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Lefty Frizzell

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William Orville 'Lefty' Frizzell (March 31, 1928July 19, 1975) was an American country music singer and songwriter of the 1950s and a leading exponent of the Honky Tonk style of country music. His relaxed style of singing was a major influence on later stars Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and George Jones.

Lefty Frizzell



Frizzell was born in Corsicana, the seat of Navarro County in east Texas, but moved with his family shortly after his birth to El Dorado, Arkansas, where the Frizzells remained until the early 1940s. Frizzell began playing the guitar as a young boy. By the age of twelve, he was appearing regularly on a children's show at a local radio station KELD.

The family returned to Texas when Frizzell was still a teenager, his music career having received a significant boost when he won a talent contest in Dallas.

Lefty, who was known as "Sonny" to his family, acquired the nickname "Lefty" at the age of fourteen after a schoolyard scrap with another student. Part of Frizzell's early music lore pushed by his record company suggested the name came from winning a Golden Gloves boxing match, but this version was deemed untrue. [1]

In his late teens, he was performing at fairgrounds and other venues, developing a unique, soulful voice. Like his father, he got work in the oilfields, but his growing popularity as a singer soon gave him regular work on the Honky Tonk nightclub circuit. At the age of nineteen, he had a half-hour show on a small Texas radio station, getting a big break when a record producer, Don Law heard him sing. Signed to Columbia Records, he immediately had a string of hits that broke into country music's top ten; several of them reached # 1. In 1950, he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry; the following year he appeared on the prestigious Louisiana Hayride radio program that broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana and then began touring with country music's biggest star of the era, Hank Williams. A prolific songwriter, Frizzell had four songs in the country top ten at the same time in 1951 — a feat that would not be repeated on any chart until The Beatles one-upped him, on the popular music/pop charts, with five songs in 1964.

In 1952, while he was speeding through Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, Frizzell crashed his Cadillac into the home of City Judge and later State Representative R. Harmon Drew, Sr. Harmon Drew, Jr., himself a state appeals court judge and a musician, recalls that his father always thought Frizzell had a "bad attitude". The Drews are descended from the first families to have settled Webster Parish.[2]

By the end of the 1950s, rock and roll was dominating the North American music scene, but although no one would ever mistake Frizzell's music for anything but country, his 1959 hit, "Long Black Veil," gained wide acceptance with a variety of music fans in addition to country, and was the first recording of this "standard."[citation needed] A few years later, Frizzell recorded "Saginaw, Michigan," which took the #1 spot on the country music charts and broke into the pop charts as well.[citation needed] The song earned him a Grammy Award nomination.

In the early 1970s, Frizzell changed record labels and moved to Bakersfield, California, where he recorded several more country music hits and became the first country singer to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. By then, however, his problems with alcoholism were already taking their toll. Mood swings and outbreaks of irrational anger became a trademark, and his constant failure to meet recording commitments strained his relationship with his recording company.

In 1972, Lefty 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 a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Unfortunately, success and money only added to Frizzell's alcohol addiction, and on July 19, 1975, he suffered a massive stroke and died at age 47. He was buried on "Music Row" at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. In October 1982, Lefty was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Lefty's Guitar

Lefty Frizzell's signature guitar was a Paul Bigsby customized 1949 Gibson J-200 (Model SJ-200). Originally built by the Gibson Guitar Company, it was retrofit 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. In January 2005 it was returned to the Frizzell family.

Legacy and influence

Frizzell's style of singing influenced a great many singers, particularly Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam.[3] In addition, he was widely recognized for his songwriting talents.

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.

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

Frizzell's 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.[citation needed]

In 2003, Lefty Frizzell ranked #31 on CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country 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 customized by Paul Bigsby in 1951.


