My interview with hit songwriter Dallas Frazier
By Bronson Herrmuth - 02/23/2012 - 10:59 PM EST
You can listen to this entire interview: Part 1 of 2 (4.8 MB) Part 2 of 2 (3.6 MB)
What do Elvis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Quincy Jones, The Oak Ridge Boys, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ferlin Husky, Connie Smith, and a few score of other artists have in common? They've all recorded songs by mega hit songwriter, Dallas Frazier. With over 300 cuts to his credit, Dallas is still writing and still getting cuts world wide. The following is taken from a one on one interview with Dallas in Nashville on January 13th, 2012. Meet Dallas Frazier:
Bronson: How old were you when you wrote your first song?
Dallas Frazier: I was 11 years old. I was living in Bakersfield, close to Bakersfield, California and I was about 11 years old when I started writing songs.
Bronson: You write with a guitar?
Dallas Frazier: I did. I never really learned to play a guitar (laughing). I flogged it.
Bronson: (laughing) When you write, do you get the words first? What comes to you first, the melody, the lyric?
Dallas Frazier: Well, it's kind of a combination of things. Sometimes you'll get a hook, you know just a great thought and then you'll start working on it from there and adding a melody as you go along and all, and then sometimes I've had just great melodies come to me and I had to put words to them.
Bronson: Do you find that the good ones just flow out of you or do you have to work on them awhile?
Dallas Frazier: You know Bronson, it seems like to me the best ones have come real quick. You didn't have to just manufacture them, so to speak, but when you're a songwriter eventually you learn how to do it whether you're up to it or not or whether you're inspired or not. You know what I'm saying, it's your craft and you go to work and you do it but it sure is a lot easier when it just falls out of the sky on you.
Bronson: Your people are from Oklahoma?
Dallas Frazier: I am. Spiro, Oklahoma.
Bronson: And then your family moved out to California?
Dallas Frazier: During WWII, I was just about 2, 3, about 3 years old maybe, and they moved out to California. We were part of the Grapes Of Wrath, the John Steinbeck story. We loaded up an old Model A and all of our belongings tied onto it and what have you, and went to California and wound up in the Bakersfield area.
Bronson: Well everybody's got somebody that got them into this thing and got them started. Who was your person who first heard your songs and said you were a good writer?
Dallas Frazier: My first experience in professional music was with Ferlin Husky. He was working an old dance hall called the Rainbow Gardens, just south of Bakersfield close to where I lived and I heard on the radio he was having a talent contest. I went to the Rainbow Gardens and entered the contest and I won it and he offered me a job that night.
Bronson: How old were you?
Dallas Frazier: I was 12.
Bronson: 12 years old. Now the job he offered you, what was it?
Dallas Frazier: Well, working with him singing, actually as a featured singer.
Bronson: In his act?
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, with his band.
Bronson: So at 12 years old you were on stage?
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, I was on stage and in the big time (laughing). It wasn't really big but I thought it was (laughing).
Bronson: You've had such a huge career, your songs have been recorded by everybody. Just looking at the folks who have cut your songs is almost like looking at a who's who in the music business. Who was the first person to cut your song, what was your first cut?
Dallas Frazier: The first thing, well I recorded myself. Some of my first songs, the very first song I got recorded were songs that I wrote myself. I signed with Capitol Records when I was 14 years old and I wrote the material, most of the material that I recorded then. One song was called, "Ain't You had No Bringin' Up At All".
Bronson: I love that (laughing)!
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, I wrote that when I was about 13 years old.
Bronson: So you were signed as Dallas Frazier? So you've never used any other name or used any band name?
Dallas Frazier: No. No, I've always used Dallas Frazier. My record, they didn't really do much with Capitol, I had 2 or 3 releases and then that fizzled out and then of course later on up in the 60's I signed with Capitol Records again.
Bronson: Now what brought you to Nashville? How did you come to be in Nashville?
Dallas Frazier: I was living in Portland, Oregon, and Ferlin Husky came through Portland on a tour and he was doing a date in Portland. I had kind of gotten out of the business and all, but anyway I heard about Ferlin and I went to see him and he said, "Dallas, what are you doing?" and I said, "Well not a whole lot." and he said, "Well why don't you come back to Nashville and write songs for me?" I said, "Okay, I will." (laughing)
Bronson: So he put you on staff here in Nashville?
