Lefty Frizzell

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Lefty Frizzell
Lefty Frizzell Columbia publicity - cropped.jpg
Background information
Birth name William Orville Frizzell
Also known as Lefty Frizzell
Born (1928-03-31)March 31, 1928
Corsicana, Texas,[1] United States
Origin El Dorado, Arkansas, United States
Died July 19, 1975(1975-07-19) (aged 47)
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Genres Country Music
Occupation(s) Singer-Songwriter
Instruments Acoustic guitar, vocals
Years active 1942 – 1975

Columbia Records

ABC Records
Associated acts David Frizzell
Notable instruments
1949 Gibson J-200 (customised)

William Orville "Lefty" Frizzell (March 31, 1928 – July 19, 1975) was an American country music singer-songwriter was one of the most definitive honky-tonk singers of country music. A vocalist that set the style of singing "the country way" for the generations that followed. Frizzell has become one of the most successful and influential artists of country music throughout his stellar career. He gained prominence in 1950 after two major hits, and throughout the decade was a very popular country performer. He smoothed out the rough edges of a honky tonk song by sounding out syllables longer and singing longer. Because if this, his music become much more mainstream without losing it's honky tonk attitude and persona.

Frizzell is one of the most influential artists in country history. Artists including; George Jones, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, and John Fogerty. He laid a foundation for country music's many generations that followed him, and for that he is an inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame (1982). Though he started being influenced by his competitors, Frizzell rose to fame and has since become one of country's most important artists. After the Death of Hank Williams in 1953, Frizzell rose even further, releasing many songs that charted in the Top 10 of the Hot Country Songs charts. Despite this success, it wouldn't carry on into the 1960's, and after developing a drinking problem and becoming unreliable to his new record label, he died at age 47.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

William Orville Frizzell was born to the son of an oiler, the first of eight children, in Corsicana, Texas on March 31, 1928. During his childhood, his family moved to El Dorado, Arkansas, and as a child called Sonny, but later called Lefty. It is believed they called him "Lefty" because he had won a neighborhood fight, however, it was suggested after winning a Golden Gloves boxing match, however this was a fake publicity stunt set up by his label. Frizzell's largest influences included the blue yodeler Jimmie Rodgers. He began listening to Rodgers' records as a boy. He began singing professionally before his teens, even earning a spot on the local KELD El Dorado. Frizzell's teens were spent singing in nightclubs and radio and talent shows throughout the south. During his tour of Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Las Vegas. He began to draw a style of his own, shaped from artists like Rodgers, Ernest Tubb, and Ted Daffan.

Jailing and musical beginnings[edit]

In 1947, 19 year old Frizzell was arreated for having sex with an underage fan. He had married only a year, and filled with guilt, he wrote poems to his wife from his cell. One of them would become his first big record. After release in late-1949, he was led away from music, and back to the oil fields with his father. However, soon he was performing in nightclubs again. By 1950, he had landed a regular job at the Texas club 'Ace of Clubs' where he developed a dedicated fan following. During a show there, Jim Beck, owner of a local recording studio, was starting to take notice in Frizzell. Beck had deals with several major record producing labels and maintaned connections with the many publishers. Impressed with Frizzell's performance, he invited him to make a fee demos at the studio. In April of 1950, he cut Frizzell's several demos of Frizzells own songs, including If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time), which Beck took to Nashville where he pitched it to Little Jimmy Dickens, who disliked the song. However, Columbia Records producer Don Law heard he cut and liked it. After hearing Lefty in concert, he signed the singer and recorded him for the first time.


Frizzell's custom guitar

Frizzell's signature guitar was a 1949 Gibson J-200 (Model SJ-200). Originally built by the Gibson Guitar Corporation, it was retrofitted in early 1951 with a custom neck and pickguard by guitar maker and innovator Paul Bigsby. In a 2003 interview Merle Haggard recalled, "When I was a teenager, Lefty got me onstage [at the Rainbow Garden in Bakersfield, California] and handed me that guitar. That is the first guitar I played on a professional stage." For many years it had been on loan to and displayed at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. In January 2005 it was returned to the Frizzell family.


"If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)" became a two-sided smash hit in 1950 upon it's release. The b-side being the song Frizzell wrote to his greif-stricken wife from in jail, "I Love You A Thousand Ways". The songs launched him into stardom and within two years, he had gone to register 13 Top 10 Country hits. By 1951, he had been perfected as a vocalist and his guitar skills were refined. He began working with a core group of Dallas-based studio musicians, including pianist Madge Sutee. In the beginning of '51, he formed the 'Western Cherokees', led by Blackie Crawford, and soon they became his primary band for both live and recording sessions. During his young career, Lefty was in the studio exstensively, recording singles. His third "I Want to Be With You Always" was #1 for 11 weeks.

By mid-1951, Frizzell had become on the only people to be able to match the popularity of Hank Williams. He had even toured with Williams. "There is enough stories in that tour to fill a book..." Frizzell once said, although he never told those stories. He had three more Top 10 hits in 1951; "Mom and Dad's Waltz," Travelin' Blues," and the #1 hit "Give Me More, More, More (Of Your Kisses)." By 1952, he was a very popular stage performer and in heavy demand, being included on The Grand Ole Opry and The Louisiana Hayride multiple times throughout the 50's. The hits continued throughout 1952, with "How Long Will It Take (To Stop Loving You)," "Don't Stay Away (Till' Love Grows Cold)," Forever (And Always)," and "I'm An Old, Old Man (Tryna Live While I Can)."

