Dallas Frazier, a songwriter who broke out with the pop novelty hit “Alley Oop” and went on pen country classics like the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira,” died Friday at 82.
“Dallas Frazier is among the greatest country songwriters of all time,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “He could convey infectious fun with ‘Elvira,’ and then write something as stunningly sad and true as ‘Beneath Still Waters’” — a No. 1 hit for Emmylou Harris. “He was a man of kindness, generosity and faith, who overcame a hardscrabble upbringing to offer smiling gifts to all of us.”
Among those cutting Frazier’s songs were Charley Pride (who had four No. 1 hits with Frazier-co-written numbers), Connie Smith (who recorded an entire album of his songs in 1972), George Jones (who did the same), Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Charlie Rich, Rodney Crowell, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Moe Bandy, Brenda Lee, Poco, Gene Watson, Charlie Louvin, George Strait, Patty Loveless, Roy Clark, Tanya Tucker and Randy Travis.
Born Oct. 27, 1939, in Spiro, Oklahoma, Frazier moved to the country music mecca of Bakersfield, Calif. with his family in his pre-teen years. When he was 12, he appeared at a talent show which had country legend Ferlin Husky as a judge — who was so impressed that he went on to mentor Frazier in the music business and to have the youth write songs for him.
“Then, I worked singing on television in Los Angeles from ’54-’58 with Cliffie Stone’s ‘Hometown Jamboree’,” he told the Nashville Songwriters Association International. “So, I’m in the business. As a matter of fact, I signed with Capitol Records when I was 14, and I wrote some of the material that I recorded.” At 14, he cut his first Capitol single, “Space Command.” Little became of it, but he would strike gold later with another novelty hit.
In 1957, Frazier was 19 when he wrote “Alley Oop” in his head while working for his father in a California cotton mill. “Cotton was one of the biggest farm industries in the San Joaquin Valley at one time, back in the ’50s and ’60s. … I’m in this big, huge cotton trailer that’s full of cotton. … I get to thinking about the cartoon character (Alley Oop).I start just kind of riffing with an ‘Oop-oop’… I wrote that song that day before I got through with my shift at the cotton gin.”
One of the songs he cut in his own abbreviated recording career was, indeed, “Alley Oop,” but it didn’t become a hit until producer Gary S. Paxton (also of “Monster Mash” and Tammy Faye Bakker fame) recorded it in 1960 with a makeshift group assembled for the session called the Hollywood Argyles. It was later covered by Darlene Love, the Beach Boys and Ray Stevens as well.
Referring to Paxton’s Hollywood Argyles hit, he said, “It took a lot of guts for Gary to even cut the thing and put it out. It was not what you call ‘orthodox.’”
The first song he wrote after moving to Nashville was “There Goes My Everything,” a smash for Jack Greene in 1966, which earned a Grammy nomination for its writer. It would later be recorded by Elvis Presley, whose version was released in 1971, and Engelbert Humperdinck.
“It was born out of a divorce, and fortunately not mine, but (that of) a good friend of mine, Ferlin Husky,” Frazier said. “It turned out to be my biggest copyright.”
He picked up a Grammy in 1970 for best country song in 1970 for Charley Pride’s rendition of “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me),” one of four No. 1s he had with Pride. In 1980, Harris went to the top of the charts with “Beneath Still Waters.”
In 1968, George Jones went so far as to put his name into an LP title, “George Jones Sings the Songs of Dallas Frazier.” Connie Smith did the same in 1972 with “‘If It Ain’t Love’ and Other Great Dallas Frazier Songs,” which had Frazier singing duet parts on three of the 10 tracks.
Frazier cut “Elvira” as the title track of his own album in 1966, but again, it took a cover to break the tune — and not the attempt that Rodney Crowell made with it in 1978. In 1981, the Oak Ridge Boys went to No. 1 in the country format with what still remains the vocal group’s signature song, and the track even crossed over to the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Oak Ridge Boys with ‘Elvira’ songwriter Dallas Frazier. Pictured L-R: The Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall, manager Jim Halsey, Dallas Frazier, William Lee Golden, Richard Sterban, Duane Allen Jeremy Westby
Said Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys, “For over five decades, songs written by Dallas Frazier have affected the Oak Ridge Boys’ career like no other writers. ‘The Baptism Of Jesse Taylor’ won a Grammy Award for us when we were a gospel group in the mid-’70’s. Then, in 1981, ‘Elvira’ became the biggest song in the music industry, winning all of the awards and selling over two and a half million 45 rpm singles. The Oak Ridge Boys and our families, along with millions of fans and friends who love his music, join in prayer for Sharon and the Frazier family. May Dallas rest in peace in the arms of Jesus.”
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976.
In 1988, Frazier left the music business to go into the ministry, although he re-embraced his secular career later. His daughter, Melody Frazier Morris, followed him into the ministry, as president/founder at Messiah Ministries International, and it was she who announced her father’s passing on Facebook, writing on Friday, “Our dad passed into the loving arms of Jesus this morning. Glory to God! No more suffering!”
Funeral services are set for Thursday in Gallatin, Tenn. Frazier had requested that donations be made to the Nashville Rescue Mission in lieu of flowers.