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".