Despite his massive success, things began to get worse for Frizzell. He fired his manager and band, and joined the Grand Ole Opry, however, he quit very soon thereafter. He began to earn a lot of money, however he was spending nearly all of it. He began to work with Wayne Raney, however the sessions was a failure. He had a wreck in 1952, he moved to Los Angeles in early 1953, and earned a spot on the Town Hall Party. His songs began to chart worse, only having one song enter the Top 10 that year, and in early '54, he reached the Top 10 for the last time in five years.


He had very few hits in the mid to late 50's, he began to feeling burnt out, and had no energy for his career. He became frustrated that Columbia wasn't releasing what he thought to be his best material, so he stopped writing and recording songs. He toured exstensively, however. Deciding on change, he began to work in Nashville's Cedarwood publishing company in 1959 with Jim Denny. Frizzell's first Top 10 hit in years came with "The Long Black Veil" in mid-1959. He moved to Nashville in 1960 after the Town Hall Party closed, and began touring and recording more and more, scoring some minor hits. Lefty's last bjg hit came in 1964 with the #1 hit "Saginaw, Michigan" and earned him a Grammy nod. The next year, She's Gone, Gone, Gone was one of his last great hits. For the rest of the decade, he struggled to post songs into the Top 20.

Frizzell's career came to a downward spiral after be developed a debilitating alcohol problem. He recorded many songs, however Columbia was only releasing very little. Because of the decrease of record sales, he began to perform live much, much less. His growing decrease in record sales led to more and more drinking. In 1968, he recorded with June Stearns under as "Agnes and Orville." In early-1972, he left Columbia records and signed to ABC Records. Despite the new signing, despite his growing interest in recording albums, and performing in concerts, his sales were still in the decline. He soon developed high blood pressure, and wouldn't take the medicine because it interfered with his worsening alcoholism. He looked terrible, and his voice was deteriorating. In 1972, Frizzell was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and his song "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)" earned him the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. This success and money began to fund his growing dependency for alcohol. On July 19, 1975, at age 47, Frizzell died of a massive stroke. He was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. Despite the dishearting end to one of country's most legendary performers, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October 1982, posthumously.

Legacy and influence[edit]

Frizzell's style of singing influenced a great many singers, particularly Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Keith Whitley and Dwight Yoakam.[2] In addition, he was widely recognized for his songwriting talents. In the foreword to a biography of Frizzell by his younger brother David Frizzell, Merle Haggard said "The impact Lefty had on country music is not even measurable. ... No one could handle a song like Lefty. He would hold on to each word until he finally decided to drop it and pick up the next one. Most of us learned to sing listening to him." [3]

Stoney Edwards wrote "Hank and Lefty Raised My Country Soul," a tribute to Hank Williams and Frizzell. It hit the Top 40 in 1973.[4]

George Strait recorded a Sanger D. Shafer song called "Lefty's Gone" on the album Something Special. In addition, Willie Nelson's 1977 album, To Lefty From Willie was a tribute to Frizzell and consisted entirely of cover versions of Frizzell songs. Frizzell was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is also in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame along with his son Crockett Frizzell. Frizzell ranked number 31 on CMT's 2003 40 Greatest Men of Country Music.

Fellow Texan Roy Orbison was a devout fan of Frizzell's sound, and in 1988, as a part of the Traveling Wilburys, he chose the name "Lefty Wilbury" to honor his musical hero.

Maine singer/songwriter David Mallett included Frizell's "Saginaw, Michigan" on his 2014 album "The Horse I Rode In On."

His younger brother, David Frizzell, is also a country singer. His biggest hits were 1982's "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino (To Decorate Our Home)" and "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma", a 1981 duet with Shelly West. The youngest brother, Allen Frizzell followed in his older brothers' footsteps in the country field. He opened for Dottie West. He was also married to Shelly West, daughter of Dottie West.[5] Allen also played with Keith Whitley. He now plays country gospel music.

In 2006, J.D. Crowe and The New South released the album Lefty's Old Guitar. The song "Lefty's Old Guitar" was written about his custom Gibson J-200.

Daryle Singletary referenced Frizzell in his song "Ain't It The Truth" on album by the same name, released by Giant Records in 1998.


Further information: Lefty Frizzell discography

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference autogenerated3 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ "Dwight Yoakam: Artist Information". Wal-Mart CD Store/Muze UK. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  3. ^ "CMT : News : NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Honky-Tonk Legend Lefty Frizzell Gets a New Biography". CMT: Country Music Television. 
  4. ^ Brennan, Sandra. "Stoney Edwards: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  5. ^ Country Music Television website: Shelly West Retrieved 2012-04-05


  • Cooper, Daniel. (1998). "Lefty Frizzell". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 184–6. Lpdiscography.com
  • Frizzell, David. (2011) "I Love You a Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story". California: Santa Monica Press, 2011.

External links[edit]