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Lefty Frizzell
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Lefty Frizzell

Lefty Frizzell, born March 31, 1928 in Corsicana, Texas, United States died July 19, 1975 in Nashville, Tennessee, was a country music singer and songwriter.

Born William Orville Frizzell, his father was a Texas oilfield worker. Shortly after William was born, the family moved to El Dorado, Arkansas where they would remain until the early 1940s. Frizzell began playing the guitar as a very young boy and by age 12, he was appearing regularly on a children's show at a local radio station.

The family moved back to Texas when Frizzell was still a teenager and his music career got a boost when he won a Dallas talent contest. The nickname Lefty came about as a result of a schoolyard scrap with another student. In his late teens, he was performing at fairgrounds and other venues, developing a unique soulful voice. Like his father, he got work in the oilfieds but his growing popularity as a singer soon gave him regular work on the "Honky-Tonk" nightclub circuit. At age 19, he had a half-hour show on a small Texas radio station, getting a big break when a record producer heard him sing. Signed to Columbia Records, he immediately had a string of hits that broke into country music's top ten, several of which reached # 1. In 1950 he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and the following year appeared on the Louisiana Hayride then began touring with country music's biggest star, Hank Williams. A prolific songwriter, in 1951 Frizzell had four songs in the country top ten at the same time, a feat that would not be repeated on any chart until the The Beatles accomplished it in 1964.

In the mid 1950s, Frizzell changed record labels and moved to California where he recorded several more country music hits and became the first country singer to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. However, by then his problems with alcohol were already taking their toll. Mood shifts and outbreaks of irrational anger became a trademark and his constant failure to meet recording commitments strained his relationship with his recording company.

By the end of the 1950s, Rock and Roll was dominating the North American music scene and although no one would ever mistake Frizzell's music for anything but country, his 1959 hit titled "Long Black Veil" gained wide acceptance with a variety of music fans. A few years later, Frizzell recorded "Saginaw Michigan" that took the #1 spot on the country music charts and broke into the pop charts as well. The song earned him a Grammy Award nomination.

In 1972 Lefty Frizzell was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame and his song, "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" earned him a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Infortunately, success and money only added to Frizzell's alcohol addiction and on July 19, 1975, he suffered a massive stoke and passed away at age 47. He was buried on "Music Row" at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.

Frizzell's style of singing influenced a great many singers, particularly Merle Haggard, and in addition he was widely recognized for his song writing talents. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982.

Fellow Texan, and fellow son of an oilfield worker, Roy Orbison (1936-1988) was a devout fan of Frizzell's sound and in 1988 when Orbison became a part of the supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, he chose the name "Lefty Wilbury" to honor his musical hero.