There’s a restaurant in East Nashville, Marché, where I sometimes have Sunday brunch with my parents. I would never eat there otherwise. It’s a bit fancy (read: expensive) for my taste, but who can resist a free Bloody Mary? Not me.
Marché doesn’t have its own parking lot, but there are a few meter spots and plenty of paid parking across the street at Woodland Studios. That building has seen countless great and not-so-great artists pass through its doors, especially when it was known as Woodland Sound Studio. I get chills every time I pull in to that lot. Why? The absolute greatest (read: my absolute favorite) country records ever made were cut in that building by William Orville Frizzell.
I’ll give you a quick rundown on Lefty Frizzell, in case you’re not familiar. He was born in Texas in 1928. Got the nickname Lefty because of his mean left hook. Married young to a girl named Alice. Spent time in jail for cheating on Alice with a girl who claimed to be of legal, consenting age, but wasn’t. While in jail, Lefty wrote (singlehandedly, although Jim Beck gets co-write credit) one of the most timeless country songs ever, “I Love You A Thousand Ways.” He spent the next twenty-plus years making some of the best music I’ve ever heard, but he never saw the lasting commercial success his talent warranted. Lefty died in 1975, at the tender age of forty-seven, following decades of heavy drinking, high blood pressure and a fatal stroke.
Lefty Frizzell left a legacy that not many can top. No one could, can or ever will bend a note the way that he could. At his peak, Lefty let a persistent young kid take the stage for a few songs, when no one else would give him a shot. That kid was Merle Haggard. There are songs written about Lefty. Willie Nelson put out an entire LP dedicated to him. About a month ago, I watched and (perhaps drunkenly) cheered (perhaps obnoxiously) as Sturgill Simpson closed his cd release show with “I Never Go Around Mirrors.” Lefty was and still is a force to reckon with, thirty-eight years after his death.
To call myself a Lefty Frizzell fan is a gross understatement. I’ve driven to the house where he had the stroke. I’ve sprawled out on his grave and wept. I’m not talking a few tears streaming down my cheek. It was a big, loud, ugly cry. I buy every record. I read every book and article. I watch every video I can find. Why do I do this? Every note he sang hits me square in the gut every single time I hear them. Lefty didn’t know it, but he was singing to me, to my happiness, to my pain. He understood me, or I understand him.
Lefty’s releases on Columbia Records, the label he called home for most of his career, are great. While most people know songs such as “If You’ve Got The Money” and “Saginaw, Michigan”, “Stranger” and “Through The Eyes Of A Fool” are my favorites from that era – impeccable and devastating.
But there is something about those early- to mid-70’s ABC recordings, the ones Lefty cut at Woodland Sound Studio, the last songs he would ever put to tape. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the older, wiser tone of his raspy, liquor-weary voice. Maybe the songs were better written. Whatever it is, I do know that the emotions I feel in every breath of those tracks resonate deeper within me than fifteen “If You’ve Got The Money’s” ever could.
Want to laugh? Listen to “My House Is Your Honky Tonk.” Want to cry? Put on “I’m Not That Good At Goodbye.” Want to have your still-beating heart ripped out of your chest? A pint of Johnnie Red and “I Buy The Wine” will take care of that.
It doesn’t matter what you’re feeling. Lefty felt it first, he felt it deeper and he’ll help your sorry ass through it. Trust me. Cheapest therapy I’ve ever had.
~ Whitney Holmes
Whitney Holmes is a music industry professional living in Nashville, TN. She loves Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Paycheck and Raising Arizona. She likes to two-step with pretty boys at the honky tonks on Lower Broadway. Buy her a pack of Camels and a Coors Original, and she’ll be your friend forever or the weekend, whichever comes first.
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