TILLMAN FRANKS -
THE LOUISIANA COUNTRY MUSIC LIVIN' MEMORY
March, 2006 - Dominique "Imperial" Anglares
The life story of Tillman Franks could start like that: Musician, manager, songs writer
and much more from Shreveport (Louisiana)... First artist to reach the top of the Country
charts, thanks to his action: Webb Pierce with "Wondering" in 1952. The following year
it will be The Carlisles with "No help Wanted". In 1959, Johnny Horton with "The
Battle of New-Orleans" and then, in 1962, Claude King with the all time hit "Wolverton
Mountain". Principal compositions: "One Woman Man", "Honky Tonk Man", "Sink the Bismarck",
"North To Alaska", "The Comancheros". A real living memory of "The Louisiana Hayride",
the great live radio show diffused from Shreveport each Saturday in the 50's, where he was,
from 1957 to 1960, in charge of the Artist Service Bureau.
Born on September 29, 1920, in Stamps, Arkansas, Tillman spent only two years
there before his father, who worked for the railroad, was transferred to Shreveport,
Louisiana. The family settled in Cedar Grove where Tillman will discover the music
of Roy Acuff through his Dad's records and the radio broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry.
The enthusiasm of his 14 years led to him thinking that he could sing as well as
Roy and be a singer... A first guitar at 9 years old and friendship with other
musicians lead him to sing in churches and hospitals for the pleasure of playing.
A meeting which will make a great impression on him will be that of songster/bluesman
Leadbelly playing on the streets of Shreveport with his 12 strings guitar and singing
"Bow Legged Women". In 1939, he met Claude King and Buddy Attaway and they
formed "The Rainbow Boys", playing where they could just for tips. They cut
some demos and his recorded voice lead Tillman to forget about becoming singer.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tillman join the army and will back to the
United States in November 1945. During his stay in the Pacific, he will start
to play the bass fiddle and will meet Gene Autry and Pete Seeger.
After some musical attempts in Dallas and Little Rock, Arkansas, Tillman returned to Shreveport
in July 1947 when he joins "The Bailes Brothers". The following year, he done bookings for
Johnny and Jack and Kitty Wells and will compose a few songs for them. He will help Hank
Williams sr who had just joined the "KWKH" radio station to find his first engagements in
the area. Thereafter, like many others, Hank will leave Shreveport to join the Grand
Ole Opry on "WSM" in Nashville and became a legend. In June 1950, Tillman had the
idea to give guitar lessons at J&S Music co. to improve his income. Among his
pupils were the young Jerry Kennedy, Tommy Sands and Merle Kilgore. Tillman confess today
than he doesn't have much to learn to such talented pupils. Anyway, it gave radio experience
and exposure to them all.
In 1950, he started managing Webb Pierce who worked then for Sears and Roebuck.
In spite of the opposition of Horace Logan, the director and producer of Louisiana Hayride,
he helped Webb to be engaged in the show in November 1949. Webb will do his first record
for "Four Star Records", at the beginning of 1950, with Tillman playing his doghouse bass.
Soon Webb started his own label "Pacemaker" but, being under contract with Four Star,
he will have his recording "The New Pan Handle Rag" issued under the name of Tillman
Franks. In 1951, after having signed with "Decca", Webb will ask Tillman to become his
manager. A contract of management for 5 years was signed, Tillman remaining also bass
player of the touring group.
Faron Young will join Webb Pierce band and will have his first recordings for the
label "Gotham" set under Tillman's name. That in order to use the notoriety of Tillman
in the area which was much larger than Faron's one way back then. In January 1952,
"Wondering" by Webb will be no.1 in the charts and Webb will join, in September 1952,
the Grand Ole Opry. That will put an end to his collaboration with Tillman as manager.
From then Tillman will take care of the career of Billy Walker and help Slim Whitman
to find a manager. Slim will sign with the "Imperial" label and will make his first
recordings for them in February 1955. In its turn Slim helped the young David Houston
to obtain a contract with that label... both will make the career we knows.
