In any discussion about the greatest voices in Country music, David Frizzell’s name is certain to come up, at least among those who really know Country music. David Frizzell's voice no doubt shares a vocal resemblance to his older brother, the ultimate stylist, Lefty Frizzell. David Frizzell himself became a Country star in his own right during the 1980's, with the advice and direction from Lefty Frizzell.
While David did find his own stardom in Country music, he is the first person to say his story cannot be told without sharing his brother Lefty's impact on his journey. David Frizzell has also struggled during his lifetime to make sure that his brother received the acclaim that he and many others felt Lefty Frizzell so rightly deserved. Lefty and David's story are intertwined and any story on David Frizzell would be amiss if it didn't acknowledge their relationship.
David Frizzell, the son of an oil field worker, was born September 26, 1941, in El Dorado, AK.. David Frizzell lived all over Texas starting in Greenville Texas in the early ’40s when his dad went to Europe in WW2. He had his first radio show at the age of 9 in Kermit, Texas, then on to Sulphur Springs where they lived, at which time Lefty got his first number one hit and younger brother Allen was born.
David remembers his family moving around a lot during his youth, mostly in Texas to follow his father's work in the fields. He laughs recalling that for some reason the family always seemed to move at midnight. David also recalls with fondness the times his older brother Lefty (17 years his senior), would visit the family wherever they might be located. There is no argument that Lefty Frizzell was adored by his younger brother and at the age of 12, David hitchhiked to California to join Lefty.
Upon David's arrival in California, Lefty added the youth to his touring show with him which continued through the 1950s and 1960s and also persuaded Columbia to sign him in 1958. Nothing came of the deal however the time David spent touring with his brother on the concert circuit and exposed David to many of the mightiest names in Country music.
By his 18th birthday, David Frizzell began recording Country and Rockabilly albums for Columbia Records. A four-year hitch in the military slowed David's emerging musical career however Columbia immediately re-signed Frizzell after his discharge. By 1953 Lefty Frizzell’s extended stay at the top of the charts (thirteen Top Ten hits in roughly two years’ time) had ended, but he remained a popular star on the road with his brother David alongside and absorbing and learning every step of the way.
In 1954 Lefty Frizzell had embarked on a grueling three-month tour backed by musicians from the Louisiana Hayride. The tour bankrolled a Frizzell family relocation to Southern California, and they ultimately settled in Northridge. While in California, Lefty Frizzell became a regular on the television program Town Hall Party (he had previously made a succession of sell-out appearances on Hometown Jamboree), starred in the first Country concert ever held at the Hollywood Bowl (August 6, 1955), and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As the 1950's neared a close, Lefty Frizzell scored a pair of back-to-back hits with “Cigarettes and Coffee Blues” and his original, classic version of “The Long Black Veil.”
In 1963, Lefty Frizzell recorded the last #1 record of his career, “Saginaw, Michigan.” It topped the charts early in 1964 and was nominated for a Grammy. By 1972 Lefty Frizzell had befriended songwriter Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer, with whom he began co-writing. Their collaborations included “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” two of the most well-known songs in Frizzell’s catalog. (The former was a #1 hit for Johnny Rodriguez in 1973–74 and for Merle Haggard in 1984.) Frizzell’s own versions of the two songs appeared on his 1973 ABC album 'The Legendary Lefty Frizzell' which was followed a year later by 'The Classic Style of Lefty Frizzell'.
It was Lefty Frizzell that told his younger sibling David that the world doesn't need another Lefty Frizzell or Merle Hagard, it needs to know who David Frizzell is, and that is who David needed to discover. While Lefty Frizzell also encouraged David to relocate to Nashville to be discovered as a star in his own right, David had a different philosophy as to when the right time to relocate was. David wanted to have a hit before he moved to Nashville, so that Nashville would welcome him as an artist with a hit, to avoid being lumped in with the multitude of struggling Country artists arriving in Nashville at that time.
Lefty Frizzell died in 1975. Lefty was acknowledged by the legends of Country music such as Merle Haggard who stated that Lefty was, “The most unique thing that ever happened to Country music,” and by William Orville as follows, "“Lefty” Frizzell was certainly one of the most influential performers in Country music history. " Lefty Frizzell left a legacy of being a supreme vocal stylist, and having introduced an intimate, vowel-bending style of singing that was internalized by countless younger stars in the years since Frizzell burst to stardom in 1950, including Merle Haggard, George Jones, Roy Orbison, George Strait, Keith Whitley, and Randy Travis who have all paid him homage. However David Frizzell did not believe the industry itself had properly respected his brother Lefty's contributions to Country music and it has been a passion in his life to correct that wrong and pay tribute to his late brother.
