April 19, 2010

Monday music

William Orville Frizzell was a Texas boy, born in 1928 into an oil field family that transplanted him to Arkansas as an infant. I’m guessing he didn’t have much say in the matter; otherwise he would never have left Corsicana. 

We know him as Lefty, a name he got following a schoolyard scuffle. Later it was reputed that he became a Golden Gloves boxer, but that apparently isn’t true.

Sometime early in his youth, Lefty Frizzell picked up a guitar and learned how to play. Apparently he was pretty good because he got airtime on a local El Dorado radio station as young as 12-years-old, then came to Dallas to win a talent contest. By the time he was 19 he had his own half-hour program on a Paris, Texas radio station.

Lefty proved to be a pretty good songwriter too, a skill he honed in a New Mexico jail serving time for statutory rape. One of his songs so impressed Columbia Records that they signed him to a contract. “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time” was first recorded in 1951 by Hank Williams, but Lefty had the bigger hit with the song, and it has been recorded by dozens of country acts since.

Here is Lefty doing performing cut in 1958 on the old radio and TV program on which he was a frequent guest, Town Hall Party.

Merle Haggard was a Lefty aficionado who recorded and performed this song often in concert.

Willie Nelson idolized Lefty, even producing a tribute album in 1977 titled “To Lefty From Willie.” Although he didn’t include Lefty’s signature song on the album, he performed it often and recorded it on more than one album. Here he is playing to an appreciative Dutch crowd in 2001.

David Frizzell, a fine musician in his own right, struggled in the shadow of his older brother. The contest apparently didn’t affect his feelings for his brother and mentor.

Lefty had 13 number one hits over a two-year period, including four on the charts at one time; a feat never before accomplished and beaten since only by the Beatles.

Lefty lived hard and died young. Always a heavy drinker and smoker, in the early hours of July 19, 1975 he suffered a stroke. He died less than 12 hours later, Lefty was 47 years old.

Besides Merle and Willie, others who have paid homage to the short but notable life of Lefty Frizzell are George Jones, George Strait, Keith Whitley, and Randy Travis. Roy Orbison’s stage name as he toured with the Traveling Wilburys was Lefty Wilbury, in direct tribute to a famous fellow Texan.

Lefty left large imprints on the country music world. Some of his other hits are Saginaw, Michigan, I Never Go Around Mirrors, I Love You A Thousand Ways, Always Late, and Long Black Veil, a song which crossed over to the pop stations.



Old NFO said...

Thanks! Those bring back good memories!

One Fly said...

Lefty Frizzell was Jay Marvin's favorite(760AM Denver). Jay got bad sick and haven't heard a word for months. Jay was as good as Lefty was.