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Lefty Frizzell

Background information
Birth name William Orville Frizzell
Also known as Lefty Frizzell
Born March 31, 1928(1928-03-31)
Died July 19, 1975 (aged 47)
Genres country music
Occupations musician, songwriter
Instruments guitar
Notable instruments
1949 Gibson J-200 (customised)

Lefty Frizzell (March 31, 1928–July 19, 1975), born William Orville Frizzell, was an American country music singer and songwriter of the 1950s, and a exponent of honky tonk music. His relaxed style of singing was an influence on later stars Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison and George Jones.



Frizzell was born in Corsicana, 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 age 12, he was appearing regularly on a children's show at local radio station KELD-AM. The family returned to Texas when Frizzell was still a teenager, his music career receiving a significant boost when he won a talent contest in Dallas.

Called Sonny by his family, Frizzell got the nickname Lefty at age 14 after a schoolyard scrap, although his record company falsely suggested he had won a Golden Gloves boxing match.[1]

In his late teens, Frizzell was performing at fairgrounds and other venues, developing a unique, soulful voice. Like his father, he worked in the oilfields, but his growing popularity as a singer soon provided regular work on the honky tonk nightclub circuit. At the age of 19, he had a half-hour show on a small Texas radio station, getting a major break when record producer Don Law heard him sing live at the Club Ace of Clubs in Big Spring, Texas. Signed to Columbia Records, he immediately had a string of hits that broke into country music's top ten; several of them reached number one.

In 1950, Frizzell was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry; the following year he appeared on Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, and then he and close friend "Cowboy" Ralph Spicer began touring with country music's biggest star of the era, Hank Williams. Handbills of the time referred to them as "Kings of the Honky Tonks." 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 had five songs on the pop chart in 1964.

By the end of the 1950s, rock and roll was dominating the American music scene, and although no one would mistake Frizzell's music for anything but country, his 1959 hit, "Long Black Veil", gained wide acceptance with a variety of music fans and was the first recording of this "standard."[citation needed] In 1964, Frizzell recorded "Saginaw, Michigan", which took the top spot on the country music charts and broke into the pop charts as well (No. 85 pop, Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles). 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. Alcoholism by then, however, was a problem: mood swings and irrational anger became a trademark, and his constant failure to meet recording commitments strained his relationship with his recording company.

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


Lefty2928 insert 003.jpg

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 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.

Legacy and influence

Frizzell's style of singing influenced a great many singers, particularly Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Keith Whitley, and Dwight Yoakam.[2] 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. 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.

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, Allan 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[citation needed]. Allan 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.




Year Album US Country Label
1951 Songs of Jimmie Rodgers Columbia
1952 Listen to Lefty
1959 One and Only
1964 Saginaw, Michigan 2
1965 Sad Side of Love
1966 Greatest Hits
Great Sound
1967 Mom and Dad's Waltz
1968 Puttin' On
Signed, Sealed and Delivered
1973 Lefty Frizzell Sings the Songs of Jimmie Rodgers 27
Mark of Time ABC
1974 The Legendary Lefty Frizzell 37
1975 Classic Style
Remembering... The Greatest Hits of Lefty Frizzell 43 Columbia
1977 ABC Collection ABC


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US CAN Country
1950 "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" 1 Listen to Lefty
"I Love You a Thousand Ways" 1
1951 "Look What Thoughts Will Do" 4
"Shine, Shave, Shower (It's Saturday)" 7 single only
"I Want to Be With You Always" 1 29 Listen to Lefty
"Always Late (With Your Kisses)" 1
"Mom and Dad's Waltz" 2
"Travellin' Blues" 6 Songs of Jimmie Rodgers
1952 "Give Me More, More, More (Of Your Kisses)" 1 singles only
"How Long Will It Take (To Stop Loving You)" 7
"Don't Stay Away (Till Love Grows Cold)" 2 Listen to Lefty
"Forever (And Always)" 6 singles only
1953 "I'm an Old, Old Man (Trying to Live While I Can)" 3
"(Honey, Baby, Hurry!) Bring Your Sweet Self Back to Me" 8
1954 "Run 'Em Off" 8
1955 "I Love You Mostly" 11
1958 "Cigarettes and Coffee Blues" 13
1959 "The Long Black Veil" 6
1963 "Forbidden Lovers" 23
"Don't Let Her See Me Cry" 30 Saginaw, Michigan
1964 "Saginaw, Michigan" 1 85
"The Nester" 28 singles only
1965 "'Gator Hollow" 50
"She's Gone Gone Gone" 12 Sad Side of Love
"A Little Unfair" 36
"Love Looks Good On You" 41
1966 "Mama" Mom and Dad's Waltz
"I Just Couldn't See the Forest (For the Trees)" 51 Puttin' On
1967 "You Gotta Be Puttin' Me On" 49
"Get This Stranger Out of Me" 63
1968 "The Marriage Bit" 59 35 singles only
1969 "An Article from Life" 64
1970 "Watermelon Time in Georgia" 49
1972 "You, Babe" 59
1973 "Let Me Give Her the Flowers" Mark of Time
"I Can't Get Over You to Save My Life" 43 The Legendary Lefty Frizzell
1974 "I Never Go Around Mirrors" 25
"Railroad Lady" 52
"Lucky Arms" 21
1975 "Life's Like Poetry" 67 Classic Style
"Falling" 50 49


  1. ^ "Artists: Biography". Country Music Television (CMT). Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  2. ^ "Dwight Yoakam: Artist Information". Wal-Mart CD Store/Muze UK. Retrieved 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.

External links


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