Moving on, David gradually created his own artistic identity. He recorded and charted the first Country version of “L.A. International Airport”, months before Susan Raye made it a hit and followed it with a Top 40 rendition of “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” the B. J. Thomas Pop favorite. David Frizzell then parlayed his recording successes into headlining Country shows in Las Vegas. This bold move opened the Vegas gates for many other Country acts. During the 1970s, Frizzell appeared regularly on Buck Owens’ All American TV Show and began recording for Capitol Records.
It was in the early 1980s, David Frizzell founded the musical duo of Frizzell and West. His partner in this exciting enterprise was the gorgeous and gifted Shelly West, daughter of country superstar Dottie West. After recording “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” to showcase their fresh sound, Frizzell and West suffered the indignity of being turned down as an act by every major Country label. However, their then producer, Snuff Garrett, played the song for Clint Eastwood while they were in a car together, figuring he had 'a captive audience'.
Eastwood loved it and insisted on adding “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” to the soundtrack of his forthcoming film, Any Which Way You Can. This vote of confidence soon earned Frizzell and West a record contract with Warner Bros. and things really started to happen. A small radio station in Tulare, California was the first to play it, when it was still an album track. Other stations quickly followed, prompting Warner Bros. to release it as a single. In short order, the song that nobody wanted became a smash hit.
Frizzell and West went on to become one of the hottest and most awarded acts in the business. They recorded five albums together, won the Country Music Association’s Vocal Duo of the Year award for 1981 and 1982, the Academy of Country Music award for Vocal Duet of the Year for 1981 and 1982 as well as the ACM Song of the Year award in 1981. They consistently sold out arenas worldwide. Frizzell and West also garnered Music City News Awards for Duet of the Year in 1982 and 1983 as well as Music City News’ Song of the Year award in 1982.
During his duet years with West, David Frizzell also continued his solo career. In 1982, Frizzell released “I’m Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home,” which made its way to number one. Frizzell created his label Nashville America Records and has released several albums including Frizzell & Friends: This Is Our Time which includes a bonus track, written in honor of Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, and traditional music in general. “Lefty, Merle & Me” features David with Marty Haggard.
David Frizzell's has released at least eight albums and compilations between 2005 and 2019 which feature guest performances by Merle Haggard, Crystal Gayle, Johnny Lee, Gene Watson, Joe Stampley, Jeannie Seely, T. Graham Brown, Lacy J. Dalton, Bobby Bare, Helen Cornelius, Jimmy Fortune (of the Statler Brothers), John Cowan (New Grass Revival), Johnny Rodriguez, Amy Clawson and brother Allen Frizzell featuring Tess Frizzell to name a few.
Besides his CMA awards, Frizzell has won numerous performing and recording trophies from the Academy of Country Music, Billboard and Music City News. In addition, he has been nominated for three Grammys, both as part of Frizzell and West duet and as a solo act.
David Frizzell also organized a special project for the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation, a charitable group dedicated to music education. Buddy Holly was one of David's most notable influences in his music, and the project culminated in the 2014 release of The Buddy Holly Country Tribute, a 21-track collection (on CD and DVD) that pays homage to the Rock’n’Roll pioneer. The collection includes cuts from Frizzell as well as Merle Haggard, Helen Cornelius, Jimmy Fortune, T. Graham Brown, and Sonny Curtis.
David Frizzell will be inducted later this year into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame on August 13th 2022 along with the late legendary Buddy Holly. David is not only thrilled with the honor of being inducted, he also considers it an enormous honor to be inducted at the same time as Buddy Holly who he has always idolized.
It took to David Frizzell's concerted efforts with others, to the amazement of Country music insiders and fans, until 1982 for Lefty Frizzell’s achievements to be honored by being elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2011, David’s tribute book to his big brother, I Love You A Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story, was published by Santa Monica Press. CMT named it as one of the best music books of the year. The audio version of the book features David’s heart-felt and emotional narration, along with some of Lefty’s music. Frizzell also continued to work on a television tribute in a documentary form to his late brother Lefty Frizzell which he is just being completed. Be sure to watch for the airing of the this special tribute to Lefty Frizzell, a project that is so very personal and important to David Frizzell to honor his late brother.
David has also created a series of children’s records and books, projects that promise to keep this prolific artist, producer and songwriter busier than ever.
David Frizzell is a timeless and tireless entertainer who continues to share his many gifts including through touring, to the delight of fans old and new across the US and throughout the world. David Frizzell's voice is the forlorn, stripped-down quality of singing that is so essential to interpreting traditional Country themes, a perfect instrument for electrifying the lyrics of a song.
BY DEBORAH GIBSON
His Frizzell and Friends series of CD, DVD, and television collaborations have brought together some of country music’s top performers. Guests have included Merle Haggard, Jeannie Seely, Crystal Gayle, Bobby Bare, Gene Watson, Johnny Rodriguez, Johnny Lee, Joe Stampley, T. Graham Brown, Lacy J. Dalton, Helen Cornelius, Amy Clawson, and others.