A Derailed Demo Dream (Lefty Frizzell)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A sudden shift in direction that put Lefty Frizzell on the right track

A Derailed Demo Dream

A sudden shift in direction that put Lefty Frizzell on the right track

 

"If you've got the money, honey, I've got the time..."  As the young Texan sang, he molded the catchy words around the melody like a master sculptor. Once William Orville Frizzell tore into a song lyric, he didn't turn loose until he had drained the last drop of emotion.  He would later say that each word in a song had a special feeling for him. "I didn't want to let go of it," he explained, "no more than I wanted to let go of the woman I loved."

As Jim Beck listened to Frizzell hold and caress the lyrics, he beamed. Beck had recently recruited him as a demo singer for his Dallas studio. He could just imagine Frizzell's emotion-filled renditions punching up the songs he peddled, year after successful year. Beck had run across the upcoming talent in the Ace of Clubs - a dance hall in nearby Big Springs. He was sure the handsome singer would make an ideal song-plugger for him.

Not only did Frizzell have a good voice for promoting a song, he had written some good songs himself. Beck especially liked "If You've Got the Money." He had Frizzell cut a demo of the song and headed to Nashville to peddle it. This would be the ideal opportunity to test Frizzell's song-selling ability.  Columbia's producer, Don Law, was immediately interested.In a heartbeat, however, Beck's plans for his long-term demo singer crumbled. Law liked the song...but what intrigued him even more was the singer. Law had heard a lot of songs during his career. There was time to concentrate on that one later. The singer, though...that was a different matter. Law had been sniffing out talent for years and his nose was tingling with the sweet smell of success.

Despite Beck's disappointment over the loss of his prospective song-plugger, he knew Law was right. Fortunately, Beck would not be left lingering in the background of Frizzell's success. In 1951, a song co-written by Frizzell and Beck would skyrocket, to the top of the country charts. Their song, "I Want to Be With You Always," would nail down the Number-one position for eleven weeks.Law rushed to Big Springs and offered Frizzell a contract. His first record went to the top of the charts. "If You've Got the Money" was backed with "I Love You a Thousand Ways." Both tunes were his originals and both hit the Number-one Spot.

 Don Law didn't waste time. Seventeen days later, he rushed Frizzell back into the studio. Once again a double-sided hit emerged. "Look What Thoughts Will Do" landed in the Top Five, backed by the Top-ten hit, "Shine, Shave, Shower It's Saturday." It was obvious that Law's intuition had been right on target. The talented young Texan was definitely headed for more than a song-plugging career.

The country music world had just begun to turn on to a new sound - Honky Tonk. Now they had another idol to worship. The promotional material of the day explained that Frizzell had obtained the nickname "Lefty" as a Golden Gloves boxer. Years later, his family explained it was actually the result of his left-handed proficiency during a schoolyard brawl. Regardless, thousands of revering fans offered a nickel homage to the juke box to summon their new Honky Tonk Hero...Lefty Frizzell.The following year, 1952, Lefty would set a country music record. Four songs hit the Top-ten position simultaneously. "Forever," "Don't Stay Away," "Give Me More, More, More" and "I'm an Old, Old Man" filled the radios and jukeboxes with wall-to-wall Lefty.

Like most overnight successes, his "night" had started quite a few years previously. As a youngster, he had been captivated by his family's collection of Jimmy Rodgers records. They were a constant companion for him as his family moved from town-to-town to follow his father's oil-drilling job.Week after week, young Lefty patiently strummed his guitar along with Jimmy Rodgers. He soon added other singers. Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Ted Daffan. and Floyd Tillman joined his recorded circle of friends. Frizzell particularly like the way Tillman stretched certain words to increase a lyric's impact.

Lefty's effort and emerging talent paid off early. By twelve he landed a feature spot on a children's radio program over station KELD in El Dorado, Arkansas. As always, his father's job soon pulled him away, but not before the experience ignited a life-long desire. "I knew, when I was twelve years old," he recalled, "what I was gonna do."During the years to follow, he continued to listen and learn from the country stars he admired. By 1947, he was back on the radio. This time he was on a station in Roswell, New Mexico singing mainly Ernest Tubb and Jimmie Rodgers tunes. Little by little, he began to sprinkle in some original songs.

By the time Jim Beck noticed him in the Ace of Clubs three years later, Lefty had blended the styles of his musical heroes into a unique hybrid. He mixed the sincerity of Jimmy Rodgers and Ernest Tubb with Floyd Tillman's word-stretching. Suddenly, a fresh new style emerged: the "Lefty" sound.That sound would continue to spawn hits throughout the early Fifties. Don Law added piano player, Madge Sutee, to most of Frizzell's records. Her hard-driving Honky Tonk style mingled perfectly with Lefty's voice. As golden tunes like "Always Late" and "Mom and Dad Waltz" filled the radios and jukeboxes, it appeared as if nothing could slow the bright new star.

Like so many other "appearances," this one would be deceiving. In 1954, he recorded the last Top-ten song he would have for the next five years. The main cause for his absence was the emergence of the Rockabilly sound. Lefty preferred to stick to the fading Honky Tonk style.Although he would never again match his tempo of the early Fifties, two of his most memorable classics were yet to emerge. In 1959, his inimitable word-molding ability crafted the haunting favorite, "The Long Black Veil." Six years later, he produced his final Number-one offering, "Saginaw, Michigan." These, like the other products of the derailed demo dream, were right on track for Lefty.


Submitted: September 12, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Dennis L. Goodwin. All rights reserved.

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