Lefty Frizzell, True Honky Tonk Outlaw

by Amos White

My man William Orville Frizzell was born March 31st, 1928. Where? You guessed it: Texas. When you talk to fans of honky tonk and hard country, there is no doubt that Lefty will come up. He didn’t just play honky tonk, he was excellent with traditional country as well as being a pure vocalist. He truly became the definitive honky tonk frontal when he coupled his smooth and smart vocal deliveries with his honky tonk and hard country, which before him had lass storytelling, less depth, less power, emotion, and feeling. The roots of honky tonk was very jarring and boot stomping, but Lefty smoothed out those jagged edges by using smoother, storytelling vocals with flowing phrases to make honky tonk acceptable to the masses without losing its boot stomping grit. The influence of his change in style cannot be underestimated. You ever heard of Merle Haggard? George Strait? Willie Nelson? George Jones? Randy Travis? John Anderson? All of them plus hundreds more saybtheir singing style came directly from Frizzell. And many of them had their musical style come directly from Frizzell (at the start of some Merle songs I dont know if it’s him or Lefty til the singing starts!) 

     Lefty, I call him Lefty cuz we’re such close amigos, Lefty’s musical pinnacle was from 1950 to 1965, where at one point he had 4 songs on the Hot Country Hits chart at one time, a feat never accomplished before or after him. In total he had over 20 songs on the Hot Country Hit charts over his best 15 years, and if you know how diverse and changing the musical landscape was from 1950 to 1965, you know this type of thing is unheard of. Now it is very possible some of you are not familiar with Lefty and there is one reason for that. The only reason Lefty isn’t considered the greatest country musician of all time is one man: Hank Williams Sr. was his contemporary and he outshined him. Call me insane, I’m not a professional music critic, but I prefer Lefty over Hank. Settle down now settle down I have good reasons; when you are in your thoughts and feelings, maybe you got that tear in your beer (get it? Like the Hank song? You BETTER get it, either that or listen to more Hank Sr. 🙂 there may not be a better choice than to put on Hank Sr. But do you have friends? Perhaps a gal you’d like to do a lil boot scootin with? You play Lefty! Yes he has love songs and sad songs and powerful songs of difficult living, but you can pick out 15 Lefty jammer in a row and no one will stop dancing and singing along. You’ll know most of the songs even if you’re a casual listener. If you are a die hard Lefty lover, you will raise your arms in praise like a metalhead listening to his favorite shredding solo. Seriously. I’m an INSANE metalhead and I implore all fans of honky tonk and hard country to truly give Lefty a chance. Sure, everyone Knows “if you got the money, I got the time” and most folks have heard “I love you a thousand ways”, “Always Late (With Your Kisses), and a personal favorite “Run ’em off!” But Lefty had a battery of masterful songs that can’t be compared to any other musician outside of Metal and Noise (famous Noise musician Merzbow released a box set 100 CDs long. It’s unlistenable, it’s just white noise, like TV static, for 70 hours). But Lefty wrote great songs. Pure songs. Honest songs. That’s why there is a Lefty box set I highly recommend to dedicated fans called “Life’s Like Poetry”. You really gotta be a lefty fan for this one…it’s 12 discs long, but there isn’t ONE bad song on it, but certainly many that very few people know, but SHOULD know. But not all of us are insane so for the casual fan/big fan but not crazy, I recommend “The Best of Lefty Frizzell” on Rhino records, 1991. Easy to get ahold of. He has other collections that are rock solid as well, but that one Rhino disc will get the party started.

     Lefty really never got the fame and fortune he was due during his lifetime. Overtaken by fly by night one hit wonders, and of course Hank. But Lefty had a tough start to his career. At the age of 19 he was arrested and convicted of having relations with a minor. I will personally hold off judgement of that, different time, different culture, but it broke Lefty’s heart, and you can feel it in each and every sad song. He means it and you can feel it in your bones. 

     During the 80s when revivalist country was back on the burner and Outlaw country ruled the radio waves, Lefty Frizzell finally got the love and adoration he deserved. It was easy to see how magnificent he was when looking back. It’s even better to look back and listen today. Unfortunately he never got to see his second wave of success. He died of an alcoholism induced stroke in 1982. A true hard drinking, broken hearted, honky tonk man. A true legend. Now, you got some listenin’ to do!


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