October 06, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Lefty Frizzell: The Honky-tonk Life of Country Music's Greatest Singer

Current Status
In Season
Daniel Cooper
Music, Biography
We gave it a C

The name Lefty Frizzell is a musty footnote for today’s boot-scootin’ country clubbers, but from 1950 to 1952, only Hank Williams rivaled him as the most popular country singer alive. Frizzell’s broken-vowel vocal style — delivered with a soulful intimacy — all but defined the hard-country tradition and became a major influence on subsequent stars Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, and Keith Whitley. This first biography of the man behind ”If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” and ”Always Late (With Your Kisses)” does a good job of marshaling the facts of Frizzell’s musical ascendancy and his quick, sad decline, brought on by self-destruction (whiskey, wild philandering, and unreliability at shows), bad business deals, and disillusionment. From all accounts, Lefty Frizzell, who died at 47 in 1975, was a highly charismatic figure, but author Cooper, more of an historian than a biographer, fails to telegraph that in his anecdotes. His prose is often slow going and riddled with clumsy phrases and transitions, and undisciplined use of quotations. Still, enough fascinating cameos (Elvis, George Jones, and Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby) walk through this story to keep you reading, and in the end, Lefty Frizzell: The Honky-tonk Life of Country Music’s Greatest Singer drives you back to the source — Lefty’s elegiac, three-minute battles with immortality. C

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