Veteran songwriter Tillman Franks had his first brush with death as a passenger in the Texas car crash that claimed Johnny Horton on November 5, 1960.

Franks, who played bass fiddle in Horton's band, suffered serious head and internal injuries.

The crash was just four years after Franks and Horton wrote the singer's hit Honky Tonk Man - also debut single for Kentucky born singing actor Dwight Yoakam.

Franks, who still bore scars from the accident, died at the Grace Home Hospice in Shreveport on October 26 - three days after Yoakam's 50th birthday on the eve of his second Australian tour.

Octogenarian Franks enjoyed a 60-year marriage to singing spouse Virginia whom he wed on Saturday, February 9, 1946.

Yoakam performed Honky Tonk Man in his Australian concerts and Grammy award winning bluegrass band The Cox Family played at Franks' funeral service at Oakmont Church Of God in Shreveport.

Rev Watson Franks, one of Tillman's sons, conducted the service.

Another son Ben also sang at the funeral attended by legendary guitarist James Burton who played with Franks on the Louisiana Hayride.

Rev Franks joked about the long marriage between his parents - a lengthy union in a world where marriages often ended after short and stormy journeys.

"They never thought about divorce," he quipped.

"Murder, but not divorce. Daddy was many things to many people. He believed in people... he would make stars."

Long-time family acquaintance Robert Davis, former player with the Crawdads, was the drummer in a drum, bagpipes and bugle ensemble that paid last musical respects at the burial.

They performed Going Home and Amazing Grace with the first few bars of one of the hits Tillman and Horton wrote - Sink the Bismarck.

Franks, who also wrote Horton's 1956 debut #1 hit When It's Spring Time In Alaska It's Forty Below, was buried at Forest Park West.

The legendary songwriter, publisher and manager detailed his colourful life in recent biography I Was There When It Happened.


Franks was born in Arkansas and moved to Shreveport at the age of two.

He grew up in Cedar Grove - a suburb of Shreveport - attended Byrd High School and learned to play guitar at age 14, inspired by his father and the Grand Ole Opry.

He formed his first band at Byrd and called it the Rainbow Boys.

They performed standards such as Take Me Back to Tulsa, Wabash Cannonball and Walkin' the Floor Over You at square dances, hootenannies and "any place we'd find someone to listen to us."

Franks has always maintained Shreveport as home base.

"I was lucky to have lived my life in The Magic Circle," Franks said in his biography.

"The Magic Circle is an area 50-miles in radius from downtown Shreveport. All kinds of music evolved from this Magic Circle."

Those artists were as diverse as Gene Austin, Vernon Dalhart and Leadbelly.

W. K. Henderson started radio station KWKH in 1925 and increased the power of The Magic Circle. That led to the creation of the Louisiana Hayride in 1948 - from there music from The Magic Circle went around the world."

The many artists who hit Shreveport en route to stardom at the Hayride include Hank Williams Sr., Elvis Presley, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Johnny Cash and many more.


When he was a teenager, Franks was seriously ill with the flu.

His folks had an old hand-cranked Victrola and his father purchased a new record.

It was by Roy Acuff and the song was Would You Care.

Franks loved the song and played it over and over to help pass the time.

The sincerity that Acuff put across in the song and his simple yet complete delivery caught Franks' attention.

At first he wanted to be a singer.

Franks formed The Rainbow Boys with Claude King and Buddy Attaway.

"I guess we called it The Rainbow Boys because we were looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Franks said.
But his hopes of being a singer were soon dashed.

"Buddy, Claude and I went down to KRMD studios in Shreveport to make a record. Claude could sing like Ernest Tubb and Buddy could yodel like Jimmy Rodgers. And of course I thought I was the next Roy Acuff. When we played the records back, sure enough Claude sounded like Ernest and Buddy was yodelling like Jimmy Rodgers. But when I heard my record, I said, 'Do I really sound that bad?' " Buddy replied, "Yeah, we thought you knew."
Franks said, "I told them, 'You won't have to worry about me trying to sing any more.' It was at that point that I decided to become a manager, not a singer."


Franks volunteered for the U.S. Army on February 25, 1942.

While stationed at Tinker Air Base in Oklahoma, Franks met one of his idols, Gene Sullivan.

They immediately become friends and from Sullivan he learned comedy.

Franks was sent to the Western Pacific to the island of Saipan on August 13, 1944 and formed another group The Rainbow Boys II.

One of the members of the group was Pete Seeger.

