Dallas Frazier, the country songwriter behind enduring hits like “Elvira” and “Beneath Still Waters,” died Jan. 14, his family announced on Facebook. He was 82.
Born Oct. 27, 1939, in Spiro, Oklahoma, Frazier, like many other Oklahomans of his generation, was raised in California after his family relocated to Bakersfield. Frazier’s musical career began before he was even a teenager when Ferlin Husky offered him a job at the age of 12. He had also begun performing on Cliffie Stone’s radio and television program Hometown Jamboree and, as a 14-year-old in 1954, he cut his first single, the whimsical outer-space romp “Space Command,” for Capitol Records.
In 1957, Frazier released “Alley Oop,” a novelty song about a charismatic caveman that would become a chart-topping one-hit-wonder for the Hollywood Argyles in 1960. After he relocated to Nashville, he began to find his rhythm as a songwriter. Husky had a hit with Frazier’s “Timber I’m Falling” in 1964, Charlie Rich cut his “Mohair Sam” — another swaggering “Alley Oop”-type tune — in 1966, and Jack Greene topped the charts with “There Goes My Everything” that same year, earning Frazier a Grammy nomination.
Frazier released his debut album Elvira in 1966, the title track of which would become his best-known song. While Frazier’s version didn’t move the needle all the much (nor did Rodney Crowell’s 1978 cover), the Oak Ridge Boys turned “Elvira” into a massive crossover hit. Driven by its indelible “giddy up oom-papa-mow-mow” refrain from the group’s deep-voiced Richard Sterban, the song was a 1981 smash, topping the country chart and breaking into the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“We lost a dear friend today. Dallas Frazier had an influence on our country music career from the beginning,” the Oaks wrote on Facebook. “He wrote ‘The Baptism of Jesse’ but his influence in the 1980s was even greater when we recorded his song ‘Elvira.’”
Frazier continued to pile up the songwriting credits. George Jones and Connie Smith recorded entire albums of Frazier’s work, while country stars Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Moe Bandy also took a turn with his songs. Frazier earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1970 for “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me),” which Charley Pride took to Number One. Emmylou Harris earned her fourth Number One in 1980 with Frazier’s devastating ballad “Beneath Still Waters,” which he originally wrote in 1967.
In 1976, Frazier was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Before the end of the Eighties, he largely left the music industry to devote his life to Christian ministry.
“Dallas Frazier is among the greatest country songwriters of all time,” said Kyle Young, CEO, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in a statement. “He could convey infectious fun with ‘Elvira,’ and then write something as stunningly sad and true as ‘Beneath Still Waters. He was a man of kindness, generosity, and faith, who overcame a hardscrabble upbringing to offer smiling gifts to all of us.”