Returning at the beginning of 53 when Tillman became the manager/bassist of The Carlisles.
They had already a hit with "Too Old to cut the mustard" and had just recorded "No Help Wanted".
Tillman wrote all to his/her friends disc jockeys to push on air the record that became... No 1
in the charts.
In December 1953, when The Carlisles joined The Grand Ole Opry, Tillman and his family
settled in Nashville. In May 1954, wearied by Nashville, Tillman will return to Shreveport and...
stay there to date.
At this period, he will take in hand the career of Jimmy Lee Fautheree and Country Johnny
Mathis. Via Stan Lewis, owner of a records store and talent-scout, Tillman will obtain
for them a contract with the label "Chess" of Chicago. A first session in July 1954
will give birth to "If you don't, Somebody Else will" which will enter in the Cash Box
Country Best sellers. Soon will follow for the duet bookings in Louisiana, Tennessee
or Texas in such prestigious shows as The Big D Jamboree.
On October 16, 1954, Elvis will replace them for one evening on the scene of Louisiana Hayride...
He will never leave until 1956 and that show helped to set the raise to fame for the "Hillbilly
cat". During the year 1955, Jimmy and Johnny will turn with other artists in package shows
organized either by Tillman or the KWKH and they will share the poster with Elvis, George
Jones, Tibby Edwards, David Houston or Johnny Horton to quote only some names. It is
Tillman which organized the concert of Elvis to the Cotton Club of Lubbock (Tx),
January 06, 1955, the home town of Buddy Holly. Buddy and Bob will open sometime for
Elvis or Bill Haley in 1955 and 1956. The same tour lead the wrong spelled "Alvis"
Presley in San Angelo (Tx). Elvis and Tillman where at Wichita Falls (Tx), August 22,
1955, for a concert organized by Bill Mack, the famous radio DJ. Jimmy and Johnny will
later move on "Decca" and worked in Faron Young's backing band for one year.
Always in 1955, Tillman will become after some reserves the manager of Johnny Horton
which he knew since 1952. The first thing he made was to release Johnny of his contract
with "Mercury" and to find to him, via an arrangement with Cedarwood (the musical publishing
firm run by Webb Pierce) a contract with "Columbia". A first session will be organized
on January 11, 1956 and, in order to go to in Nashville, Tillman and Johnny will borrow
the car of David Houston's father. On the way, they stopped in Memphis and visited
Elvis in Audubon drive. Johnny asked to borrow $ 10 from Elvis and if Bill Black could
do the session. Elvis, who had not recorded yet for RCA, said OK to his friend's request.
Grady Martin will be the producer of the session which will give "Honky Tonk Man", "I'm a
one woman Man", "I'm Ready If You're Willing" and "I've got A Hole In My Pirogue".
In May 56, "Honky Tonk Man" will be in the charts then followed "One Woman Man" in
September 1956. The career of Johnny Horton was launched and others hits will follow
like "The Battle of New-Orleans" who sold more than 2 million copies in few weeks. Johnny
will be on the road during all these years with Tillman with the bass fiddle and Tommy
Tomlinson with the guitar. They will frequently work with Johnny Cash and Tommy will often
show some licks to Luther Perkins whose technique, though effective, was limited.
On November 4, 1960, the trio took the road of Austin (Tx) for a concert in Skyline Club.
That's were Hank Williams had made his last paying concert on December 19, 1952. There
Tillman which had just undergone an operation did not play this evening during both or
three sets which Johnny made. Johnny, amateur of spirits like his friend Johnny Cash,
was persuaded that he would die of violent death being hurt by a drunk. Between the
sets, he remained backstage lost in his thoughts. After the concert and a stop at
the motel where they were staying, they took the road for the 220 miles drive to
Shreveport. Johnny took the wheel for the return trip impatient to be back in time
for the first day of duck season. Arrived close to Milano (Tx), towards 1:30 AM,
their Cadillac was run up on a railroad overpass by a car drive by a student in a state
of intoxication. Johnny was killed, Tillman and Tommy were injured. During his career,
Johnny Horton had recorded several pieces written by Claude King, a long time friend.
