The Way It Was In ’51


1951 belonged to Lefty Frizzell. Just a year after his first record came out, he had four songs in the country top ten simultaneously, joined the Grand Ole Opry, and shared top billing on a tour with Hank Williams. Lefty was just 23, and his future looked bright indeed.

But Lefty enjoyed a drink, and when he drank he got nasty. He also enjoyed the company of young women, and on occasion they were a bit too young. He’d done time in 1947 after a statutory rape conviction, and a similar arrest, this one backstage at the Opry, did his reputation no good. He had some difficulty with the business end of things, too, firing his manager (who later sued him) and his band. By 1953, Lefty’s career was pretty well shot. He kept recording, and toured now and then, but drinking took its toll on his music and his spirit. He did hit the charts in 1959 with Long Black Veil, and again in 1964 with Saginaw, Michigan, but for Lefty, ’51 was the high point. He died of a stroke in 1975, at the age of 47.

There was a Lefty revival of sorts (helped along by an incredible Bear Family reissue) in the 1980s, but his reputation has never gotten back to where it should be. He came to Nashville from the oilfields of Texas, and blended the hard edge of the Texas honky-tonks with the smoother Nashville sound in a way that’s never been matched. Lefty was a huge influence on Merle Haggard, and through him to a whole generation of country singers. If you want to hear more, Look What Thoughts Will Do is a two-CD set that has all the Lefty you’ll ever need.

Here’s a great video of Lefty Frizzell singing one of those 1951 hits, Mom and Dad’s Waltz. Please enjoy.

3 Responses to “The Way It Was In ’51”

  1. Paul Says:

    Lefty is the man! (Or at least one of them.)

  2. Duncan Walls Says:

    I was in a country band back in the 70s and 80s and we did this one (who is that Steel player!) and Long Black Veil (as much as I love The Band’s version Lefty’s SCARES me) and I Love You A Thousand Ways which ended up being sung at my first of three weddings. I always loved Willie’s tribute LP “To Lefty” very much also.

  3. Willie Wrote It, Patsy Sang It « Harry’s Music Says:

    […] Harry’s Music Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music « The Way It Was In ‘51 […]

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