"Funky" Donnie Fritts, an influential figure in the rise of Muscle Shoals soul and the career of Kris Kristofferson, died Tuesday (Aug. 27) from complications from heart surgery. He was 76.
Beyond his work on the ground level of the Muscle Shoals sound, the Florence, Ala. native worked in Nashville as a songwriter to the stars. Songs to his credit include Charlie Rich's "You're Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning," Waylon Jennings' "We Had It All" and "Breakfast in Bed," the B-side to Dusty Springfield's 1968 hit "Son of a Preacher Man."
When Kristofferson's career took off, Fritts became his touring keyboardist. That gig opened doors for everything from co-writing credits on Kristofferson's "Border Lord" to a namedrop in Jerry Jeff Walker's "Pissin' in the Wind" and appearances in such films as Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and the 1976 version of A Star is Born.
Fritts' solo career dated back to 1974's Prone to Lean and continued running strong with 2015's Oh My Goodness, a 2015 release produced by John Paul White and the Alabama Shakes' Ben Tanner and featuring fellow Alabamians Jason Isbell, Spooner Oldham, the Secret Sisters and Brittany Howard.
"Donnie Fritts was a legend back home, and a guide for many of us when we started writing and making music," wrote Isbell on Twitter. "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."
In an essay for Rolling Stone Country, White described the aura of his friend and mentor.
"Everyone knows Donnie as 'Funky Donnie Fritts'," White wrote. "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."