Press - Lefty Frizzell - Life's Like Poetry 12-CD-Box - International Country Music News May 1992

International Country Music News May 1992
HUGH T. WILSON'S RECOLLECTIONS NO 73
The recording career of Lefty Frizzell
'Life Like Poetry' - Part One
'Bear Family 12CD Boxed set - BCD 15550'

Every genre of music has naturally had its early pioneers. In the
early days, country music was moulded by the the talents of Jim-
mie Rodgers who together with other early recording artistes
such as the Carter Family, Riley Puckett and Bradley Kincaid,
began to set the standards for the others to follow. When careful
and proper analysis of the history of country music is made any
serious student soon comes to the opinion that since the 1940s,
it is pretty obvious that the contributions of Hank Williams, Lefty
Frizzell and Jim Reeves are amongst the most important. Roy
Acuff also contributed and brought to the fore many of the old
time mountain ballads and songs. Hank's music crossed the fron-
tiers of popular music when artistes of that genre such as Jo
Stafford, Tony Bennett and Frankie Laine had chart success with
his songs. Jim Reeves went even further by crossing over from
his early country roots to make his recordings internationally ac-
ceptable to both country and popular music audiences. While Lef-
ty Frizzell had little pop chart success himself, he certainly set a
standard for future country singers to follow. True Lefty started
as somewhat of a Jimmie Rodgers soundalike but he learned from
the Singing Brakeman's recordings and progressed to create his
own unique style with the unmistakable Frizzell delivery and pro-
nunciation. There are many country singers today who in their
style show the obvious influence of Lefty Frizzell. The name of
Merle Haggard immediately springs to mind and others include
Kenny Serratt, Johnny Rodriguez, John Anderson, Moe Bandy,
John Conlee and Dwight Yoakam. Haggard, in fact, has never
made any secret of the fact that he was influenced by Lefty. To-
day many other young hopefuls seeking to make it in country
music are classed as Haggard soundalikes but if the critics are
honest, they should remember that without Frizzell there would
probably never have been a Haggard.

Someone recently wrote that if you took the Lefty soundalikes
out of the Country Top 50, it would become the Country Top 25.
This statement perhaps adequately shows the influence that the
work of Lefty Frizzell has had on following artistes and contem-
poraries. It also stresses the great importance of the recent issue
by Bear Family records of their 12 CD Boxed set Lifes Like Poetry.
This set even surpasses the same label's 1984 LP set and con-
tains many previously unissued recordings, including some made
in 1946, which was four years before Lefty joined Columbia.
Perhaps a few words of biographical information is merited, if on-
ly for the benefit of newcomers to the music who may be unfami-
liar with the artiste, before I take a look at exactly what one finds
in this set. Incidentally, assuming my arithmetic is correct, this
contains no less than 330 tracks and has a playing time of ap-
proximately thirteen and three-quarter hours.

William Orville Frizzell was born 31 March 1928 at Corsicana
in Navarro County, Texas. The eldest of the eight children of
Naamon Frizzell and his wife A.D she was never known by her
given names only the initial4, he was raised mainly in El Dorado,
Arkansas but, at times, he also lived in sundry places in Texas
and Oklahoma whenever his father, an itinerant oil field worker,
moved the family home. His first interest in country music came
from the 78s of Jimmie Rodgers that he played on the old family
gramophone. He learned to sing by listening to his mother and
first appeared on KELD, El Dorado at the age of 12. Two years
later, he was performing at dances at Greenville with school
friend and fellow guitarist Gene Whitworth and by the time he
was 16, he was playing the hooky tonks and clubs in such places
as Waco and Dallas. These were tough venues for a boy and he
soon learned that he had to stand up for himself as he performed
the music and yodels of Jimmie Rodgers amongst which he
began to include songs that he had written himself. Later stories
stated that he acquired the nickname of Lefty following an ap-
pearance in a Golden Gloves boxing contest. Truth was Lefty's
fighting was really confined to venues such as the honky tonks
rather than organised boxing halls and this story seems to have
been a publicity hype by Columbia records. It was later strongly
denied by both his father and his wife, who claim that he never
did any Golden Gloves boxing. He was originally given the nick-
name by Gene Whitworth when he was about fourteen after he
flattened the school bully. Although he played the guitar
righthanded, he wrote with his left and adopted a southpaw
stance for fighting.

He dropped the bully with a left hook; the nickname stuck and
soon lie became known as Lefty to all except his family, who
always called him Sonny - his father's choice since he believed
it was the right name for a firstborn.