Gene Autry and his sidekick, comedian Ruff Davis, came to Saipan to entertain the troops.
While there, Gene and Ruff appeared on Franks' program on WXLD.

After war Franks was discharged on December 1, 1945 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

The first thing on his agenda was to wed the love of his life - Virginia Hellen Suber. They married on Saturday, February 9, 1946.


Later that year he got a job playing bass fiddle with Harmie Smith who had a show each morning on KWKH.

He would work a show most nights within a 150-mile radius of Shreveport.

Webb Pierce was working with him and later Franks got him to hire Buddy and Claude.

By the first part of 1948, Franks was in Shreveport working for the Bailes Brothers.

Franks said, "Johnny Bailes called me and said they had a recording session coming up for Columbia and needed some 'whiskey and devil songs.' He said he knew I was a good song writer and bass player."

Franks played bass with the Bailes Brothers on the first night of the famed Louisiana Hayride on Saturday April 3, 1948.

From then on, his life would be entwined with the Hayride.

Shortly after the Hayride started, Franks left Shreveport to go to Houston, Texas, to join Buddy Attaway and Claude King on KLEE for Elmer Laird Auto Sales.

Laird had several car lots and a car-financing firm. Franks, Buddy and Claude also sold cars.

"I could not drive a car, did not have a car and didn't have a drivers license. But I was selling cars and I did pretty good," Franks said in his biography.

"Elmer really wanted to be a song writer. We helped him write Poison Love and a short time later he was knifed to death by an irate customer."

"We had made a recording of the song before he was killed," Franks revealed of a tune that was revived by Buddy Miller as the title track of his 1997 album.

"After his death, Mrs. Laird put me on a bus for Nashville to see if Eddy Arnold, who was a big star at the time, would record it. I talked to Eddy and he said the song was a little too strong for him."

After Elmer's death, Franks' pay was cut to $50 a week, so he packed his family up once again and headed back to Shreveport.


This time he got into the booking business with Johnny Bailes, Johnny and Jack and Kitty Wells.

About this time Hank Williams Sr. came to Shreveport and Franks was among first to befriend him.

"He couldn't get any bookings and I booked his first show dates in Shreveport area," Franks said.

He booked Hank into the school auditorium at Powhatan, Louisiana.

Franks gave him a white western dress suit, because Williams did not have one at the time.
It turned out to be Hank's first western dress suit.

A picture of Hank in the suit was used on the postage stamp that was issued June 10, 1993 by the U.S. Postal Service to commemorate Williams' career.

Bookings got hard to come by, so Franks started teaching guitar lessons at J&S Music Co. in Shreveport and playing bass with the Hayride staff band.


His pupils included producer Jerry Kennedy, Merle Kilgore and Tommy Sands.

Webb Pierce debuted on Hayride in November 1949 and Franks became his manager in December 1951.

Pierce joined the Grand Ole Opry in September 1952 after he and Franks split.

Franks played bass in Slim Whitman's band before briefly managing Billy Walker.

In early 1953 Franks started working with Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles as bassist and manager when they scored #1 hit with No Help Wanted in December 1953.

By May 1954, Franks had left the Carlisles and moved back to Shreveport and started booking shows and briefly managed Jimmy C. Newman.

Two months later Franks was managing and playing bass with popular Hayride team - Jimmy Lee and Country Johnny Mathis, known as Jimmy and Johnny.

In early 1955, one night at the Hayride, Jimmy and Johnny earned an encore but show producer Horace Logan, told them not to take one.

Franks told them to take one. They did and Logan fired Franks.

"He told me he would see that I never worked on the Hayride again," Franks said.

Franks befriended Elvis Presley in October 1954 and landed him on the Hayride and booked him on other shows during the two years he was a member.


Tommy Tomlinson, Johnny Horton
Tillman Franks
In the spring of 1955, Franks was back on the Hayride with an artist that would prove to be his most successful - Johnny Horton.

"I was starving to death again," Franks revealed.

"I had been off the Hayride for about three weeks or a month and wasn't working.

Johnny had married Billie Jean Jones Williams - Hank's widow. She had gotten a settlement from Hank's estate and they had spent it and were broke. Billie told him to get out of the house and go find a job."

"So he came to me and asked me to manage him and I told him I didn't like his singing. He said, 'No problem, I'll sing any way you want me to.' He said Billie had told him if he could get me to manage him, he would go to Number One. So I decided to give it a try."

