Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lefty Frizzell -- "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" (1950)

If you got the money
I've got the time
We'll go honky-tonkin'
And we'll have a time . . .
But if you run short of money
I'll run short of time
'Cause you with no more money, honey
I've no more time

The last 2 or 3 lines featured the first part of my friend Kerri Griffin's guest post on David Frizzell's country hit, "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino."  If you missed it, click here.

Let's let Kerri pick up where she left off, and not only learn some more about David Frizzell but also about his older brother, country music superstar Lefty Frizzell.  Kerri, you have the floor:

The performer of "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino" is David Frizzell (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, like “gazelle” -- not like “sizzle” or “fo’ shizzle”), who is the younger brother of country music legend William “Lefty” Frizzell.  
Many entertainers in the upper echelons of country music history have pointed to Lefty Frizzell as their inspiration:  Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison and George Jones were just of few of the larger-than-life talents who were influenced by Lefty’s easy-going, yet soulful style.
Lefty Frizzell
The elder Frizzell’s career took off in the early 1950s, when he was in his early twenties.  His ascent included touring for a short time with another legend, Hank Williams, Sr.  At one point in 1951, Lefty had four songs in the country top ten at the same time.  It would be more than a decade before that accomplishment was matched -- the Beatles had five hits at the same time on the pop charts in 1964.  

Lefty Frizzell’s career flourished throughout the ‘50s and well into the ‘60s.  As with so many other great musicians, Frizzell was a heavy drinker and made poor decisions when it came to the opposite sex.  
Before he became a star, he had served time for statutory rape; ten years later he was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor (an underage girl) when his wife was pregnant with their second child.  His alcohol abuse eventually hurt his career, as missed studio sessions and erratic mood swings poisoned his relationship with his recording company, ABC Records.  
Alcoholism and hard living finally caught up with Lefty, and he died of a massive stroke on July 19, 1975, at the age of 47.  Several artists later memorialized Lefty Frizzell through musical tributes; in 1977, for example, Willie Nelson released an album of Lefty covers titled To Lefty From Willie.  Frizzell was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

David Frizzell owes his start in music to his older brother; at the age of 12 he began touring with Lefty, who was 13 years his senior.  When Lefty’s voice gave out when he was supposed to record a demo of a song he had written, he sent his younger brother to sing in his place.  When the record company guy heard David sing, he was so excited he offered him a contract.  
As a solo artist, David did not have the success of his big brother.  His first and only solo #1 hit was "Wino," which topped the country charts in August 1982.  It was also nominated for Best Country and Western Song in the 1982 Grammy Awards, losing to Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind."  (That "Wino" would be his biggest solo success seems especially poignant since David Frizzell’s niece lost her life to a drunk driver on her 32nd birthday in 1998.  David is now an avid supporter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.)
However, the following year he hooked up (musically, that is) with Shelly West, the daughter of country music legend Dottie West, and the wife of David’s younger brother, Allen Frizzell.

In 1981, the pair recorded "You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma," which was featured on the soundtrack for the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can.  

[Editor's note: I don't know this song, so I don't know how Frizzell explains God's seemingly inexplicable decision to make Oklahoma.  All I know is that (in the words of William Cowper's famous hymn) "God moves in a mysterious way/His wonders to perform."]

The duet was so popular that it was released as a single; it soared to the top of the charts and stayed in the top 40 for eleven weeks.  David and Shelly stayed together for four very successful years until their split in 1985.  (Coincidentally, or not, she and Allen Frizzell divorced about the same time.)

David has worked hard to remind people of Lefty's talent and influence on country music, even writing a biography of his brother titled I Love You a Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story, which was published in 2011.  Though he clearly idolized his brother, David didn't ignore Lefty’s darker side in his book -- not just the drinking, but also his famous bad temper, which led to physical altercations with his wife, Alice.  (She once pulled a gun on him.)

[Click below to buy Frizzell's book:]

Now that I’ve learned so much about the Frizzell brothers and their careers, I thought I should take another look at "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino."  (Can you hear the ol' Random Thought Generator starting to hum?)
It seemed odd that a man with a brother notorious for his heavy drinking and spousal abuse would perform a song that appears to make light of marital discord resulting from uncontrolled binge drinking.  But as I think about it, perhaps it makes a weird kind of sense.  For one thing, many of the lyrics actually have a relatively somber tone to them, suggesting that the song is not just an extended joke, but has a more serious meaning as well.  
Here are the first two lines of the song's chorus:
I’m gonna hire a wino to decorate our home
So you’ll feel more at ease here, and you won’t need to roam  
Perhaps alcoholics like Lefty Frizzell are never "at ease" unless they are drinking.  As for his "need to roam," we may have a chicken-and-egg situation here: did Lefty roam simply because that's what a successful musician did back then, or did he choose to become a musician so he could constantly be on the road (and away from home, where the wife might have kept a close eye on him and cramped his style)?

