Righting the Wrongs About Lefty

Awhile back I had a chance to sit down and spend some time with David Frizzell and he was gracious enough to spend some time sharing his thoughts and memories of his brother, the legendary Lefty Frizzell.   

As often is the case, the mystique and the reality of the life of someone whose legacy has become so infamous becomes skewed over time in the history books.   David Frizzell aims to change that as he rights the wrongs about Lefty. “Everything I have read about Lefty is always been wrong,” he shares. “Just happen to get a little tired of everybody saying this or that about Lefty so I am going to make it right.”  

The final straw for David came while watching CMT’s broadcast of the Life and Times of Lefty Frizzell. “I said that’s it, that’s it! I’m not putting up with this any more. I am going to write a book from Lefty’s point of view.”   “It isn’t available yet. I got it done; we are just trying to decide whether we are going to self publish it or whether we are going to go through a publisher, so we are at that point right now. It’s beautiful, it’s done. There’s a lot of funny stuff.”  He’s written the book from a unique perspective. “Whether it was right or wrong was immaterial to me. If Lefty thought it was this way then that’s how the book would be written. A lot of things have been written before about Lefty, like from his wife Allison’s viewpoint. Even though she was there she still had her own viewpoint about it. It was the way she thought it was,” he explains. “Coming from Lefty it was a total complete different thing. I wrote the book and disregarded everybody else’s opinions. What he said this way to me, than that’s the way I said it.” 

 There are certain images of Lefty Frizzell that have been perpetuated over the years and too often they’ve ended up overshadowing anything else he may have accomplished in his lifetime. “There are two things people thought about Lefty  – one was that he was a womanizer and the other that he was drunk all the time and that’s not true. That’s not true at all. Those were not the important things in his life.”  

“A lot of people thought that he was a sad guy, but nobody in the world laughed more than Lefty. If you wanted to be at a party you didn’t have to have anybody there but him. He was the party, he was it.”  In fact, it seems that Lefty Frizzell was a bit of a practical joker.  “I was with him all my life and I have not laughed that hard since. He was just funny. He loved pulling jokes on people, he loved to laugh – as a matter of fact, I don’t really remember seeing him sad about anything.“  

“He was always doing things. He liked to go to those magic stores and get those little gimmick things. He got this little hard bound book, maybe 3×4 and if you opened it up it had a battery in it that would shock you. He loved that. He tried that on everybody or he’d come up behind you a put a little itching powder on you and then watch as you start the itching process.  Then he would come up to hug you and put a little more on you. He would go into those joke stores, the magic stores, and he would buy these little things and master it first then bring it up to us and say ‘you can’t do this, watch me do it.’”   “He loved songwriters, he loved being around other songwriters and he was a great songwriter as you know. All those great songs in the early days, most of them were his. He had big hits on most all of them and they were written by him. He had other priorities; he just loved to write songs. He loved being in the business, he loved being ‘Lefty Frizzell’ too, but he wasn’t sad, and he wasn’t falling around all over the place, there was none of that.“  

David’s view of Lefty’s life comes from a melding of two unique perspectives, first as a little brother and in later years, as a fellow performer.   “I had to deal with it on two plateaus. One was my brother and other was this great thing called “Lefty Frizzell” A whole different ball game, but he was a brother to me. “  They came from a large family of eight children. Lefty, the eldest, was 13 years older than David. He began to mentor his younger brother’s talent at an early age.

“He would come by when I was growing up and he would take me out. He was a brother – he was something. He would give me advice. He’d come by when I was thirteen/fourteen years old and started to take me once a year to the recording studio. I didn’t even know what he was doing but he would say ‘I want you to sing this song.’ He was just testing my voice, seeing if I was ever going to be able to sing or not.”

Being around Lefty during the height of his career was a once in a lifetime experience, but it was necessarily an experience cut out for everybody.   “He would take my brother Bill who is next in line. Bill worked with him back in the early 50’s. Lefty was so hot. You hear everything about how big Elvis was, well that was Lefty in 50-51. People couldn’t keep their hands off him. They couldn’t keep their hands off that beautiful black curly hair. The girls just had to touch him, touch his shirt or get a souvenir of one of the fringes.”  “To be around somebody that hot  nobody wanted to see anything else, nobody wanted to be around anything else so my brother Bill had a hard time with that, but when it came my turn to get up there and be with Lefty, he had already cooled off so I was able to take my place on stage with him and hold my own.”  Through the years, by example and by words, Lefty gave David invaluable career advice as well as life lessons.  

“He taught me so much.  Without trying to teach me, he taught me. He taught me how to go on the bandstand, taught what to do to dominate the bandstand when I was up there. He taught me how to get off the stage. He taught me all of that stuff by simply watching him – he was the master.” He was also able to open those doors for me that I would never have been able to get open. Even though I had to take care of it once I got inside, I had to be somebody. I had to do something but he was always telling me – don’t be like me, don’t sound like me. I don’t know how many times during those days he’d say to be original; don’t be like me, they don’t need another Lefty.  “He looked at things differently. If he and I both looked at a tree he would see a whole different tree than I was looking at. He was so original. There was nobody in the world more original than Lefty.” He says with a mixture of fondness and awe.  “Matter of fact, if I was walking down the street with him and we found that we were talking in the same gait he would actually start dragging a foot. He did anything to be original and he was. Everything about him was original.”  

