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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

AN EAST TEXAS SONGWRITER
Ted Daffan

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Remember the old country song, "Born to Lose?"

The sad tale of a luckless lover, the song was introduced in 1942, but it wasn¹t until 1962, when Ray Charles recorded the song, that it soared to the top of the music charts as a million dollar hit with these words:

Born to lose, I've lived my life in vain
Every dream has only brought me pain
All my life, I've always been so blue
Born to lose and now I'm losing you

The song also became a part of America¹s vocabulary -- the synonym for hard luck. Even Frank & Ernie used in a famous cartoon where St. Peter asks a newcomer to Heaven, "Is it true that in a previous life you were a French painter?" The newcomer¹s reply: "Yes, I was born Toulose."

The original composer of the old standard, East Texan Ted Daffan, has been forgotten by most country music fans, but he was anything but a flash in the pan.

Daffan, who lived in Lufkin, was a band leader, a musician, a singer, a recording artist and a songwriter. His career spanned more than 40 years and he continued to publish songs until his death in his eighties.

Daffan played steel guitar with bands in the Houston area before starting his own band, Ted Daffan and His Texans. As a band leader, he pioneered the use of the steel guitar as a lead instrument and in solos, a departure from the traditional fiddle sounds used by most country bands. Daffan's clean, distinctive sound -- which combined blues and swing -- and his songs influenced artists for years to come.

Like "Born to Lose," a number of Daffan songs were recorded by other artists. Among them were Ray Charles, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Willis, Fats Domino, Rosemary Clooney, Ringo Starr and Elton John.

In 1943, Daffan's "No Letter Today" topped the charts and competed with the Mills Brothers' "Paper Doll," Frank Sinatra's "It¹s Always You," and a song by fellow East Texan Al Dexter, "Pistol Packing Momma."

Other Daffan hits were "Worried Mind" in 1940, "I¹ve Got Five Dollars and It¹s Saturday Night" in 1950, and "I'm A Fool to Care" in 1954.

One of Daffan's biggest hits, "Truck Drivers' Blues," was written when he stopped at a roadside diner and made a prophetic observation. While chowing down, he noticed that every time a trucker parked his rig and strolled into the cafe, the first thing he did, even before ordering a cup of coffee, was push a coin in the jukebox.

It occurred to him that if he could write a song for those drivers, their nickels might make him rich and famous.

He went home and wrote a song recorded by western swing artist Cliff Bruner in 1939. It sold more than 100,000 copies -- which was a smash hit in the thirties -- and went on to become a part of James Jones' best-selling novel,"From Here to Eternity."

In 1949, Daffan received a rare gold record for his own recording of "Born to Lose" and a platinum disk in 1982 for Ray Charles' recording of the same song.

Before his 1996 death in Houston, Daffan was honored by the Academy of Country Music Hall of Fame, the Texas Swing Music Hall of Fame, the Western Swing Society, the Texas Steel Guitar Association, the State of Louisiana, and the Nashville Songwriters Association.

But one of Daffan¹s most unusual honors came in 1981 when the upper-crust Smithsonian Institute included Daffan¹s music in an anthology of 50 years of American country music.

By now, Daffan¹s old forties hit, "Born to Lose," was anything but the hymn of a loser.
All Things Historical
February 10-16 , 2002 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers

Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 35 books about East Texas, including “Things You Might Not Know Unless You Read This Book”)


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