gurf Morlix is what you get.
On “Last Exit to Happyland”, his most recent release, he wrote all the songs, sang them, played every instrument on the album except drums, produced it, engineered it, mixed it, mastered it – and all in a studio at his home in Austin.
“I couldn’t afford to hire anybody else!” Morlix says. “Because I can do all that stuff I just sort of do. I really like the chemistry of a bunch of people playing together, and when that works it’s really great, but I don’t have that luxury sometimes.”
Songwriting and performing have always been part of Morlix’s near-comprehensive involvement in the music business, but until now they have been secondary to his roles as multi-instrumentalist and producer to the stars – his CV, if he ever needed to write one, would contain multiple references to Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, and an absolute host of others. Just about anyone who is anyone in Austin has worked with Morlix.
And he’s still doing that – most recently he produced and played on Slaid Cleaves’ album Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away, as well as albums by upcoming singer-songwriter BettySoo and roots band porterdavis. But now Morlix, 58, is making the time to write songs and to record and perform them in his own name.
“I really enjoy playing live in front of people, and I really like talking to them at the show,” he says. “I didn’t really realise that because I never got out and played my songs before. You know, I’ve been playing gigs all my life, but usually as a side man.
“It’s just great, and I still have my day job as a record producer. It’s balancing itself. It’s sort of half and half these days and I love that.
He says he comes to the UK regularly because “it really seems to work.”
“It’s a great market over here. They really seem to appreciate this kind of music. And they speak English – sort of!”
By contrast, he acknowledges that it is more of a struggle to be appreciated in the United States.
“The art doesn’t seem to go as deep, for some reason. I think we’re more of a pop culture. It’s just not as easy. With 300 million people, there are people who will appreciate music like mine, but you just have to find them. It takes a little doing.”
His lukewarm view of working in his own country does not extend, however, to the city of Austin, where he dreamed of being even while he spent 10 years in Los Angeles working with Lucinda Williams.
“As soon as I could, I moved back to Austin, and I’m not going anywhere now,” he says. “I just love it. It’s a great city, a great community, and there’s great music there every night of the year. It’s the only place I’ll live.”
Morlix’s next project for himself is to make an album of songs by his great friend, Texas songwriter Blaze Foley. The pair met in the 1970s and Morlix says Foley “attached himself” to him. Homeless throughout the time that Morlix knew him, Foley lived on Morlix’s sofa for months at a time. He was shot dead in 1989 at the age of 39.
“He was a really great songwriter and a completely unique individual,” Morlix says. “Kind of a walking contradiction, the tender love songs and the generous, giving person that he was, and also the mean drunk a lot of the time.”
Morlix worked on Foley’s last album, which was lost for 15 years after his death but finally released in 2005 under the title Wanted More Dead Than Alive.
His songs have been recorded by many artists, and Townes Van Zandt wrote “Blaze’s Blues” about his friend.
“Everybody has people like that in their lives that they really love but it’s kind of hard to love them sometimes,” Morlix says. “He really was a great person, he just had some demons, and had a hard time dealing with them sometimes.”
Morlix is praised by many as a great judge of great music – DJ Bob Harris says he knows he will love anything that Morlix likes – and decades in the business have given Morlix a wide perspective on a form of music that has only recently come to be known as Americana.
“I think the scene is growing, the awareness of that kind of music. There’s not a lot of people making a lot of money, but there’s more focus on it now. It’s good to have the Americana Music Association, and they have a big show every year and it just keeps getting bigger every year,” he says.
“I think there’s always been great organic music, rootsy music and great songwriters, but now all of a sudden they seem to have a name, a box to put it in, and that seems to help a bit, it just calls attention to it. There have always been those songwriters.
Looking at the artists working in Austin now, Morlix singles out Sam Baker as “a great songwriter” and Ray Bonneville as “just really great.”
As for himself, though he may never have made his fortune, he considers himself lucky.
“I really enjoy doing all of this, and all the artists that I get to work with. And my favourite album is always the one I just finished.”