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, it was just like that and just like the snap of a finger I made the decision. So my wife and I and 2 of our little girls, we came to Nashville on a train, on an old train and got off down here at Union Station and boy it was a different time then and a different place. This would be the fall of 1963.
Bronson: Wow. You came in '63 and you were writing for Ferlin Husky's company?
Dallas Frazier: That's right.
Bronson: Were you pitching your own songs or did he have a song plugger?
Dallas Frazier: He had some people that were, like managed his firm but there weren't a lot of pitching going on there, but he did have some people managing his publishing company. One of the guys pitched a song to Jack Greene and he held it for a long, long, time and he finally cut the song, "There Goes My Everything". Now I wrote "There Goes My Everything" when I first got to town, that winter of '63 and '64.
Bronson: Wow, what a huge hit.
Dallas Frazier: And you know what Bronson? That was one of those songs that just came, you know, it just came. I wrote it about Ferlin really, it was part of his life story and his experience. He was getting a divorce and that gave me the inspiration to write the song.
Bronson: Do you have any idea how many cuts you've had?
Dallas Frazier: You know, I don't. I know it would be a few hundred because it's been cut so many times. All kinds of orchestras and what have you, it's been cut many, many times. Through different nations, other languages and what have you.
Bronson: It's got to be exciting to hear other people interpret what you wrote. What's the song you wrote, that when you heard the way they recorded it, it really set you back and you couldn't even imagine that arrangement or styling to your song?
Dallas Frazier: Okay. I have been delighted many times really, with what people did with one of my songs, the production and all. One of my favorite of all times, of course Ferlin, he did a great job on the songs that he did of mine, but Connie Smith comes to mind. She just always really hooked them, Connie did, and Brenda Lee, she did a couple of my things. Bless her heart I tell you what, she just hooked them, and Jack Greene. I was just amazed at "There Goes My Everything", the way he did that, and also Englebert Humperdink, what a great record he did on "There Goes My Everything".
Bronson: You actually had a song recorded by Elvis too didn't you?
Dallas Frazier: Yes, I had 5 songs recorded by Elvis.
Bronson: What would be the one that would be the one that was the biggest of those that everyone would know?
Dallas Frazier: "There Goes My Everything".
Bronson: When he did his version of that?
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, he had a single on it, a hit single.
Bronson: Now when that was happening, were you able to be in the studio when they were doing those or most of the time were you not there? Were you there?
Dallas Frazier: No, well a lot of times I was if the artist was local. You know like Connie's sessions or Jack Greene's sessions or something like that. They would invite me in.
Bronson: How do you feel about co-writing? Do you do much co-writing?
Dallas Frazier: I did quite a bit of co-writing, yes. I wrote a lot of things with Doodle Owens, and quite a few things with Whitey Shaefer, and several others. Larry Lee, I did a couple of things with Larry. "14 Karat Mind" was one that we did with Larry and what a great record Gene Watson got on that. You know that probably is one of the best examples of getting a hit song really produced as a hit song.
Bronson: When I worked for John Denny, Larry Lee was a staff writer for John. That's when I first met Larry so we go back to the early '80s.
Dallas Frazier: Yes.
Bronson: So today when you write, it's the same exact thing right? You pick up that guitar, is that how you do it still?
Dallas Frazier: Well, now I play a little guitar, I play mostly piano when I'm writing. I started leaning that way and then finally I just fell over on it (laughing). But I like piano and I play more piano than guitar.
Bronson: Do you ever play out anymore? Do you ever get up at songwriter nights?
Dallas Frazier: Every once in a while I'll do something like the Bluebird Cafe or something like that.
Bronson: I bet you still enjoy that don't you?
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, you know what? I've always been nervous on stage and I'm still intimidated when I get up there, I'm just like a kid doing it for the first time. I'm amazed that anxiety is still stirring in me but it is, but I like to go out every once in a while and do it.
Bronson: So you got totally away from songwriting for a while didn't you?
Dallas Frazier: Yes I did. I got into the ministry, the Christian ministry as a minister and I was away for about 30 years. From about '76 to about 2006. I did a few things in the middle of that sabbatical but for the most part I was inactive.
Bronson: What inspired you to get back at it? Did you just wake up one day and just ...?