Franks worked out a deal to get Horton off Mercury Records and got him a contract with Columbia, a bigger company that was trying to get into the Country Music field and would spend more money on promoting Horton.

Horton's first cut, in early 1956, was Honky Tonk Man. It was a hit.

This was followed by a string of hits including One Woman Man and Honky Tonk Mind.

The first disc to go to #1 for Horton was Springtime In Alaska, followed by Johnny Reb and Johnny Freedom.

Horton recorded title songs for two movies - Sink The Bismark and North To Alaska, which starred John Wayne.

But the biggest hit was Jimmy Driftwood penned The Battle Of New Orleans - it sold more than 2 million copies in less than a month and topped country and pop charts.

On April 16, 1960, Franks walked off the job as head of the Artists Service Bureau at the Hayride with Horton.


Horton was at his zenith when fate struck on the morning of November 5, 1960.

Franks and guitarist Tommy Tomlinson played a show with Horton at Skyline Club in Austin, Texas that Friday night and were in Horton's white Cadillac on the return trip to Shreveport.

Horton was to meet Claude King at Alligator Hole at Hall's Brake in Ajax, Louisiana, for the first day of duck season.

Horton was "dogging it in" as he approached a railroad overpass near the little Texas town of Milano.

At the crest of the overpass, Horton saw a car coming toward him and on his side of the narrow roadway. There was nowhere for him to go.

The time was about 1:30 a.m.

Horton was pronounced dead upon arrival at St. Francis Hospital at Cameron, Texas, 13 miles away, at 1:45 a.m.

Franks had suffered serious head and internal injuries.

The driver of the other vehicle was three feet in Horton's lane.

He was James Evans Davis - a student at Texas A&M College at Bryan.

He was headed for home in Brady when the accident occurred.

According to reports, Davis had been drinking a few hours prior to the accident. Horton had a premonition that he would be taken by a sudden, violent death.


Franks immediately got in touch with longtime friend Claude King and started him on the road to stardom.

In addition, Franks started to manage Horton's widow, Billie Jean.

Within a short period of time, Claude was #1 in the charts with Wolverton Mountain.
But the success was short-lived.

By early 1963, Franks and Billie Jean had split and on August 12, 1963, he and King parted company.

The same day he and King split up, Franks signed David Houston.

The next day - August 13, 1963 - he recorded Mountain Of Love, written by Margaret Lewis and Mira Smith of Shreveport, at Robin Hood Brian's Studio in Tyler, Texas.

Franks left for Nashville on August 14 and got Houston a deal - the following Friday the record was released and became a big hit.

Houston's many #1 hits included Almost Persuaded and duets with Tammy Wynette and Barbara Mandrell.

He was a member of the Grand Ole Opry - for almost 22 years Franks managed him.

While managing Houston, Franks signed Shoji Tabuchi, a fiddler who had come from Japan to the United States to make it in the music business.

Franks managed Tabuchi for seven years during which he appeared as part of David Houston Show.

Houston and Franks had a dispute and parted company in 1985 - Houston died on November 30, 1993.


Franks continued with Tillman Franks Singers that featured his wife and a son.

He also played bass with the legendary Jimmie Davis.

Franks had arranged and promoted the song, Where The Ole Red River Flows, for Davis in the early 1960s when Davis was serving his second term as Governor of Louisiana.

It was Davis' last song to hit the charts.

Davis celebrated his 100th Birthday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on September 10, 1999.

During his career for short periods of time, Franks managed Jimmy C. Newman, Tony Douglas, Mitchell Torok and Claude Gray.

On July 11, 1996, KWKH sponsored Tillman Franks Day in Shreveport.

Many friends honoured him - including Claude King, Merle Kilgore, Homer Bailes, Frank Page, Norm Bale, Ronnie Pugh, T. Tommy Cutrer, Tom Perryman, Waylon Stubblefield, Maggie Warwick and The Cox Family.

Franks played on the 50th Anniversary Louisiana Hayride program at Shreveport Municipal Auditorium on Saturday, April 3, 1999.

Franks was among the few who appeared on the first broadcast of the Hayride and then again 50 years later.


"Tillman really created the artist management business," said Ken Shepherd - father-manager of latter day blues star Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

"He set the standard in the early days for what would later become the way we all do business, protecting artists and developing their careers. In my opinion, he was a creative genius in the way he marketed his artists and cared about them."

Franks was a charter member of Country Music Association, a member of Louisiana Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Wife Virginia, two daughters, two sons, two brothers, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild are Franks' survivors.

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