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Lefty Frizzell:
The Honky-Tonk Life
Of Country Music's Greatest Singer
By Daniel Cooper
Little Brown and Company
1995
324 Pages
ISBN:  0-316-15620-5

Buy this Book

On September 26, 1947, Lefty Frizzell was locked in a cell in the Chaves Country Jail in Roswell, New Mexico. One month into a six-month sentence for statutory rape, the nineteen-year-old Frizzell, married and the father of a year-and-a-half-old daughter, was racked with guilt. Agonizing that his wife, Alice, would leave him, he responded in classic honky-tonk fashion — he wrote her a song, "I Love You A Thousand Ways."

On the strength of that song, coupled with the barroom classic, "If You've Got The Money, I've Got the Time", Frizzell launched his legendary career. Both songs reached the top of the charts in 1950-51, becoming the first of thirteen top-ten records Lefty would score in his first two years in the business. By April of 1951, he was the hottest young comer in country music and was touring with Hank Williams on equal footing.

Lefty Frizzell's legacy to country music is unparalleled. His sublime vocal technique and phrasing, the way his voice dips and slurs before fixing on a note, has been imitated so much it is now simply taken for granted by many as the way country music is sung. George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis, and the late Keith Whitley have all acknowledged Lefty's influence. Merle Haggard called Lefty his "inspiration" and "the most unique thing that ever happened to country music."

His contribution aside, Lefty was also one of the most carefree, colorful personalities in the annals of country music, a man whose life was equal parts high times and hard times. Though battered by a sometimes cruel industry, a stormy marriage, and his own considerable demons, he never gave up on the music for which he lived. His creative triumphs continued until his death and included such classic landmark recordings as the original versions of "The Long Black Veil" and "That's The Way Love Goes".

In this remarkable first biography of Lefty Frizzell, Daniel Cooper tells the singer's honky-tonk story. This meticulously researched, crafted biography is a must for all Lefty Frizzell fans, and for anyone who wants truly to understand country music.

  • Daniel Cooper is associate editor of CMF Press at the Country Music Foundation. He has written for the "Journal of Country Music" and the "Nashville Banner", among other publications, and writes a regular music history column for the "Nashville Scene".