Dallas Frazier, a songwriter of great emotional reach who wrote No. 1 country hits for Charley Pride, Tanya Tucker and the Oak Ridge Boys, died Friday at a rehab center in Gallatin, Tennessee, near Nashville. He was 82.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Melody Morris, who said he had suffered two strokes since August.
Although his most enduring success came in country music, Mr. Frazier also released pop and R&B hits for artists such as country soul singer Charlie Rich and Louisiana bluesman Slim Harpo. Both released versions of Mr. Frazier’s “Mohair Sam,” a swamp pop homage to a larger-than-life hipster who, in Mr. Rich’s 1965 Top 40 pop version became one of Elvis Presley’s favorite songs.
However, Frazier’s big break came five years earlier with “Alley Oop,” a new song that reached No. 1 on the pop chart (No. 3 on the R&B chart) for the Hollywood Argyles in 1960. Inspired by the VT Hamlin strip of the same name, the song has been recorded multiple times since, including versions by the Beach Boys and the satirical British art-rockers the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
David Bowie also interpolated the line “Look at those cavemen go” from “Alley Oop” into his single “Life on Mars?”
“I had country roots, but I had something else going on with me,” said Mr. Frazier, referring to his omnivorous musical appetite in a 2008 interview with the online magazine Perfect Sound Forever. “I wasn’t stuck in this one area of music. I had other things going on in my soul.”
Frazier’s bread and butter was nevertheless country music, where his songs covered a range of topics and emotions, including humor, heartache, and his difficult childhood during the Great Depression.
Frazier wrote “There Goes My Everything” for Grand Ole Opry star Jack Greene, “Beneath Still Waters” for Emmylou Harris, and “Elvira,” with its atavistic “oom poppa, oom poppa” chorus, for the Oak Ridge Boys. All three were career-defining records, and each topped the chart. (“There Goes My Everything” also reached the pop Top 20 in 1967 for British crooner Engelbert Humperdinck.)
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012, Connie Smith has recorded more than five dozen songs written by Mr. Frazier.
Dallas June Frazier was born on October 27, 1939 in Spiro, Oklahoma. His parents, William Floyd Frazier and Eva Marie Laughlin Frazier, were itinerant laborers who moved the family to Bakersfield, California, to work in the cotton fields. Young Dallas was just 2½ at the time.
The Model A was loaded down and headed for California
A change of happiness was just four days away
But the only change I remember I saw for my father
Wash when his dark hair turned silver gray
Such is the second half of the last stanza of ‘California Cottonfields’, an autobiographical original written by Mr. Frazier and Earl Montgomery, which became a signature song for Merle Haggard, whose childhood deprivation rivaled that of Mr. Frazier.
“We were part of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’,” said Mr. Frazier in 2008, referring to John Steinbeck’s epic novel about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. “We were the Okies who went to California with mattresses strapped to the top of their Model A Fords. My parents were poor.”
Living in tents and wagons in California labor camps, the Fraziers suffered not only the humiliation of poverty but also the prejudice of Native Westerners. Dallas started picking cotton at the age of 6.
His father exposed him to country music, playing the latest hits from Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell on the jukebox of their local restaurant. Dallas Frazier commemorated the experience in “Hank and Lefty Raised My Country Soul,” a song that became a 1973 Top 40 country hit for his fellow Oklahoman Stoney Edwards.
Frazier began writing songs and singing as an adolescent and received an invitation to tour with country star Ferlin Husky at age 12 after winning a West Coast talent contest. At the age of 14, he signed a recording contract with Mr. Husky’s label, Capitol Records. In the mid-1950s, he also appeared regularly on Cliffie Stone’s “Hometown Jamboree,” a popular country music television show broadcast from Los Angeles.
In 1963, after his singing career began to fail, Mr. Frazier moved to Nashville with his wife, Sharon, to work for country song publishers. He continued to make an occasional record steeped in New Orleans-style R&B, before finally devoting himself to songwriting full-time.
In 1976, shortly after being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Frazier suddenly withdrew from music to become the pastor of a church outside of Nashville. Three decades later, he returned to writing and performing, emerging as an elder statesman of the music he helped shape.
In addition to Mrs. Morris, Mr. Frazier is survived by his wife of 63 years, Sharon Carpani Frazier; their two other daughters, Robin Proetta and Alison Thompson; four grandchildren; a great-grandson; and a sister, Judy Shults.
Despite his success as a songwriter in country music, Mr. Frazier said he sometimes felt hindered by Nashville’s unwritten rules, especially when it came to embracing broader musical influences such as rock and R&B.
“No one ever said, ‘Dallas, you can’t do this,’ he told Perfect Sound Forever, ‘but it was common knowledge that you did certain things. I definitely should have had more rock ‘n’ roll product. If I had lived in LA or New York I would have, but less land, you see.”