Some were: "She knows Why" and "Take Me like I am".
After the death of Johnny, Claude King decided to take again his career as singer and,
quite naturally, he asked Tillman to be his manager who had also in charge Billie
Jean Horton. Claude King had already recorded for the label "Gotham" in 1949 and
even cut a Rockabilly oriented song in 1956 "Run Baby Run» for Dee-Jay. Claude left
his job and signed a 10 years term contract with Tillman. A recording contract with "Columbia"
followed soon. His first success with "The Comancheros", ,composed by Tillman, was
followed by "Wolverton Moutain", co-authored with the late Merle Kilgore. "Wolverton
Mountain" entered the charts in May 1962 and will be elected song of the year.
Unfortunately, divergences will lead to an end for the collaboration of the two
friends 1963. Years later, they were reconciled and now live not far one from each
other. Their wives are first cousins and sure enjoyed to see those old pals back together.
In August 1963, Tommy Tomlinson who had just lost one leg following the accident was
in a difficult situation. Tillman suggested him to contact David Houston. Tillman had
a song entitled "Mountain of Love" and was searching about somebody to interpret it.
If David could record it, and if success should come, the situation could be nice for
Tommy. A session was quickly organized and Tillman went with the recordings to Nashville.
Al Gallico helped get the song on his way and to have a record deal.
"Mountain of Love" entered the charts ensuring David Houston a success which had
escaped him earlier on "Imperial", "RCA" and "Sun". In 1964, he was named artist
of the year and will place 45 titles in the charts. For almost 22 years, Tillman
managed him. David's biggest recording will stay "Almost Persuaded" and he sadly
left us on November 30, 1993.
During the Sixties, Tillman worked frequently with Billy Sherrill and Glen Sutton,
two pillars of Nashville Sound of years 60/70. Glen Sutton will say of Tillman "Tillman
is somebody of good which should be in Country Music Hall of Fame. I hope that one day
they will awake and include him and understand that ". We can agree with such a statement!
In April and May 1985, Tillman was with David Houston in England for the International
Festival of Country in Wembley. Late in 1985, he will share for the first time his
memories with us in "Roll Street Journal", the great English fanzine. In those days,
we were just a few to enjoy vintage the Hillbilly Bop sound and Tillman's memories "blow
off our overall" or "boppin blue suede shoes", depending if you were more in the "Hillbilly"
or "Bop" sound!
Here there's lots a thing we don't talked such: Tillman's collaboration with Shelby
Singleton, Lefty Frizzell or Tommy Sands. His meetings with Texas T Tyler, Colonel
Tom Parker, Jim Reeves, Sonny James, The Maddox Brothers and Rose or Hank Snow. His
thousands of miles travelled through the United States, the hundreds of DJ's meet
in order to promote the artists and their discs, an incalculable number of touring shows....
All that without a driving licence! Who would have believed it: In the kingdom of the car,
Tillman had doing all that without a "driver licence". That even obliged to have
a bus trip with Elvis in 1955. Definitely, we talk here about the life of a very
special man full of talent. His book "I Was There When It Happened" is essential
in all the libraries of the amateurs of Country, Hillbilly and Rock'n'Roll.
You will have a backstage pass for all the country events from the 40's until
today. You can get it directly from him by consulting his site "www.tillmanfranks.com"
Tillman is the living memory of The Louisiana Hayride and he could proudly stand up and
say "I was there when it Happened". And, as I was not there when it happened,
I had to give him a stand up ovation and said "Thanks"!
Dominique "Imperial" Anglares
Brest R'n'R Appreciation Society (France)
Back to the "Take Note" Main Page
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: CHECK ON THIS FINE PRINTING COMPANY:
Promotional Products, Discount Labels, Post-it Notes,
Rubber Stamps, etc.