The One and Only: Local Musicians Celebrate Al Foul With Compilation Album After The Musician Was Diagnosed With Throat Cancer

Al Foul: A Tribute to the One and Only features 28 of Tucson's finest troubadours, from Calexico's Joey Burns to burlesque performer & singer Lola Torch, performing tracks spanning the musician's multi-decade career. The compilation is available through bluesman extraordinaire Tom Walbank's Bandcamp page and album proceeds go toward Foul's medical expenses.

Walbank said once Foul went public with his diagnosis, he wanted to help the musician and his family out during this time. The two have been friends who shared the same stage on many evenings for more than 20 years throughout Southern Arizona and beyond. The bluesman said he spent the past two weeks reaching out and collecting tracks from other Old Pueblo musicians who jumped at a chance to honor the primitive rock and roll legend.

"I thought about what I could do to help. " Walbank said. "Putting together an album seemed like a no-brainer since I know all these people around town that play music."

Jim Waters from Waterworks Studios donated time to record several of the album's tracks, although Walbank noted that a fair number of songs were recorded on iPhones and other devices.

"I realized that because it's a pandemic, not everyone wants to go to the studio and not everyone had a home studio, so it was a little tricky," Walbank said. "There are some songs which are done very intimate on iPhones and stuff like that."

XIXA frontman Gabriel Sullivan opened up his home studio to record multiple tracks for the album, like The Pork Torta's version of "M.I.A. in the War on Poverty" (which is also covered by Carlos Arzate and Ryan Alfred on the compilation), Katie Haverly and Ben Nisbet's cover of "Call Me When You Get to Dudleyville" and Birds and Arrows rendition of "Baby Clothes and Dishes."

"When Tom started putting this together, it was not a question at all. If anybody needed studio time my doors were open," Sullivan said. "Anything I can do to help Al is what's important."

In the interest of time, Sullivan said he recorded Haverly, Nesbit and Birds and Arrows during the same session at Dust & Stone Studios. The musicians also served as the backing band for his interpretation of Foul's classic "Keep the Motor Running." In under five hours, Sullivan and the musicians had recorded and mixed all three songs.

"The whole concept I had was recording live takes and trying to keep them raw and wild in the spirit of Al," Sullivan said. "We got in the studio at about 12:30 p.m. and were out the door by 5 p.m."

Calexico's Joey Burns recorded a version of Foul's "Memphis" for the compilation—which Chick Cashman and Kid Congo Powers also covered. Burns said he chose the song because the city is one of his most favorite places and Foul's lyrics capture its essence. Hearing other musicians present their interpretation of the same song was a bonus, he said.

"The Memphis song is just like full-on extreme, excessive party mode, yet it's all in reference to recollecting life before the character was arrested and forced to do hard labor on a chain gang," Burns said. "It's just great hearing the difference between those versions and it's great to see a bunch of locals get together and show their love and support for Al."

As two of Tucson's most internationally known musicians, Burns and Foul have crossed paths numerous times since the 1990s. The Calexico balladeer said he was instantly a fan of Foul's style and music when they first met years ago—at the long-defunct Grill's fabled Red Room.

"We would see each other at various shows downtown, you know, and he always stood out. He just had great style, great aesthetics and the biggest heart," Burns said. "I always look forward to hanging out with him. So when I heard the news I was shocked and surprised and want to do anything I can to help out."

Burlesque performer Lola Torch (a.k.a. Emilie Marchand) recorded "Shitty Little World" with guitarist Naim Amor, who has performed live with Foul for years. Marchand said she was initially hesitant to be on the compilation when approached by Walbank because of the drastic contrast between her and Foul's music. However, serendipity struck Marchand when she thought about how sultry singer Peggy Lee would perform Foul's songs, she said.

"I've listened to Al's music live, like a million times. Once you slow it down and change it up a little, it has a very similar vibe to some of the other music I sing," Marchand said. "Peggy Lee's 'Is That All There Is' has that same divisive talking parts and storytelling vibes to it and I thought this is great."

Foul said he got a chance to hear Marchand's version of "Shitty Little World" during a recent hospital stay. The project was kept secret from him until his partner, Hannah, forwarded him the song.

"I was at a real low point and Hannah—who all throughout this seems to be able to say or do just the right thing to bring me comfort at the worst of times—sent me Lola Torch's recording of 'Shitty Little World.' I find it hard to express how much hearing that worked to pull me out of that abyss," Foul wrote in an emailed statement. "I was overcome with emotion and then that itself made me laugh so hard. If you know the song, you will understand what I mean by that. The whole situation I was in, put to that soundtrack and in that moment was just so absurd and utterly hilarious."

Foul wrote he is "beyond touched" by the thought of everyone getting together to produce this compilation in his honor. While the musician has only heard a handful of the tracks, Foul wrote he's looking forward to listening to the whole album now back at home and recovering.

"Often people share negative memes on social media or express the attitude that choosing to be a working musician is some form of folly or a loser's game...driving to the ends of the earth for nothing," wrote Foul. "But the outpouring of love I have received proves to me that is absolutely wrong. Now I see that 30 years of playing music has left me with something so absolutely pure, beautiful and beyond priceless that I will never see the craft the same way. I am so humbled by the love that I feel now."

The compilation is available for $10 at tomwalbank.bandcamp.com and proceeds go toward Foul's medical expenses.

About The Author

Comments (3)

Add a comment

Add a Comment