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Deep roots

David Frizzell brings decades of country music history to Lansing performance


Country artist David Frizzell produced a string of hit records in the 1970s and 1980s, but his biggest hit — the 1981 duet, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” with Shelly West — almost never saw the light of day.

“I was out in California working with Buck Owens, and my brother introduced me to Shelly West,” Frizzell explained.

Frizzell recorded a few duet demos with West —daughter of country star Dottie West — and sent them off to producer Thomas “Snuff” Garrett, best known for his work with Sonny & Cher.

“Snuff told me, ‘If you look as good as you sound, I’ll make you the Sonny & Cher of country music,’” Frizzell said.

He and West set to work on recording an album, but while they were finishing the recording, the record label Garrett had lined up for the project dissolved. Garrett pitched the album to several record labels, but none of them were interested. At the time, Garrett was also music supervisor for the 1980 film “Any Which Way You Can,” starring Clint Eastwood. In a last ditch effort, Garrett pitched “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” to Eastwood. He loved the song and wanted to use it in the film, so Garrett struck a deal.

“Snuff told (Eastwood), ‘If you help me get a record deal for this, I’ll give you half of everything,’” Frizzell said.

Eastwood held up his end of the bargain, and the Frizzell & West album, “Carryin’ On the Family Names,” was released on Warner/ Viva in 1981. “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” hit No. 1 on the country charts, and follow-up singles “A Texas State of Mind” and “Husbands and Wives” hit No. 9 and No. 16 on the charts, respectively. The album peaked at No. 6 on the country music charts.

Frizzell hit the top of the charts again in 1982 as a solo artist. “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home” hit No. 1 on the country charts and helped drive its album, “The Family’s Fine, But This One’s All Mine,” to No. 7 on the charts. West and Frizzell parted ways in 1986, but he continued to tour and record music as a solo artist.

Monday, Frizzell comes to Lansing Community College’s Dart Auditorium to perform a fundraiser concert for the Capital City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 141. Frizzell, 74, said the concert will feature songs spanning his six-decade-long career, as well as some holiday favorites.

Frizzell’s live show also features songs written by his older brother, the late country legend William “Lefty” Frizzell. David Frizzell started playing in his brother’s band when he was 14. By 16 he was opening shows for his brother, and by 18 he was recording country and rockabilly albums for Columbia Records.

“Lefty taught me everything. How to get on stage, what to do when I got on stage, how to get off stage. He was my total inspiration,” Frizzell said. “He was an unbelievable person, one of the founders of honky tonk — but he was also my brother.”

Lefty Frizzell died in 1975 at 47. Since then, David Frizzell has championed his older brother’s legacy. In 2011, he authored the biography “I Love You A Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story.” He has also written an as-yet-unproduced screenplay based on his brother’s life and continues to play his music at nearly all of his live performances.

“I do some of Lefty’s big hits,” said Frizzell. “I inherited those, in a way.”

Frizzell’s list of influences also includes country music stalwarts like Johnny Cash and Jimmie Rodgers, as well as rock ‘n’ roller Buddy Holly and soul music pioneer Ray Charles.

“I’ve never heard anyone put so much emotion into a song. (Charles) could get more out of a grunt than most people can get out of a whole song,” Frizzell said. “I learned to play piano because of him.”

Even at 74, Frizzell shows no signs of slowing down. When asked if he plans to retire, he just laughs it off.

“Well then what would I do?” he asked. “I’m still going to play songs and write songs.”

For his latest project, “Frizzell & Friends Roundup,” he even put himself to work as a cowhand. Inspired by the classic cowboy songs of his youth, Frizzell put together a group of country music stars to go on an actual cattle drive.

“I’ve been wanting to do a cattle drive for ages,” Frizzell explained. “I’m a big fan of the old songs of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and I love Western music.”

Frizzell’s posse included Lacy J. Dalton, Rex Allen Jr. and Marty Haggard, son of Merle Haggard. The group herded cattle by day and sang campfire songs by night, traveling from Custer to Roundup, Mont. The experience, which was capped off by an evening concert in Roundup, was edited into a made-for-TV special — which aired last month on RFD-TV — and spawned a threedisc collection: a CD of campfire songs, a live concert CD and a DVD featuring the TV special and behind-the-scenes footage.

“I think John Wayne would’ve been proud of us, riding all day and singing all night out on the Montana range,” said Frizzell.

City Pulse is giving away three pairs of tickets to see David Frizzell. To enter, visit lansingcitypulse.com.

Winners will be selected Friday.

Country Music At Its Best With David Frizzell

7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14 $20/$35 for two tickets Dart Auditorium, Lansing Community College 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing (800) 810-7410


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