About this time the family moved to Paris, Texas and here Lef-
ty got a radio show on KPET. He still sang the Rodgers' songs but
finding that his listeners expected something newer as well, he
began to sing Ernest Tubb numbers. He found them easier to han-
dle due to the fact that, after his voice broke, it became harder
to do the yodels. Late in 1942, his father joined the Air Force and
Lefty was faced with helping out the family budget but encourag-
ed by his mother, who sometimes danced at the venues where
he performed, lie steadily learned his trade the hard way. In
1944, he won a talent competition in Dallas singing one of his
own songs, 'Please Be Mine Blue Eyes'. It would seem that the
inspiration for the song came as a result of his meeting a beautiful
girl called Alice Harper. On 12 March 1945 the couple married
and Alice became the inspiration for several of his songs over the
thirty years that the marriage lasted - there were to be many
storms along the way and at the time of his death, they were liv-
ing apart although still in daily contact. Life was hard for the new-
ly weds as Lefty pursued his career. He appeared at many venues
and at one time was the vocalist with Rex Elliot arid his Singing
Cowboys. He made his first recordings late in 1946 on an early
Wilcox-Gay Disc Recorder owned by Ray Patterson. In 1947, he
moved to Roswall, New Mexico where he formed a band known
as The Pecos Valley Ramblers and with it played in dance halls
and honky tonks all over the area. His increasing popularity led to
a solo spot on KGFL, where he became known as 'The Voice Of
The Pecos Valley'. From time to time drinking and high spirits led
him into trouble with the authorities and following a brawl in July
1947, he found himself in Roswall jail. During his time there he
actually wrote 'I Love You A Thousand Ways', a song later to be
a big hit for him. Early in 1948, he returned to work in the oil
fields with his fattier and for a time thought of giving up a musical
career. However, in July that year, he tried to get himself on the
Louisiana Hayride at KWKH Shreveport but found himself unsuc-
cessful when the station hired Hank Williams instead. He return-
ed to Roswall where he worked with a band but soon got himself
a job as the vocalist at the Ace Of Clubs in Big Springs, Texas.
He next formed his own band and as Lefty Frizzell and His
Westerners, he established quite a reputation with a repertoire
that included many of his own songs including 'Please Be Mine
Blue Eyes' and 'I Love You A Thousand Ways'. In April 1950, lie
was advised to go to Dallas and make some demo recordings to
try to attract the attention of one of the major record companies.
Here he met Jim Beck, a recording expert with his own studio and
through him Don Law of Columbia Records. Beck was interested
in some of Lefty's songs particularly 'If You've Got The Money',
which he felt was ideally suited for Columbia's star Little Jimmie
Dickens. After listening to some demo recordings, Don Law was
also impressed with the song but he decided he wanted Lefty
himself to record it for the Columbia label. The result was that on
15 June 1950, Lefty Frizzell was given a standard two year con-
tract which laid down that he should record four sides per year.
This gives a very brief outline of the early part of the career of
Lefty Frizzell up to the point where he actually became a record-
ing artiste for Columbia and brings the story basically to the point
where the recordings on the boxed set Life's Like Poetry begin.


Compact Disc BCD 15560-1
I Love You A Thousand Ways/If You've Got The Money, I've
Got the Time/Shine, Shave Shower, It's Saturday Night/Cold
Feet/Don't Think It Ain't Been Fun Dear/When Payday Comes
Around/My Baby's Just Like Money/Look What Thoughts Will
Do/My Baby's Just Like Money/You Want Everything But Me/1
Want To Be With You Always/Give Me More,More,More Of Your
Kisses/How Long Will It Take (To Stop Loving You)/Always Late
(With Your Kisses)/Mom And Dad's Waltz/You Can Go On Your
Way Now/Treasure Untold/Blue Yodel £6/Travellin' Blues/My Old
Pal/Blue Yodel £2/Lullaby Yodel/Brakeman's Blues/My Rough
And Rowdy Ways/I Love You (Though You're No Good)/It's Just
You (I Could Love Always)/(Darling Now) You're Here So Every-
thing's Alright/I've Got Reasons To Hate You.

