Blues and folk singer and songwriter Blaze Foley was born Michael David Fuller in Malvern, Arkansas, on December 18, 1949. He was the son of Edwin and Louise Fuller. He grew up in San Antonio and spent some time in Georgia. As a teenager, he lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Irving and Hurst. His father worked off and on as a trucker but battled alcoholism. Fuller sang gospel with his mother, brother, and sisters as the Singing Fuller Family and was inspired by Chet Atkins in his early teens. He attended MacArthur High School in Irving but dropped out during his senior year to leave home and move in with his brother Doug in Arlington. Fuller passed his GED test in 1968.
For the next several years he was a drifter—traveling around such destinations as Memphis, Tennessee, and northern Georgia on his motorcycle. While in Georgia, he earned the nickname Depty Dawg as a roadie for a bluegrass band. He settled in Georgia for a time and lived in a tree house with his girlfriend Sybil Rosen and began a very prolific phase of songwriting. They moved to Austin in 1976, and Fuller attempted to break into that music scene, but he returned to the familiar ground near Atlanta later that year.
He renamed himself after country singer Red Foley and adopted the name Blaze to suit his personality. In late 1976 Fuller, now known as Foley, moved with Rosen to Chicago to participate in an emerging alternate country music scene, but they soon departed and returned to Austin in early 1977, where he began his Texas music career in earnest. Around this time he and Rosen broke up, inspiring Foley’s poignant song “If I Could Only Fly.”
Foley performed through the late 1970s and 1980s at venues such as the Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant in Houston and at many Austin spots, including Spellman's Lounge, Emmajoe's, the Soap Creek Saloon, the Hole in the Wall, and, most regularly, the Austin Outhouse. He also performed at places such as Tipitina's in New Orleans. He counted such performers as Townes Van Zandt , Jubal Clark, Pat MacDonald and Barbara K of Timbuk 3, Mandy Mercier, Kimmie Rhodes, and "Lost John" Casner among his friends and was often backed by quality musicians, such as the Muscle Shoals Horns, bassist-guitarist Gurf Morlix, fiddler Champ Hood, and singer-songwriter Sarah Elizabeth Campbell. Original songs by Foley include "If I Could Only Fly," "Clay Pigeons," "Oh Darlin'," "Small Town Hero," "Faded Loves," "Cold, Cold World," "Oval Room," "Getting Over You," "Picture Cards Can't Picture You," and "Let Me Ride in Your Big Cadillac."
He was noted for his honest, uncompromising lyrics, solid picking style, and deep voice. He rarely worked at any job other than songwriting, singing, and guitar picking. In fact, he used to chide musician friends who worked “day jobs,” saying they were not true to their craft. Foley lived for music. He often lived on the charity of others—musicians who had day jobs mostly, and suffered from binge drinking for much of his life. Not having a home of his own, Foley slept on the couches of friends and sometimes under pool tables at places like the Austin Outhouse. His fondness for decorating his clothes with duct tape became well-known, and he often joked that the letters BFI (for Browning-Ferris Industries) on dumpsters actually stood for “Blaze Foley Inside.”
In 1984 he recorded an album of ten songs at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, but ultimately the project was put on hold. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard recorded Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly” on their Seashores of Old Mexico album (1987). In December 1988 he recorded a cassette entitled Live at the Austin Outhouse and Not There and planned to donate a portion of the proceeds to a homeless shelter. His years of drinking and sometimes outrageous behavior had taken their toll, however. He was shot to death on February 1, 1989, at the Austin home of an old friend by the friend’s son. A jury later ruled that the son shot Foley in self-defense. A benefit was held to pay for Foley’s burial costs, and his cassette release occurred posthumously.
After Foley's untimely death, Deep South Productions, headed by Jon Smith and Ryan Rader and supported by more than seventy-five Austin musicians, released four memorial albums: In Tribute and Loving Memory (1998), BFI Too (1999), and Blaze Foley Inside: Volume 3 (2000), and Songs for Blaze, A Friend of Ours (2002). In Foley's memory Van Zandt wrote "Blaze's Blues" and Lucinda Williams wrote "Drunken Angel." Merle Haggard performed "If I Could Only Fly" at Tammy Wynette's memorial service in 1998, and rerecorded it as the title track of an album released in 2000. Lyle Lovett recorded Foley’s “Election Day.” John Prine covered “Clay Pigeons” in 2005. That year a collection of lost recordings for a country album by Foley was released as Wanted More Dead Than Alive on the Waddell Hollow label. By that time, two films on Foley were under production: a feature film by David Parks, and a documentary by Kevin Triplett. In 2009 Blaze Foley was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial. Triplett's film, Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, was released in 2011.