photo courtesy of Nasvhille Songwriters Foundation
By Edd HurtDallas Frazier walks like a big man who is unaccustomed to his size, as if he stepped into the wrong pair of shoes and forgot to lift his feet out again. He's just come on stage at Nashville's Texas Troubadour Theater, where country singer Connie Smith has introduced him as one of America's finest songwriters. She should know; Smith recorded 68 of Frazier's songs at the peak of her popularity in the 1960's and '70's, including one she's already done tonight—"I Love Charley Brown," the title track of her 1968 RCA LP.
Frazier is 68 and sounds a little winded, but he sings two of his compositions—"All I Have to Offer You Is Me," a 1969 Charley Pride hit, and "Fourteen Carat Mind," which Gene Watson cut in 1981. He's still got a voice, and the phrasing is there. Most likely, Dallas Frazier hasn't been on a stage anywhere in over thirty years. He's been away from the music business since 1976, and these days lives with his wife in Gallatin, Tennessee, a town a few miles northeast of Nashville. They'll be celebrating their golden wedding anniversary this summer.
Born in Spiro, Oklahoma on October 27, 1939, Dallas Frazier moved with his family to Bakersfield, California when he was two- and- a- half years old. He started working in Ferlin Husky's band when he was twelve, recorded for Capitol when he was fourteen, and in the late '50's wrote "Alley Oop," a primal bit of nonsense that became a hit for the Hollywood Argyles, Dante & the Evergreens, and the Dyna-Sores in the 1960's. Moving to Nashville in 1963, Frazier wrote country material for Smith, George Jones, and Jack Greene. He wrote for Charlie Rich during Rich's most fertile period: "Mohair Sam," "She's a Yum Yum," "Just a Little Bit of You," and "Moonshine Minnie."
On his own in Nashville, Frazier recorded "Elvira" and "Tell It Like It Is!" - two slices of mid-'60's white soul that bear comparison to the work Joe Tex was doing in Nashville around the same time. Frazier and a crew of top-flight session cats rewrote New Orleans R&B on "Done Made Up My Mind," while "That Ain't No Stuff" finds Frazier calling the repo man on a lazy, live-in woman. They're accomplished records (Australia's Raven label reissued them earlier this year as The R&B Sessions, complete with bonus tracks).
Frazier made another couple of albums in the early '70's, this time for RCA. 1970's Singing My Songs features his great collaboration with Earl Montgomery, "California Cottonfields," which was covered by Merle Haggard and Gram Parsons. "Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp" and "I Just Got Tired of Being Poor" are class-conscious in the great Nashville-liberal tradition, and benefit from the countrypolitan overproduction that mars some of the record. "Will You Visit Me on Sunday?" features strings, harpsichord and pedal steel; Singing My Songs is awash in backup singers that don't always enhance Frazier's high tenor.
After releasing My Baby Packed Up My Mind and Left Me in 1971, Frazier continued his songwriting but ceased performing. He left the music business in 1976. Lately, he's been writing again, and says he's been cutting demos of his new songs. I caught up with Dallas at the Cracker Barrel restaurant on Long Hollow Pike, just outside Nashville, where he ordered the vegetable plate— trying to cut down, he says. With his neat goatee and his alert eyes, he looked like the rock and roller he's always been.
Perfect Sound Forever: You moved from Oklahoma to California in the early '40s. What was that experience like?
Dallas Frazier: We were part of The Grapes of Wrath. We were the Okies who went out to California with mattresses tied on the tops of their Model A Fords. My folks were poor. At twelve I moved away from home, with my folks' permission. Ferlin [Husky] offered me a job, and I started working with him when I was twelve. Then I recorded a side for Capitol Records when I was fourteen, and I did some country. I cut in the big circular building that's still out there on Hollywood and Vine.
PSF: It sounds like you were a fan of '50's rock and roll.
DF: All the old guys—the rock and rollers in the '50's—were heroes of mine. And it wasn't just rock and roll. I had a flair for the blues. I played trumpet when I was a kid, on up until I was about 21 years old. I had country roots, but I had this other thing goin' on with me. I wasn't stuck in this one field of music. I had other things going on inside my soul.
PSF: Any particular artists you really liked?
DF: I loved Fats Domino but the one who influenced me just tremendously is Jack Teagarden, the trombonist. He was a fantastic trombone man. I got to see him when I was about sixteen years old in a club in Los Angeles, 1956. He had a six-piece band, a Dixieland band: trombone, trumpet, clarinet, bass, drums, and piano. I never forgot those horns, and when I came to Nashville, that wasn't happening here. This was pretty much just country. I didn't get to create everything I wanted to because there was no outlet for it here.
PSF: When did you move to Nashville?
