Donnie Fritts made me cry the day we met.
I’d asked him to be a part of the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere party, and he responded, “Well, you have to come write a song with me first.” To which I replied, “Don’t throw me in that briar patch.”
I went to his home he shared with his wonderful wife (and his ever-patient life support), Donna Fritts. We sat and talked about songs, and songwriters — and I couldn’t believe how much he knew about both subjects. He truly was an encyclopedia of knowledge about the wild and woolly world we both loved. He mentioned a song — “Errol Flynn,” by Amanda McBroom — and I admitted I hadn’t heard it. He said, “Do you mind if I play it?” He sat at his trusty old Wurlitzer, and tore my heart out. At one point he leaned back at me mid-song and made eye contact. It was a strategic move, because he knew the line that was coming would get me. The topper was that he had a tear streaming down his face. By the end of the song, so did I.
Donnie approached everything with that same passion, that dedication, that love. His tutelage under folks like Tom Stafford and Kris Kristofferson — and his friendships with people like Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Merle, Billy Swan, and Tony Joe White — transformed him into one of the greatest flag bearers for this humble craft. He taught me that there was honor in writing a song. In the labor, in the honing of the craft, in the patience for the always circling muse. He wrote some of the greatest songs I know — songs like “Breakfast in Bed” and “We Had It All” — and still humbly held others in higher esteem. What a beautiful, rare thing.
Everyone knows Donnie as “Funky Donnie Fritts.” But for me, he’ll always be that introspective, wise sage of song that made me take more pride in what I do. I’ll carry his bits of wisdom and passion with me everywhere I go.
Because I already miss him so.