Updated: Mar 31
Lefty Frizzell was arguably one of the most influential vocal stylists in music.
Before Lefty the plaintive folk inspired vocal intonations were the standard fare in country music. That and the crooning of the Hollywood movie star cowboys saturated the country radio airwaves. Lefty successfully smoothed the almost nasally, and often monotone howls in honky tonk music, and made it more sonically appealing.
If you want to know more about Lefty you should check out this blog post I wrote that really breaks down all his accomplishments. This post however is about his "almost" signature song "Mom & Dad Waltz. I think in order to understand the song you have to know a thing or two about Lefty's parents whom he cherished.
Lefty' was named after his grandfather William Frizzell, and after his father Naamon Orville Frizzell. Lefty was not a name affectionately given by his family or friends. It was given to him after a fight with some neighborhood bullies. Lefty had a mean left hook, and well the rest is history.
Naamon Orville Frizzell, Lefty's father, was a redheaded roughneck from Arkansas. He worked the oil fields with his dad by the time he was 13. He pulled his own weight, and earned the same as the rest of the adult men. Due to his strong work ethic, and remarkable competence Lefty's dad earned the respect of the rough, and tumble oil riggers, which was not easy. He left school, and continued working in oil.
It's thought that Lefty's dad was affectionately known as Red due to the color of his hair. He met Lefty's mom AD Cox near Corsicana, Texas while working. They were both still teens when Lefty came into the world on March 31, 1928. AD Cox was a loving mother with a great sense of humor despite the tragedies in her life.
Possibly one of the most horrific experiences happened when she was only 7 years old.
AD's father slashed his own throat. She saw him coming back to the house, and stumbling. When he came closer to the house she saw that he was bleeding. He died shortly after.
AD's mother was an old-fashioned, and hard working woman. For some reason she did not like Red. AD married him without her mother's blessing. She never did warm up to him, but loved her grandchildren. Lefty's mother did not have an easy life with Red. It's important to remember that this was during the Great Depression.. The times were not easy for anyone, but somehow they kept it together.
His relationship with his father was rock solid, but it did have its peaks, and valleys. There was a time teen Lefty took care of the family financially because his dad had left to find work outside of the area. His paternal aunt bought Lefty a bike which he used to work, and to ride his mom around.
Also there was a time Lefty stepped in because Red was hitting AD. I think that started a new chapter in their relationship. Lefty was a grown man with a wife, and daughter AND he could beat Red handedly, if need be. I like to think that caused in Red some deep respect towards his son Lefty.
It does seem to me from all I've read that Lefty inherited his talent, and love for music from his mother. She often would get up, and dance when Lefty busked in the local area. He may have gotten his good looks from her too. One thing is for certain, his parents, and family believed in his talent.
Mom & Dad's Waltz is a very special song indeed. It would be normal to think that the fight between Red, and Lefty would have soured things a bit. But when Lefty was down on his luck, and received an offer to front the house band at the Ace of Clubs Red drove down to help his son out. Lefty did not have a way to get to the club. Red came into town, bought a car for Lefty, and told him to call, if he needed any additional help.
Mom and Dad's Waltz was an idea Lefty had to honor his mother by way of song. But as he started writing it he felt it might upset his father, if he was not included in the song. Lefty went to visit his folks, and sneaked away to his car. There by the dashboard light, and only his sister Betty as a witness he wrote Mom & Dad's Waltz.
The song is about Lefty's love for his parents. There is one line in particular that is telling:
Lefty did work, and slave for his parents, and never complained. As most great classics especially in country music, the truth resonates, echoes, and impels. Loretta Lynn
said it was one of the first songs she ever learned. Merle Haggard was so moved by the song that it compelled him to write Momma Tried. Another classic that had a big slice of Merle Haggard's life in it.
In May 1951 Mom & Dad's Waltz was recorded, and was released in July. It was one of Lefty's biggest hits reaching #2 on the Country charts. Lefty gave all the royalties to his parents. Unfortunately, Red's drinking got worse, and Lefty started saving the royalties from the song. He would give the royalties to his mother whenever she needed it.
Interesting Fact: Pop Star Patti Page Also Recorded The Song, And Had a Top 20 Hit With It!
Mom and Dad's Waltz would rise almost to the very top of the "Most Played Country Songs" chart, a precursor to Billboard. And it probably would have gone to #1, if it hadn't been for a pesky little ditty that would be recorded by several, but never with he same success of the original version. Of course I'm talking about Lefty's "Always Late." It's unbelievable how no-one could stop Lefty 1n 1951.. No-one, but Lefty himself..
Mom and Dad's Waltz