Another line seems to hint at a parallel between the couple in the song and Lefty and his wife:  “Instead of family quarrels, we’ll have a barroom brawl.”  For both couples (and any couple in this kind of relationship, for that matter), “brawl” might be a more honest description of episodes of marital discontent than “quarrel.”  
And surely you can’t gloss over this verse, from which the lines at the top of part one this post are taken:

She said: "You'll get friendly service, and for added atmosphere
I'll slip on something sexy, and I'll cut it clear to here
Then you can slap my bottom, every time you tell a joke
Just as long as you keep tipping, well, I'll laugh until you're broke."

She’s so fed up with sharing her husband (not to mention his paycheck) with the barflies and tarts at his usual drinking places that she’s willing to debase herself to keep track of him and the money that pays the family's bills.  (I'm betting that the money is probably the primary consideration at this point of their marriage.)
I know what you’re thinking -- "Thanks a lot, Kerri.  Way to ruin a fun song!”  
Actually, I may be reading too much into this song.  After all, David Frizzell didn’t write the song; it was written by Dewayne Blackwell, who probably intended it as nothing more than a bawdy knee-slapper that would appeal to the public.  
[Editor's note: Blackwell has written a lot of hit songs.  For example, he co-wrote the Garth Brooks hit, "Friends in Low Places."]
David Frizzell may have chosen to record the song simply in hopes of having a hit, or because his record company pushed him to do so.  But listening to the song today, I can't help but believe that he was thinking about his brother's unhappy personal life when he recorded it.
Here's a live performance of "I’m Gonna Hire a Wino":

I can’t let you go without giving you a final little nugget of trivia.  One of the lines in the song is “When the Hamm's bear says it's closing time, you won't have far to crawl.”  For those of you who weren’t of drinking age when this song came out, the “Hamm’s Bear” refers to the mascot of Hamm’s Beer.  The bear was created in 1952 and was enormously popular, appearing in Hamm's TV advertising and on clocks, lamps, and other such items that the brewery made for bars and taverns.

Kerri's mention of the line in the song that mentions Hamm's beer takes me back almost 40 years.  Hamm's was a popular brand during my college years, when my drinking buddies and I spent many summer nights at the long-departed Nina's Green Parrot bar in Galena, Kansas.  One of my friends and I became very friendly with two cousins (one male, one female -- their names escape me right now) who were the bartenders at Nina's, and even went to their house on occasion after the bar closed for the night.  

Nina's sold a lot of beer, so the local beer distributors showered the place with more free neon signs and lamps and clocks and other advertising knick-knacks than it could hold.  Our bartender friends gave us a fair amount of this swag, and one item I was especially proud of was a lovely Hamm's lamp.  It had a place of honor in my college apartments for a couple of years, but mysteriously disappeared after I brought it back home.  (Thanks for nothing, Mom.)

One final note.  The lyrics of "Wino" feature these lines: 

And when you run out of money, you'll have me to thank
You can sleep it off next morning, when I'm putting it in the bank

The "when you run out of money" phrase echoes the lines from the Lefty Frizzell song quoted above.  I doubt that was mere happenstance.  

"If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" is an all-time country classic.  It was a #1 hit for Frizzell in 1950, and also a #1 hit for Willie Nelson in 1976.  Hank Williams covered it, as did many others -- I'm sure it is performed every night of the week in bars and roadhouses all across the U. S. of A.  There's no way that Dewayne Blackwell, the guy who wrote the lyrics for "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino," wasn't familiar with that song.

The two songs fit rather neatly together.  Lefty Frizzell may have recorded "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time," but the song makes more sense if the singer is a woman.  The same is true of "Wino" -- a male singer recorded it, but the narrator of the song is clearly a woman.  In Lefty's song, the woman is telling the clueless cheating husband that she'll drop him like a hot potato as soon as he runs out of money.  In David's song, the wife is telling that same guy that he will no longer be running out of money anywhere except home -- killing two birds with one stone.

My sincere thanks to Kerri for contributing a great guest post -- not to mention one that had sufficient meat on its bones to be two posts, not just one.  If you're a football fan and a fan of good eatin' -- and who isn't? -- click here to check out her blog, Naptime Huddle.

Here's Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon: 


  1. Great post! I have only two comments.

    1. I wonder if a person really "chooses" to become a musician. It seems to me the occupation "chooses" the person.

    2. "From the land of sky blue waters - Hamm's the beer refreshing, Hamm's the beer refreshing" ........ remember that?

  2. I had planned to add a video of an old Hamm's TV spot to this post -- thanks for reminding me.

  3. Here you go.