There’s a common refrain in the studios of Nashville which says: “Emmylou Harris can make a good song great.” But when she scored a Billboard Country # 1 in 1980 with “Beneath Still Waters,” she simply made a great song even greater.
And the country music world is suddenly remembering this most beautiful love lament following the death of songwriter Dallas Frazier at the age of 82.
Frazier was a singer in his own right, but it was as a songwriter that he found fame. And some of the biggest names in country – George Jones, Connie Smith, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Charlie Pride – made sure there was a Dallas Frazier song in one of their LP releases. In fact, Jones and Smith both produced entire albums of Frazier songs.
But it was “Beneath Still Waters” that placed him the upper echelon of country songwriters when Harris included it as the second track on her fifth Warner album, the Grammy-winning Blue Kentucky Girl, recorded in 1979. It was released as the album's second single in March the following year and would become her fourth No 1 hit.
It must rank as one of her finest recordings, and that of producer Brian Ahern, who assembled one of the best line-ups of the famous Harris Hot Band - among them former Elvis guitarist James Burton, and stars-to-be Rodney Crowell and Albert Lee - on this particular track. It also helped to have Fayssoux Starling, one of Emmylou’s favourite singers, on backing vocals.
Frazier actually wrote “Beneath Still Waters” in 1967 and it was first recorded by Jones on his 1968 album My Country. Two years later, it would first appear in the country singles chart with a version by Diana Trask.
Frazier’s other big hit was “Elvira” which was the title track of his 1966 solo debut album. But it was not until 1981 that the song would gain wide recognition when the Oak Ridge Boys had a crossover hit, with their version toping the country charts and reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2018, Frazier told journalist Tom Roland: “I’ve noticed all my life in writing songs, there’s a thing called feel, and its magic when you get ahold of it. It can make or break a record. You can have a great song and all, but if it doesn’t have that feel, it just doesn’t do anything. ‘Elvira” had the feel. And the Oaks, what a tremendous cut.”
On Facebook, the Oaks posted: “We lost a dear friend today. Dallas Frazier had an influence on our country music career from the beginning. He wrote ‘The Baptism of Jesse’ but his influence in the 1980s was even greater when we recorded his song ‘Elvira.’”
Kyle Young, the CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement:
“Dallas Frazier is among the greatest country songwriters of all time. He could convey infectious fun with ‘Elvira,’ and then write something as stunningly sad and true as ‘Beneath Still Waters’. His songs helped Connie Smith become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was a man of kindness, generosity, and faith, who overcame a hardscrabble upbringing to offer smiling gifts to all of us. He lived a beautiful life of a beautiful mind. ”
Frazier was nominated three times for a Grammy Award and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976. In the late 1980’s he quit the music industry to become a Christian minister.
Editor Crossroads - Americana Music Appreciation