The Forgotten Legacy of Tillman Franks
Over the past year or so, I've taken a long in depth look at some of Shreveport's musical history. We've covered everyone from James Burton to Shelby Singleton. But, one name we haven't really discussed is Tillman Franks. If you get out and about, you see Tillman's name everywhere. He's on the Shreveport Walk of Fame under the Texas Street Bridge. He's a member of the Byrd High School Hall of Fame. His name is literally all over the place, but there's really not any information on why. Let's change that right now.
Franks was a bass player, manager and song writer. Which, in the musical world, isn't anything special. Those people are a dime a dozen. What makes Tillman a legend that should be remembered is all the contributions not only to Shreveport's musical history but to rock and country....because, sadly, the man's impact far exceeds his legacy.
On a local level, Tillman played bass with the Bailes Brother band on the very first night of the Louisiana Hayride. He was head booker for the Hayride in the 50's. In fact, he booked Elvis for the Hayride, which kicked off Elvis' rise to fame (think about Shreveport's musical legacy if Tillman didn't see the potential that 19 year old kid from Tupelo had). While he didn't directly manage Hank Williams, he did book Hank and help him market himself while he was here at the Hayride...in fact, the publicity photo Hank used throughout most of his career features Hank in one of Tillman's suits. He managed his friends and fellow Shreveport/Bossier guys Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce and Claude King, among others.
And his songwriting credits are pretty amazing too. “How Far is Heaven” (recorded by Kitty Wells, 1949), “Honky Tonk Man” (recorded by Johnny Horton, 1956), and “When It’s Springtime in Alaska” (recorded by Johnny Horton, 1958), just to name a few.
He wrote great music. He recorded great music (he's associated with more than 50 #1 Country hits). He managed great talent. He had a great eye and ear for musical talent. His impact is truly amazing.
If you want to learn more about Tillman's life, career and legacy, I highly suggest finding his out of print autobiography Tillman Franks: I Was There When It Happened. We talk a lot about the Johnny Horton's and the Elvis Presley's and the Hank Williams', but without Tillman Franks those guys and countless others may have never had the opportunity to reach the heights that they did.