Donnie Fritts, Muscle Shoals Songwriter & Musician, Dead at 76

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Donnie Fritts

Alabama-born songwriter and musician Donnie Fritts, whose compositions were recorded by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Jerry Lee Lewis, and who served as a sideman to Kris Kristofferson as well as a solo artist, died yesterday from complications of open heart surgery. The place of death was not reported. Fritts was 76.

Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell tweeted, “Donnie Fritts was a legend back home, and a guide for many of us when we started writing and making music. I met Prine while working on Donnie’s album, and when I met Kristofferson and Willie all I had to say was ‘I’m a friend of Donnie Fritts.’ Very proud to be able to say that.”

Watch Fritts perform his song “If It’s Really Gotta Be This Way”

Born in Florence, Ala., on Nov. 8, 1942, Fritts started out as a drummer and then became a session keyboardist. He signed a song publishing deal in 1965 and began placing his compositions with artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich, then began a long association with Kristofferson, working with the singer-songwriter for more than four decades. He appeared in the 1976 version of A Star is Born, starring Kristofferson,

Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts

As a major figure in the Muscle Shoals music scene, Fritts became a prolific songwriter, whose material was covered by Dolly Parton, Robert Plant, John Prine, Lulu, the Box Tops, Dusty Springfield and the Stones, who cut Fritts’ ballad “We Had it All” for Some Girls (with Keith Richards singing) but did not ultimately use it.

Listen to the Rolling Stones’ version of Fritts’ “We Had it All”

That song became one of Fritts’ most popular, also covered by Scott Walker (who named a 1974 album after it), Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Ray Charles and others.

Sheryl Crow’s latest album, Threads, includes “Border Lord,” a song co-written by Fritts and cut previously by Kristofferson.

Dusty Springfield and UB40 (with Chrissie Hynde covered Fritts’ “Breakfast in Bed.”

Fritts also released several solo albums, beginning with 1974’s Prone to Lean, co-produced by Jerry Wexler and Kristofferson. His most recent, 2018’s June, is a tribute to the late R&B songwriter Arthur Alexander.

Fritts was also an actor, appearing in three Sam Peckinpah films: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Convoy.

Fritts was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Watch Fritts with Kris Kristofferson, performing “One for the Money” and “Sam’s Song”

Jeff Tamarkin

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