  1. 1950 "If You've Got The Money (I've Got The Time)" # 1
  2. 1950 "I Love You A Thousand Ways" # 1
  3. 1951 "I Want To Be With You Always" # 1
  4. 1951 "Shine, Shave And Shower"
  5. 1951 "Look What Thoughts Will Do" # 8
  6. 1951 "My Baby's Just Like Money"
  7. 1951 "Always Late (With Your Kisses)" # 1
  8. 1951 "Mom And Dad's Waltz" # 2
  9. 1951 "Treasure Untold"
  10. 1951 "My Old Pal"
  11. 1951 "Travelin' Blues" # 8
  12. 1951 "Blue Yodel # 6"
  13. 1951 "Lullaby Yodel"
  14. 1951 "Give Me More More, More (of Your Kisses)" # 1
  15. 1952 "Don't Stay Away" # 1
  16. 1952 "It's Just You"
  17. 1952 "Forever"
  18. 1952 "I'm An Old, Old Man (Trying To Live While I Can)"
  19. 1953 "Time Changes Things"
  20. 1953 "Never No Mo' Blues"
  21. 1953 "California Blues"
  22. 1953 "We Crucufied Our Jesus"
  23. 1953 "Before You Go Make Sure You Know"
  24. 1953 "Hopeless Love"
  25. 1953 "Run 'Em Off"
  26. 1954 "My Little Her And Him"
  27. 1954 "King Without A Queen"
  28. 1954 "You're Too Late"
  29. 1954 "I Love You Mostly" # 11
  30. 1955 "Making Believe"
  31. 1955 "Moonlight Darling And You"
  32. 1955 "Sweet Lies"
  33. 1955 "Your Tomorrow Will Never Come"
  34. 1955 "First To Have A Second Chance"
  35. 1956 "Promises, Promises"
  36. 1956 "Waltz Of The Angels"
  37. 1956 "Heart's Highway"
  38. 1957 "Now That You Are Gone"
  39. 1957 "Lover By Appointment"
  40. 1957 "No One To Talk To (But The Blues)"
  41. 1957 "Tell Me Dear"
  42. 1958 "Silence"
  43. 1958 "Cigarettes And Coffee Blues" # 13
  44. 1959 "Long Black Veil" # 6
  45. 1959 "Farther Than My Eyes Can See"
  46. 1960 "My Blues Will Pass"
  47. 1960 "What You Gonna Do Leroy"
  48. 1961 "Heaven's Plan"
  49. 1961 "I Feel Sorry For Me"
  50. 1962 "Stranger"
  51. 1963 "Forbidden Lovers" # 23
  52. 1963 "Don't Let Her See Me Cry" # 30
  53. 1963 "Saginaw Michigan" # 1
  54. 1964 "Nester" # 28
  55. 1964 "Gator Hollow" # 50
  56. 1965 "She's Gone, Gone, Gone" # 12
  57. 1965 "Little Unfair" # 36
  58. 1965 "Love Looks Good On You" # 41
  59. 1966 "Mama"
  60. 1966 "I Just Couldn't See The Forest (For The Trees)" # 51
  61. 1967 "You Gotta Be Puttin' Me On" # 49
  62. 1967 "Get This Stranger Out Of Me" # 63
  63. 1967 "Anything You Can Spare"
  64. 1968 "Marriage Bit" # 59
  65. 1968 "Keep Them Flowers Watered"
  66. 1969 "Article From Life" # 64
  67. 1969 "Honky Tonk Bill"
  68. 1970 "My Baby Is A Tramp"
  69. 1970 "Watermelon Time In Georgia" # 49
  70. 1971 "Three Cheers For The Good Guys"
  71. 1971 "Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy"
  72. 1972 "When It Rains The Blues"
  73. 1973 "Let Me Give Her The Flowers"
  74. 1973 "I Can't Get Over You To Save My Life" # 43
  75. 1974 "I Never Go Around Mirrors" # 25
  76. 1974 "Railroad Lady" # 52
  77. 1974 "Lucky Arms" # 21
  78. 1975 "Life's Like Poetry" # 67
  79. 1975 "Falling" # 50


  1. ^ Artists: Biography. Country Music Television (CMT). Retrieved on 2008-01-16.
  2. ^ R. Harmon Drew, Jr., to Earlene Lyle, Lyle newsletter, May 4, 2008
  3. ^ Dwight Yoakam: Artist Information. Wal-Mart CD Store/Muze UK. Retrieved on 2008-01-16.
  • Cooper, Daniel. (1998). "Lefty Frizzell". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 184-6.

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Categories: 1928 births | 1975 deaths | Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductees | American country singers | American male singers | American songwriters | American country singer-songwriters | Hollywood Walk of Fame | Texas musicians | Former Grand Ole Opry members | People from Corsicana, TexasHidden categories: Articles with weasel words | All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements since June 2007

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