Dallas Frazier: Well I had laid it down and I really missed it. I really missed doing it and I felt like God gave me a green light really to do some unfinished things that were stirring in me. It's hard to explain it but I prayed about it and I just felt like that God gave me a green light to do it, and I'm still in the ministry but I'm not pastoring or anything like that. I stepped down in 2006 from pastoring a church.
Bronson: Do you write gospel, christian style music?
Dallas Frazier: I do, I do. Yeah, Whitey and I had a hit song called, "The Baptism of Jessie Taylor". I don't know if you remember that one or not but it's done quite well and I've written several things. Connie Smith recorded some of my gospel songs, I've had several, yeah.
Bronson: If you had a choice, if you could say, I'd love to have this person record my song that hadn't recorded one yet, is there any singers out there that you'd like to hear singing your songs? Who's your favorite?
Dallas Frazier: You know what? Now I'm a country boy but I'm a blues man too. I love blues and dixieland, I love dixieland, but I'm an Oklahoma country boy. But I'll tell you what, Ray Charles was my man. I loved Ray Charles, of course he's gone and this is kind of hind sight but I'd have loved to have a Ray Charles cut. And I'd love to have met Hank Williams before he died and Elvis, I never did get to meet Elvis. I got to talk to him one time on the phone, he was looking for a certain kind of song and he asked me, he said "You think you can come up with something like that?" you know in that bag, and I said, "Well, maybe I can Elvis." you know, but I never did get to meet him.
Bronson: Wow, that would have been a thrill.
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, it would have been, it would have been nice.
Bronson: Well, I'm sure just talking to him on the phone was probably pretty exciting?
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, his people kept a close watch on him when he came into studios and stuff. A lot of times, even close people. They kept a guard on the studios you know, they didn't let people come in and out and all.
Bronson: Do you have a favorite producer that you've worked with. Do you have anyone like that? Do you have a favorite studio in Nashville to record in?
Dallas Frazier: Well, I've worked a lot of studios. In the old days, the old Columbia B, I think. My goodness, some of that stuff just escapes me, but I like the RCA studios. I've did some recording there and over at the old Columbia studios, and the one out in California, the big Capitol Tower studios, they were beautiful studios, but not really. I never was what you would call a sound man that was just really into that part of it. Technology escapes me (laughing) and so I don't even have a good system at home to play records on (laughing), I don't. For a long time my tape machine was a Monaural Wallensac (laughing) but anyway, technology. I coined a word Bronson, called techlexia, and I have techlexia (laughing).
Bronson: (laughing) I love that! So what's it like to hear your songs sang in another language? That's gotta be a thrill.
Dallas Frazier: Oh yeah, well that is, that's a hoot, it is. I saw a video the other day and I think it was in the Netherlands someplace and a group was doing "Elvira", and it was just spectacular. They was out in the country in this old barn with goats and chickens and stuff, and they were singing "Elvira" in some kind of Netherlands language and I loved it! It's exciting.
Bronson: It's amazing how international music really is you know?
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, how something from our culture can wind up over there and they like it.
Bronson: Now the Oak Ridge Boys are really going for it now. We'll have to get them to back and get some more of your songs on their records.
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, they're doing well. This 30 year reunion thing, revival thing, or whatever they're calling it, has done real well for them. The guys, I love them and hey, they hooked "Elvira". Oh my goodness, what a great record!
Bronson: Today, I mean it lives just as strong.
Dallas Frazier: Yeah.
Bronson: That's one of the greatest things, a lot of your songs are like that. You know you wrote them so long ago but they're just as vibrant and alive today. That's gotta be a thrill.
Dallas Frazier: Well I appreciate it. Had a lot of help down through the years too you know. A guy doesn't do this just all on his own. You get breaks here and there and I owe a lot of people that gave me a helping hand in the business down through the years.
Bronson: I really appreciate you sitting with me. I really appreciate you doing this, it's an honor to meet you.
Dallas Frazier: Well I tell you what, I'm glad to do this. I felt good about it and I appreciate you doing an interview.
Bronson: Well maybe one day we can write a song!
Dallas Frazier: Yeah, who knows?
Bronson: Thank you so much.
Dallas Frazier: Hey, thank you Bronson. God Bless you!
Bronson: God Bless you too!
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