[Today: Good times and pretty girls…]
“That was courtin’ music for my folks.” My lifelong best friend Bobby shared that in a text a few months back, and it immediately sparked my interest in William Orville “Lefty” Frizzell. Bobby’s parents, Joe & Jean, were like a second set of parents to me, and by the time we were in grade school they were in their late 40s (practically old people!), so the idea of them courtin’ is interesting for me in its own right. Discovering some of the music they kicked up their heels to? Priceless.
But Lefty Frizzell didn’t need the Joe & Jean Evans Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval to feel validated – he’s a Country Music Hall Of Famer who enjoyed a steady string of hits from the early 50s until the mid-70s. He’s generally credited with polishing up the music of the Honky Tonks and bringing it to a wider audience. By way of explaining his slurred singing style, Lefty said “I’m not really a lazy guy, but I get tired of holding high notes for a long time. Instead of straining, I just let it roll down and it feels good to me.”
That attitude came through in the music – in addition to his relaxed drawl, Frizzell’s songs all came with a smile that gave them a lighter edge than your typical Country single. In stark contrast to “the high lonesome sound” of Bill Monroe, the plaintive yodel of Jimmie Rodgers, the dark death wishes of Hank Williams, and the solemn timbre of Ernest Tubb, Frizzell made music that pointed towards good times and pretty girls – perfect courtin’ music. That upbeat style helped Lefty to four Top Ten Country hits at the same time in October of 1951 – a feat that wouldn’t be repeated on any chart until The Beatles did it more than a decade later.
Frizzell’s style was a primary influence on the next generation of country singers, as artists like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson took a page out of his playbook. Of Lefty, the great George Jones said that “He was so different, you know. My lord, he’d take a word and twist it around and the way he’d do that phrasin’, that just tore me up.” The proof of Frizzell’s unique genius is captured on Treasures Untold: The Early Recordings Of Lefty Frizzell. This 1980 Rounder Records compilation brings together music (some previously unreleased) from his hottest stretch, 1950-53. Songs like ‘How Long Will It Take (To Stop Loving You)’ and ‘Shine, Shave, Shower (It’s Saturday)’ still sound completely unique in the annals of Country Music. And if you listen closely, you might even hear the sound of young people falling in love…