DF: I moved here in late 1963. Ferlin Husky offered me a job, to write for him. I lived with him when I first moved here, in Madison [a town north of Nashville] along with my wife and three small children. After about six months, we rented a little two-bedroom house with asbestos shingles. We lived in Madison until 1975, and then I bought a little farm in Gallatin and moved up there, and we've been there ever since.
PSF: How was the relationship with Husky?
DF: I started in the business with Ferlin when I was twelve years old. After I was here for a while, it wasn't working out, not because we had any disagreement but because I was trying to write and get something done, and he was on the road working a lot. I wanted somebody to push my songs.
PSF: What was your first big song?
DF: The first big one I had—I forget what it went up to in the country charts, maybe number 10 or something—was something called "Timber I'm Falling." It's not the same one that Patty Loveless did. Ferlin cut that in '64, and that was my first chart song. "There Goes My Everything" I wrote in the winter of '63 and '64, but it didn't come out until '66.
PSF: Connie Smith recorded a lot of your songs.
DF: The first one Connie cut of mine was '65. I had a hit with her called "Ain't Had No Lovin,'" and it's got a Dixieland feel to it. I cut a Dixie feel on my version. Connie tells me—I've never counted them up—she tells me that she has cut 68 of my songs.
PSF: When did you meet Charlie Rich?
DF: I met Charlie Rich in 1965. I got a funny story about "Mohair Sam." Ray Baker, the guy I was writing for at the time—he owned Blue Crest Music—he came by my house in the late afternoon, and he said, "Dallas, I was just with Charlie Rich downtown and he's gonna be recording." He said, "I told him you had a smash for him." And I said, "Oh, really? What did you have in mind?" You know, thinking he had something in mind. He said, "I don't know, I just figured you could come up with one." I started workin' that night, and worked late and couldn't come up with anything. I went to bed and I figured I'd get up real early in the morning. And I did, maybe 5:00. I had an old upright in the living room; I was living in a little shack of a house. I started banging on the piano—just barnstormin', you know, brainstorming. The idea came to me. It was just kind of a riff, and once I got an idea, then I had to frantically work, of course. [Ray] came by my house about 9:00 that morning, took it to the 10:00 session, Charlie cut it, and it was a hit.
PSF: "She's a Yum Yum" resembles "Mohair Sam." Was that a conscious effort to rewrite a hit?
DF: I don't remember anyone requesting that in particular, but the success of "Mohair Sam" definitely prompted me to write several things in that vein, in that bag. I had several songs that were good songs in that bag but they didn't happen, not here.
PSF: Did you feel confined in Nashville?
DF: I felt confined because there's a lot of things I wanted to create and didn't because it would've been just futile. Now, today, I don't feel that way about Nashville, but that's the way I felt about it then. Nobody ever said, "Dallas, you can't do this," but it was common knowledge that you did certain things. I should have had more product in the rock and roll field, definitely. Had I been living in L.A. or New York, I would have, but less country, you see.
PSF: What about "Elvira," which you wrote in the '60's? It was an enormous hit for the Oak Ridge Boys.
DF: "Elvira" is considered a country song, but it isn't. It isn't even close to a country song. I like what the Oaks did, like with the bass voice, on the recording.
PSF: In the '60's, were you aware of Bob Dylan, writers like that?
DF: No, I wasn't. I wish I would've paid more attention to those guys, because I missed a lot of great songwriting but I got so buried in the Nashville thing that there just wasn't time. I went through a period where I was really writing like on an assembly line but I got to do some things I really liked; for example, "Big Mable Murphy." [Frazier recorded the song on My Baby Packed up My Mind and Left Me] Who was the gal in the Supremes? Diana Ross? Diana Ross cut "Big Mable Murphy" and she was doin' it in her act in Vegas. I had some good bites on it but it just never happened. As a matter of fact, I'm gonna demo the song again.
PSF: Since you left the music business in 1976, you've become an ordained minister. Christianity seems like an important part of your life.
DF: I went through a thing a long time with my Christianity—a struggle. There's a dichotomous thinking in people—you know, a lot of times we can't blend things together. And I believe there are absolutes in Christianity - but then again, I threw the baby out with the bathwater. In 1976, I laid out of the music business because I was having trouble reconciling my faith and the business. It would be just like a man working for the telephone company, and he comes to Christ and gets saved and he has to quit the telephone company because there are telephones in beer joints. It has to do with an over-scrupulous conscience, really.
PSF: You've been recording lately, right?
DF: Yeah, I went into the studio last November, for the first time in many years. I think I cut a couple of demo sessions in '80 or '81, and that's the only thing I've recorded since 1975. During the time I was off, I pastored a church for seven years, in White House [Tennessee] but there was unfinished business in me. You know, something was running through my mind this morning as I was driving down to meet you. I'm tired of slick. I wanna find good.
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