“Funky” Donnie Fritts

“A certain kind of songwriter may be an endangered species… dedicated to the art, and in it for the love. He promised God he’d quit if Ray Charles cut one of his songs, but thankfully, Donnie doesn’t keep every promise.”
Kris Kristofferson talks about Donnie Fritts

Donnie Fritts is a legendary session musician and songwriter from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. A recording artist in his own right, he has been Kris Kristofferson’s keyboardist for decades and released three outstanding albums featuring Tony Joe White, Eddie Hinton, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine. In 2008, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. His most well known songs are ”We Had It All” (Waylon Jennings, Dobie Gray, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Ray Charles, Rolling Stones) and ”Breakfast in Bed” (Dusty Springfield, B side of “Son Of A Preacher Man”, UB40 featuring Chrissie Hynde, Shelby Lynne).

A native of Florence, Alabama, as a teen Fritts played drums with local acts like the Satellites and Hollis Dixon. By the late ’50s he was writing and performing with the likes of Arthur Alexander, Dan Penn, and Spooner Oldham, all of them joining forces to forge the unique fusion of Southern soul, pop, country, and R&B immediately recognizable as the Muscle Shoals Sound. Fritts’ early songs were recorded by performers as diverse as Percy Sledge, Dusty Springfield, the Box Tops, and Tommy Roe.

By the late ’60s he was employed as a Nashville staff writer, often working alongside fellow up-and-comer Kristofferson. Beginning in 1970, Fritts was Kristofferson’s touring keyboardist, and they even appeared together in films including Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and A Star Is Born. In 1974 Fritts issued his debut solo LP, Prone to Lean; however, no more solo material was forthcoming prior to 1997’s Everybody’s Got a Song, which included new renditions of his classics “We Had It All” and “A Damn Good Country Song,” recorded with guests including Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, and Delbert McClinton.

Fritts focused on session and touring work during the early 2000s. He guested on Robert Plant’s Sixty Six to Timbuktu in 2003 and on the Resentments’ Roselight in 2009, but did little else. His songs paid the bills, as they appeared on dozens of compilations and were covered by current artists including Shelby Lynne, who made his “Breakfast in Bed” the title track of her tribute to Dusty Springfield in 2008.

Fritts didn’t record again under his own name for another half dozen years. He had become friendly with producer and label and studio owner John Paul White (formerly of the Civil Wars), who asked him to play the premiere of the Muscle Shoals documentary. While visiting one day, White heard Fritts play songs on his well-used Wurlitzer that were favorites, not necessarily his own. The producer convinced him to record an album of this material on that instrument. With assistance from the Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner, White assembled various guests including Brittany Howard, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, John Prine, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Spooner Oldham, and the Secret Sisters to back Fritts. Released by White’s Single Lock Records, Oh My Goodness was issued in October of 2015.