Manager / Musician Franks Dies

Tillman Franks, a country musician who played on the first Louisiana Hayride broadcast and later managed other country musicians’ careers, is dead at the age of 86.

Rose-Neath Funeral Homes Inc. said Franks died Thursday. The cause of death was not released.

Cajun-country singer Jimmy C. Newman, who had known Franks since 1954, said he had spoken on Wednesday to Franks’ wife, Virginia, and son Ben.

“They knew he wasn’t taking nourishment any more and were expecting the worst, but not this soon,” Newman said. He said he had heard that Franks had been ill for some time.

Franks started on guitar while attending Byrd High School in Shreveport, switched to string bass during World War II, while stationed on the island of Saipan and playing in a band he had formed. Its members included a then obscure banjo player named Pete Seeger.

A musician, songwriter, manager and producer, Franks did everything from playing backup groups to book talent to lend money or supply groceries. The walls of his office were hung with records he helped write, pictures of people he helped launch _ including a young Elvis Presley and Hank Williams _ awards he had won and letters from people he had known.

He wasn’t a singer. According to a biography on his Web site, he and bandmates Claude King and Buddy Attaway, both of whom also became professional musicians, made a recording at the KRMD studios in Shreveport.

“Claude could sing like Ernest Tubb and Buddy could yodel like Jimmy Rodgers,” the biography quotes Franks. “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 yodeling just like Jimmy Rodgers. But when I heard my record, I said, ‘Do I really sound that bad?”’

He said Attaway answered, “Yeah, we thought you knew.”

The U.S. postage stamp of Hank Williams shows the singer wearing one of Franks’ suits, he told The Associated Press in a 1999 interview.

“He was so poor when he was starting out he didn’t have a suit,” said Franks, who booked Williams for many of his early gigs. “So we cut one of mine down to fit him.”

Franks went on to manage Johnny Horton, who sang “The Battle of New Orleans,” writing or helping to write many of Horton’s songs, and Newman.

He was a charter member of the Country Music Association and a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Hall of Fame.

Franks is survived by his widow, Virginia. Other survivors include two daughters, two sons, two brothers, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Associated Press