The Sound of Infamous Integrity
Once, when asked by a promoter for a copy of his biography, Gurf Morlix responded with just two words, “legendary integrity.” He would later admit that his response was perhaps a bit pompous, “but true,” he added. “Well, half true anyway.” The story is a telling one, demonstrating not only Morlix’s directness, which is famous among his musical colleagues – or perhaps infamous, depending on who you ask – but also his dry sense of humor and no-bullshit approach to life, music, and the music business.
Had he sent the promoter a more traditional bio, it likely would have noted that Gurf was born in Lackawanna, New York (near Buffalo), saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, formed a band (in which Peter Case made his stage debut), moved to Austin to escape the cold and play music, befriended Blaze Foley and a bunch of other Austin characters, moved to Los Angeles, worked for more than a decade as Lucinda Williams’ guitarist, band-leader and backing vocalist, produced Lucinda’s acclaimed Sweet Old World and eponymous albums, famously left Lucinda, toured with Warren Zevon, moved back to Austin, produced a number of classic Americana albums you likely own if you are any kind of Americana music fan, played on many more albums you probably own if you fall into that category, got inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame, received the Americana Music Association’s “Instrumentalist of the Year” award, went on to make seven critically acclaimed albums of his own, and then toured the world supporting them. He now continues to play live, produce albums for the artists that move him, and make his own albums. He even goes fishing ever once in a while.
That’s the resume, but it’s Gurf’s integrity, combined his near innate sense of music and how to make it sound not just good, but great, that have attracted so many well-respected artists to work with him over the years – folks like Ian McLagan, Patty Griffin, Robert Earl Keen, Buddy Miller, Mary Gauthier, Tom Russell, Butch Hancock, Slaid Cleaves and Ray Wylie Hubbard, just to name a few. And, oh yeah, he can make nearly any instrument with strings either sing or growl, depending on the needs of the song, like no other musician out there.
Gurf’s eighth album, 2015’s Eatin’ At Me, kicks off with wailing guitars and an annual family car trip to “Dirty Ol’ Buffalo.” Never one to shy away from the gritty side of life, the portrait he paints of the rust belt city of his youth, with its rugged roads and smoky orange air, ain’t pretty, but it’s real and authentic to the core. Unlike the shiny city of today, all polished up with money and a thin coat of paint barely hiding the grease below, “Dirty Ol’ Buffalo” is the kind of place that stays with a person long after they’ve left.
The nine songs that follow on Eatin’ At Me have that same lasting quality and clearly come from a man who looks at life and the world around him, with all its grit and glory, unflinchingly. His songs tell tales of love and regret, happy memories and heartbreak, the kinds of things that stay will with a person, eating away at them, if allowed. What makes the songs unshakable is indeed Gurf’s “legendary integrity,” the authenticity of the characters he introduces, the empathy and fearlessness with which their stories are told, and the care with which the songs are made. No word, no note, is out of place, and like the many well-known and well-loved albums he’s produced and played on, Gurf’s own records are infused with his trademark grit and muddy groove resulting in quality that’s so real, listeners will feel it in their bones. Indeed, it’s the kind of album that stays with a person long after they’ve listened.