Stage presence means something totally different today than it did in the heydays of Lefty’s career. Charisma, talent and mystique were what you needed to stand out as opposed to the high tech shenanigans and the publicity gimmicks that are par for the course today. Lefty had certain set ideas of how a performer should present himself.  stand out as opposed to the high tech shenanigans and the publicity gimmicks that are par for the course today. Lefty had certain set ideas of how a performer should present himself.  “He was the one who told me never be seen by the audience before you’re ready to go. That’s why everybody goes through the backdoor. The backdoor of the auditorium, the backdoor of the night club, whatever you’re playing and I do agree that the first sight has that impact – the first opening song, the first sight of an artist. After that he would go right out that back door and you wouldn’t see him again. He had that mystique about him because of that type of thing.”  

While there was a mystique that surrounded the icon off stage, on stage he belonged to his audience.   “There are a few people in my lifetime that I have met that have a magnetic personality. Lefty had that. If he walked into a room, or on stage he dominated the whole room, the whole audience. If walked into a house then it was his house from that point on.  I have only seen one other person like that and Ferlin Husky was the guy. I’ve heard of people like Bob Dylan having that quality and I know Johnny Cash definitely had it.” 

While you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would deny Lefty’s significant impact on and place in country music’s history, the debate about whether icons such as Hank Sr. or Lefty would be able to impact today’s market is still raging. There are many who believe that if Lefty Frizzell were alive today he wouldn’t stand a chance in Nashville, but David disagrees.   “I am not sure Hank Williams would have made it, if he had been the old Hank Williams in today’s market but if he was alive today he would be ‘Hank Williams’ in this new market, if you know what I mean.”  “It’s got to be that inner thing that makes you go run out into the street and holler and try to get attention.”

He says confident in the belief that Lefty also had that special something it would take to adapt to any market.  “He had that uniqueness and whatever it took to day to make it. If he was here today, young and new and all that energy, he and Hank both dominate right now because they were just unbelievable and it’s that personality, that drive, that uniqueness that made them who they were at the time and  they would be the same today.”  That being said, David does feel that Lefty’s legacy isn’t getting the respect it deserves but believes he understands why. “I think Lefty outlived his popularity. Hank Williams died when he was 29 I think.  He was just into it; he left at the height of his popularity. Johnny Cash was this icon out there his whole life, and when he passed away he was still coming off a Grammy.”  

“I think Lefty’s popularity kind of waned about 25, 26, 27. Then once in awhile he’d came out with a hit like Long Black Veil in ’58 or Saginaw, Michigan in ’64 and he’d have another resurrection, but basically he outlived his popularity. If he had died in ’53 when he was as hot as a firecracker…”  

As usual  there are plenty of ‘could haves’ and  ‘should haves’ in terms of the longevity of country music’s most profound influences but in the end their legacy is often found in more quieter, unassuming ways. For Lefty one of the most profound impacts he had was in the music and song writing of Merle Haggard. He vicariously brought Lefty’s music and style to a whole new generation.” “I think there are a lot of people walking around facing forward as opposed to caring too much about what’s going on behind them. Lefty was the innovator of his time. He created a whole different kind of honky tonk music. He was one of a kind.”  As for Lefty’s personal impact it’s found in David’s answer to the question: What’s his favorite Lefty memory?’ Fittingly, he’s unable to pin it down to one and his most treasured memories are of incidental life lessons and brotherly camaraderie.   

“A day in the life of David and Lefty” is his answer to the question. “He would tell me know you don’t be like me, you know and put a little action in your stride there boy, and be yourself. It was always a learning experience being around him.  A day in the life of David and Lefty was fun and we would laugh about almost everything. It was just a great time in my life. What a treat to be around somebody like that – I haven’t been around anybody like that since.”  meet him. Of all the people in the world you should have seen him. You wouldn’t have believed it. He was really something, and I miss him every minute.” Laurie Joulie – Take Country Back

2 Responses to “Righting the Wrongs About Lefty”

  1. […] Joulie from Take Country Back has an article about Lefty Frizzell from his brother’s point of view. Tags: Country Music, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Charlie Robison, Kevin Fowler, Lefty […]

  2. Great Article about my Dad through my Uncles eyes. But I have to wonder if he is going to tell the truth about me. I think you aught to do A Article from one or all of Dad’s Son’s perspective. I wonder if Uncle David Is going to do the right christian thing or denie I excist. Lefty’s 3rd son David M “Crockett” Frizzell. “IF IT AIN’T LEFTY, IT AIN’T RIGHT”

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