In October of this year, the Country Music community lost a small piece of Honky Tonk history in Billy Frizzell, younger brother of the late, legendary Lefty Frizzell. Although a small benefaction, long forgotten by today’s Country, to me his contribution was important. He was larger than life. For me Uncle Bill was a missing link to Country Music’s golden era, being just three years younger than his brother Lefty and seven years older than David Frizzell, another brother who found stardom in the eighties with hits like, “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” as half of the award winning dual Frizzell & West, with Shelly West, daughter of the late Country Superstar Dottie West.
Billy Frizzell was born in Kilgore, TX in 1931, the second of nine children of Naamon and A.D. Frizzell, four of whom would make their mark in Country Music history. Although Lefty was the family music patriarch, being one of the world’s most popular country stars along with Hank Williams in the early 50’s, Uncle Bill was there from the start. The pair entered talent shows, sang on local radio as children and later headlining shows, Lefty as the star and Billy as part of Lefty’s band, The Tune Toppers, touring throughout west Texas and Southeast New Mexico.
Billy would sign and record with the record label, Four Star before being drafted to the Korean war with another Tune Topper member, Norm Stevens, whom years later would be hired to play and tour with Merle Haggard after Merle found out his musical hero’s (Lefty) old band mate lived nearby and quit playing for a number of years.
After the war, Billy would return to the tour and sign a contract with Decca without much success. He would latter make a home in CA and concentrate more on writing.
He wrote several songs, one of them with Bob Adams called “I Love You Mostly” recorded in 1954 by Lefty and released on Lefty Frizzell’s “Great Sound” Album in 1966 along with other memorable Lefty songs like, “My Baby’s Just Like Money” and “Give Me More, More, More (Of Your Kisses)”.
As the nephew of Lefty, Billy, David and the son of youngest brother Allen Frizzell, best known for penning the number one hit, “Your Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without” for Gene Watson and for his marriage to Shelly West, you can only imagine the family stories I have heard.
Some of my favorites came from Billy himself. I was fortunate enough to have many conversations with Uncle Bill over the last few years before his death, sometimes to and from Uncle David’s shows or at the nursing home in Franklin, TN where he spent his last years. We would talk about the music, writing and the old days. In one conversation I told him about some of the song ideas and hooks I had been sitting on for a while. He couldn’t get enough of that. One of the hooks he liked so much, he started coming up with lyrics right there in the car. You could see at 78 years old, he still had that creative Frizzell blood just coursing through his veins. He loved my ideas and told me he wanted to write sometime. I never had a chance to but wish I would have taken him up on that offer.
Bill was also a fan of boxing and knowing that I was a fighter for several years, our conversations would usually drift to boxing and then to the brawls he and Lefty had while touring through Texas. He once told me he couldn’t believe my nose had never been broke in ten years of fighting. He went on to tell me a great story about when he and Lefty got in a fight backstage before performing at a fair when Lefty broke his nose for the second time. He said he got even by ripping the rhinestone Nudie suit Lefty was wearing nearly to pieces. As you know, the show must go on though. So there they were on stage in front of hundreds, Lefty bruised and tore to pieces and Billy with a broken nose that wouldn’t quit bleeding.
In November of last year while researching Lefty’s Nudie suits on line for a project I had, I came across several images of Uncle Bill during his days on the road with Lefty. The best was an old publicity shot of him wearing a Nudie suit decked out with rhinestones and fringe. I saved the image knowing Christmas was around the corner and I thought it would be cool to create something for him using that image. I called Uncle David and asked him if he knew of any important Lefty shows that Bill would have opened for. He told me he opened a show on the “Louisiana Hayride” at the Shreveport, LA Municipal Auditorium in 51 for Lefty and Hank Williams.
So for Christmas I created a vintage style show poster for that show, using that old publicity shot. I made Billy the headliner and Hank and Lefty the opening acts, complete with all the information and ticket prices and delivered it to him in the nursing home.
When he seen that poster he started to cry and just stared at it for several minutes. He told me he had not seen that photo in many years. He then told me a great story about what happened to the Nudie pullover shirt he was wearing in it. He proudly hung that poster on the wall next to his bed until the day he died. There is no telling the treasure trove of stories about our Country Music history that is now laid to rest with Uncle Bill. I will always cherish the one’s he chose to tell me about.
By Corey Frizzell