While not the best known figure in country music, Lefty Frizzell remains one of the most influential. His note-bending singing style could stretch a single syllable across several octaves. His unique inflections were soon absorbed into the country music mainstream.
Frizzell is best known for the songs "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time," "Long Black Veil," and "I Love You a Thousand Ways."
Lefty Frizzell Basic Facts:
Full name: William Orville Frizzell
Birthday: March 31, 1928
Place of birth: Corsicana, Texas
Date of death: July 19, 1975
Trivia Facts About Lefty Frizzell:
- The singer earned his nickname "Lefty" after decking a classmate with his left hand.
- Frizzell wrote his hit "I Love You a Thousand Ways" for his wife. At the time, he was in jail for statutory rape.
Merle Haggard Quote on Frizzell's Influence:
"For three or four years I didn't sing anything but Lefty Frizzell songs, and then because Lefty was a fan of Jimmie Rodgers I learned to imitate him too."
Lefty Frizzell practiced a brand of honky-tonk music similar to his contemporary and rival Hank Williams.
Lefty Frizzell's Early Years:
The son of an oilman, Lefty Frizzell was highly influenced as a boy by the music of Jimmie Rodgers. He began performing in Texas in the 1940s and found his first success playing on local radio stations.
His career was soon hampered by a run-in with the law. In 1947, he was charged with statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl; the singer was 19 years old at the time.
Frizzell spent six months in jail, during which he wrote "I Love You a Thousand Ways" for his long-suffering wife.
Country Music Stardom:
After finishing his jail sentence, and unsuccessfully auditioning to join the Louisiana Hayride, Lefty Frizzell began working in Big Spring, Texas. In time, he scored a deal with Columbia Records for whom he recorded the songs "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" and "I Love You a Thousand Ways." They became number-one hits.
Lefty's career continued to skyrocket with "Always Late (With Your Kisses)," which also went to number one. His fame was cemented when he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1950.
Alcoholism and Decline:
Frizzell was famous for his love of drinking. But his imbibing soon became an impediment in his career. He wrote fewer of his own songs and began to rely on other songwriters to supply him with material.
By the mid-1950s he had failed to score a hit song, but experienced some minor comebacks with the all-night tale "Cigarette and Coffee Blues" (1958), the spooky country song "The Long Black Veil" (1959), and the humorous "Saginaw, Michigan" (1962).
Lefty Frizzell ended his country music career on a high note with his penultimate album The Legendary Lefty Frizzell. Although it wasn't much appreciated by the listening public at the time, it would eventually be considered a late-period classic. The album featured the song "I Never Go Around Mirrors," written by Frizzell; it would later be recorded by Keith Whitley and Merle Haggard.
Frizzell died of a stroke on July 19, 1975.
In 1982, he was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Artists Influenced by Frizzell:
Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley, Randy Travis
Essential Lefty Frizzell Songs:
- "I Love You a Thousand Ways"
- "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time"
- "I Want to Be With You Always"
- "Saginaw, Michigan"
- "The Long Black Veil"
Books about Lefty Frizzell:
Lefty Frizzell: The Honky-Tonk Life of Country Music's Greatest Singer by Daniel Cooper (Little Brown & Co, 1995)
This well-written and informative account of Frizzell's life by Daniel Cooper offers plenty of great stories about the singer. It's one of the best books about any country singer's life and a worthy addition to your bookshelf.
Recommended Albums by Lefty Frizzell
Lefty Frizzell: Look What Thoughts Will Do (compilation, 1997)
This two-disc greatest hits collection features all of Lefty Frizzell's essential tunes. Although it's absent late-period classics such as "I Never Go Around Mirrors," this is a great starting place for anyone who wants to get to know the singer.