This first disc with a running time of almost 77 minutes con-
tains, in order, Lefty's first twenty eight Columbia tracks. The
first twenty-four were made in the Jim Beck Studio in Dallas and
the final four in ACA Studio, Houston, all under the production of
Don Law. The first eight were recorded at July and September
1950 sessions with the first two, released on Columbia 20739
having the unique distinction of both being country number ls.
'Shine, Shave And Shower' reached number 7, when it was
coupled on Columbia 20772 with his number 4 hit, 'Look What
Thoughts Will Do'. The remaining four tracks remained unissued
until Bear Family's 1984 LP set. January 1951 produced four
more tracks with 'I Want To Be With You Always' and 'Give Me
More More More Of Your Kisses' both reaching the country
number 1 spot. The former also gave him a Top 30 placing in the
popular music charts. The next twelve tracks are from`How Long
Will It Take', as well as his classic 'Always Late', which spent
twelve of its charted twenty-eight weeks at number 1, plus the
wistful 'Mom And Dad's Waltz', which peaked at number 2. With
one exception, up to this point, all recorded numbers were either
written or co-written by Lefty but this changed with the eight
Jimmie Rodgers' songs. Lefty no doubt thoroughly enjoyed cut-
ting these and he sings them with great feeling; sTravellin' Blues'
actually charted at number 6. The final four tracks all self-penned) which were recorded in October 1951 were also
unissued until the 1984 Bear Family LP set. The musical backings
throughout these 28 tracks are first class and include Jimmy Rol-
lins, Curly Chalker who adds fine dobro work to the Jimmie
Rodgers' numbers) and quite superb piano work by both Madge
Suttee and/or Evelyn Rowley, the latter proving a fine soundalike
of the former.


Compact Disc BCD 15560-2
I Love You (Though You're No Good)/Don't Stay Away (Till
Love Grows Cold)/It's Just You (I Could Love Always)/(Darling
Now) You're Here So Everything's Alright/If You Can Spare The
Time (I Won't Miss The Money)/A King Without A Queen/Forever
And Always)/I Know You're Lonesome (While Waiting For
Me)/Lost Love Blues/That's Me Without You/Send Her Here To
Be Mine/Lost Love Blues/That's Me Without You/I Won't Be
Good For Nothing/If I Lose You (I'll Lose My World/I'm An Old Old
Man (Trying To Love While I Can)/You're Just Mine (Only In My
Dreams)/1111 Try/(Honey, Baby, Hurry!) Bring Your Sweet Love
Back To Me/Time Changes Things/All Of Me Loves All Of
You/California Blues (Blue Yodel £4)/Never No' Mo' Blues/We
Crucified Our Jesus/When It Comes To Measuring Love/Sleep
Baby Sleep/(I'm) Lonely And Blue.

This disc, with a running time of almost 73 minutes, continues
his 1952 recordings, which perhaps surprisingly saw him add on-
ly three more chart entries namely, 'Don't Stay Away' (number
2), the quite enchanting 'Forever (And Always) (number 61 and
'I'm An Old Old Man' (number 3). All but five were recorded in
the Jim Beck Studio in Dallas under the production of Don Law.
The exceptions here are 'Lost Love Blues', 'That's Me Without
You' arid 'Send Her Here To Be Mine' (complete with a false
start), which are from a July rehearsal session held in Miller's
Shop, Crowley, Louisiana (never released by Columbia). Further
cuts of the first two were recorded in Fort Worth the same month
but they suffered badly due to the results of an all-night party. In-
teresting to note J.D Miller at the time Lefty's manager) who
wrote the song is playing guitar on 'That's Me Without You'.
Although neither of these versions are by any means Lefty at his
best, it is perhaps surprising that he did not try for the charts with
this song. (It was a Top 10 hit for both Webb Pierce and Sonny
James the following year). Nice steel guitar work from Herby Hall
at both sessions. A session of February 1953 produced '(Honey,
Baby, Hurry) Bring Your Sweet Self Back To Me' (a number 8 hit
and his only chart entry for 1953). 'We Crucified Our Jesus' is a
most interesting track, with Lefty at times sounding quite like his
friend Hank Williams with this self-penned Luke The Drifter type
number. February and March recordings added six further Jimmie
Rodgers songs. Again done with great feeling, they are fine ex-
amples of Lefty's work which also feature Ernie Harvey using
steel guitar in lieu of dobro. The Rodgers' influence also shows
in Lefty's song 'You're Just Mine (Only In My Dreams)', a little
known but very good number.


Compact Disc BCD 15560-3
Before You Go (Make Sure You Know)/Two Friends Of Mine In
Love/Hopeless Love/Then I'll Come Back To You/The Tragic Let-
ter The Letter That You Left) with Wayne Raney)/Two Hearts
Broken Now (with Wayne Raney)/You Can Always Count On Me
with Wayne Raney)/I've Been Away Too Long (with Wayne
Raney)/Run 'Ern Off/The Darkest Moment (Is Just Before The
Light Of Day)/You're Too Late/My Little Her And Him/I Love You
Mostly/Your There, I'm Here/Let It Be So/Mama/Making Believe/-
Moonlight, Darling And You/I'll Sit Alone And Cry/A Forest Fire
In Your Heart)/Sweet Lies/Your Tomorrows Will Never Come/It
Gets Late So Early/I'm Lost Between Right And Wrong/Promises
(Promises,Promises)/My Love And Baby's Gone/Today Is That
Tomorrow (I Dreamed Of Yesterday)/First To Have A Second
Chance.

