by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
On July 19, 1975, Lefty Frizzell died in Nashville. Born in the East Texas town of Corsicana in 1928, Frizzell moved often as a child, following his father’s work in the oilfields of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. He became a talented singer early, working the county fair circuit and performing on radio in his teens. He made his first records in 1950 at Jim Beck’s studios in Dallas. These early hits—“Shine, Shave, Shower,” “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time”–helped establish Texas’s honky-tonk sound that combined electrical amplification, steel guitar, and themes of raucous nightlife, hard drink, and heartbreak.
In the early 1950s, Frizzell was a peer and rival of Hank Williams, Sr., country music’s next big thing. He moved to Los Angeles in 1953, hit a bit of a lull in the face of the rockabilly insurgency, and then came roaring back with classic singles “Long Black Veil” in 1959 and “Saginaw, Michigan” in 1964. By the time of his passing in 1975, his influence had spread far and wide. You can hear it in the relaxed, poignant phrasing of a singer like Willie Nelson, and see it memorialized in his hometown, where a Lefty Frizzell statue stands tall in Corsicana’s Jester Park.