This disc contains twenty-eight more tracks with a running
time of just over 72 minutes. The first twelve are from June and
November 1953 sessions at the same venue and only the version
of Onie Wheeler's 'Run 'Em Off' (the only non-Frizzell composi-
tion) made the charts (number 8). Lefty is joined on vocals by har-
monica ace Wayne Raney on four of the tracks. It is perhaps a
strange choice of duet partner and while Raney's input is by no
means dynamic, the tracks are quite interesting and entertaining.
(It may also be noted that during this time Raney was actually
under contract to King records). By this time Lefty's career was
having a few problems as can be seen by reference to the ex-
cellent booklet contained with the set and perhaps soms own
high standards. He had relocated to California and was appearing
on regular television shows such as Town Hall Party. His last
1953 recording shows Lefty as the family man with his song 'My
Little Her And Him'. The next four tracks are the only ones that
he recorded in 1954 with 'You're There, I'm Here' and 'Let It Be
Soon' being unissued until the 1984 set. By this time, Lefty has
given up his band. He had a drink problem which led to missed
shows, management problems and was quite literally fed up with
the music business and struggling to make a living. He played honky
tonks and small venues usually touring with his sixteen year old
brother David. Feeling badly treated over the years by his mana-
gement and disgusted that many of his songs were unissued by
Columbia, he had almost stopped writing. The final twelve tracks
here are recordings made in 1955 and most are the work of other
writers. 'I Love You Mostly' charted at number 1 1; his only 1955
chart entry. There is a nice cut of 'Making Believe' and other in-
teresting numbers are 'Today Is That Tomorrow' and 'First To
Have A Second Chance' (both great titles). Most may be describ-
ed as routine Frizzell recordings. They make very reasonable
listening but the lack of chart success must indicate its own
story. Worth a mention that Paul Buskirk (later to find fame with
Willie Nelson) plays mandolin or guitar on these tracks. The
overall efficient fiddle and steel type backing still features the fine
lead and rhythm guitar work of long-time Frizzell associates Jim-
my Rollins and Joe Knight.


Compact Disc BCD 15560-4
These Hands/You Can't Divorce My Heart/Treat Her
Right/Heart's Highway/I'm A Boy Left Alone/Just Can't Live That
Fast Anymore/The Waltz Of The Angels/Lullaby Waltz/Glad I
Found You/Now That You Are Gone/From An Angel To A
Devil/Lover By Appointment with Johnny Bond)/Sick, Sober And
Sorry with Johnny Bond)/No One To Talk To But The Blues (with
Shirley Caddell)/Is It Only That You're Lonely/Mailman Bring Me
No More Blues/You've Still Got It/Tell Me Dear/To Stop Loving
You Means Cry/The Torch Within My Heart/Time Out For The
Blues/I Love You A Thousand Ways/If You've Got The Money
(I've Got The Time)/1 Want To Be With You Always/Mom And
Dad's Waltz/(Darling) Let's Turn Back The Years/You Win
Again/Why Should I Be Lonely/Signed Sealed And
Delivered/Nobody Knows But Me.

This disc with its thirty further tracks and a running time of 75
minutes commences with his three final December 1955 recor-
dings but only 'These Hands' (a really beautiful version) was
released by Columbia. In May 1956, he made his first recordings
two singles) in Nashville with a backing that included Drifting
Cowboys, Sammy Pruett, Don Helms and Jerry Rivers. 'Heart's
Highway' co-written with Eddie Miller (of 'Release Me' fame) is
a fine number, although arguably 'The Waltz Of The Angels' may
be the best track of the four. Lefty's own 'Just Can't Live That
Fast Anymore' was maybe more biographical that was imagined
at the time. The reason for his recording in Nashville was brought
about by the sudden tragic death of Jim Beck. (Beck had been
cleaning his studio and recording heads using carbon
tetrachloride and neglected to open the windows. The result was
that he suffered a poisoning of the liver and died a week later in
hospital). Don Law was greatly saddened, he had been giving
thought to making Dallas Columbia's main country music record-
ing venue. Since no one was available to take over Beck's studio,
Law decided to use Nashville instead. Further Nashville recor-
dings were made in November, when this time Grady Martin, Bob
Moore and pianist Marvin Hughes were included amongst the
musicians. His first 1957 recordings were two duets with Johnny
Bond that were recorded in Hollywood but in three sessions in
May and October, he returned to Nashville and at Bradley's Stu-
dios, lie cut eight further numbers. Only 'To Stop Loving You
(Means Cry)' was his own song and it (along with two of the
others) was unissued until 1984. The first of the tracks 'No One
To Talk To But The Blues)' was a duet with Shirley Caddell, a
vocalist who seems to have left little to remember her by as far
as chart recordings are concerned.

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