Freddie Frank, bopping in Texas (Abbott, Starday, Permian: 1953-1961)

A staple of the Odessa country music scene for 50 years, guitarist-fiddler Freddie Frank (1931-2005) spent his formative years in Kilgore. Part of the same circle that included Jack Rhodes, Red Hayes, Jimmy Johnson, Curtis Kirk, Al Petty, Bobby Garrett, and Jim Reeves, Freddie, like Johnson, was not able to translate his vocal talents into the sustained recording career that he deserved. Instead, there was the all-too-predictable pattern of a few scattered releases on oddball labels in the ’50s and early ’60s, including his own Permian label. A Capitol session c. 1955 could have turned things around for him — but it went unissued (and no one has got a trace of it).

Mineola, Wood Cty

« 12,000 Texas Longhorns » was Freddie’s debut, from early 1953, and issued on Fabor Robinson’s Abbott label (# 125). A memorable Jack Rhodes-J.C. Lile song, « Longhorns » was recorded superbly by the pros at KWKH Studio in Shreveport with Red Hayes’ band providing the solid support: Joe « Red » Hayes and Kenneth « Little Red » Hayes (fiddles), Al Petty (steel guitar), and Leon Hayes (bass). Freddie supplies his own rhythm guitar. Flipside « Off to parts unknown » is slowlier, although a vigorous slice of hillbilly bop. Red Hayes seems to have been everywhere in the early ’50s. He would eventually follow Freddie to Odessa. Next Abbott issue (# 126) by Curtis Kirk was presumed as having been recorded at the same place and occasion as Freddie Frank. 

« 12,000 Texas Longhorns« 

Billboard March 7, 1953

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« Off to parts unknown« 

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As for Jack Rhodes, he remains a controversial figure. Some people loved him; others hated him. Freddie’s comments, made to me in a 1999 interview, are revealing:

« I went to work at the Reo Palm Isle (in Longview). I played lead guitar for Jim Reeves there when he was first starting out. When I left there, Red (Hayes) came in there and started working. He introduced me to Jack Rhodes. I moved up to Mineola and was staying up there helping him write songs. Jack had a bunch of people writing song-poems. We’d go and collect those and bring ’em back, and I’d write the tunes for ’em. Make ’em meter out, and doctor ’em up. They could put « DS » after my name — doctor of songs. Jack didn’t write very much of nothing. Jack was a manipulator. He reminded me of Boss Hog on ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ Jack owned the motel (the Trail 80 Courts), and was bootlegging (liquor), and he could afford to do what he wanted to.

« I think Jack had the sheriff paid off in Mineola. I don’t think he was arrested there. But I think he did get raided when he lived in Grand Saline. They were making their own whiskey up there. I think that’s why he moved to Mineola, ’cause he couldn’t manipulate the law in Grand Saline. I told him when he died, they’d probably screw him in the ground like a corkscrew.

« But he put the con on just about everybody. When I got enough of it, I got enough, and I left…never called him, never spoke to him again. I think that was the same thing with Red (Hayes). »

Freddie is listed as co-writer with Jack Rhodes on Gene Vincent‘s « Five days, five days » (Capitol 3678), but received no credit for writing the music to Vincent’s « Red Blue Jeans and a Pony tail » (Capitol LP T 768 « Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps »). « Five Days, Five Days« , credited by Rob Finnis to Jimmy Johnson, may actually be Freddie with Leon Hayes on tremendous bass. Franks had been quickly adapting his voice (he even adopts hiccups) and playing to new trends. From the same sessions came a version of the evergreen « Trying to be my baby »[see the story of this song in this site]. On the other hand, Frank was not listed among artists involved in the « Louisiana Hayride« , according to Imperial, who runs an ambitious reedition program (20 CD) of tapes saved from this famous radio/live show. 

Freddie Frank « Red blue jeans and a pony tail »

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Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps « Red blue jeans and a pony tail« 

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Freddie Frank « Five days, five days »(possibly)

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Gene Vincent & his Blue Caps « Five days, five days »

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Freddie Frank « Trying to be my baby »

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Earlier in 1953 the team Jimmy Rhodes-Freddie Frank had been cutting two sides for Starday in Beaumont, Texas. The very fast « Gypsy heart » (# 117) has fine fiddle and guitar, and vocal credited to Franks, while the flipside « Al’s steel guitar wobble » is a showcase for Al Petty, supported by a good piano (is this Starday house-musician Doc Lewis?). Both sides have Frank on rhythm guitar.

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Gypsy heart »

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Next stop in Freddie Frank’s career is in Odessa (West Texas) in 1961. Unable to find a label proper to release real Hillbilly at this time, he then launched his own label, Permian, apparently a common venture with Slim Willet. Frank had 3 issues on this label. First «This old rig »(1001-A) has energetic rhythm and voice over very fine fiddle and steel. : a great Bopper. The flipside (« I want to be) On the bayou tonight », has, as expected, Cajun overtones (without accordion yet),

« This old rig« 

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«  »On the bayou tonight »

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and nothing exceptional. The second issue, billed « Freddie Frank and the Lone Star Cowboys »(# 1002), even faster than «This old rig » is a tour-de-force both for Freddie and the steel player, who makes prowesses. « Another woman looking for a man » is written by Hayes, possibly one of the family (Joe, Leon or Kenneth) and such a track reminds one of Skeets McDonald‘s best honky tonkers a few years earlier, or Sonny Burns’ songs in his best moments.

a very old Freddie

« Another woman looking for a man »

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Flipside « So alone inside » remains untraced, while Permian 1004 is once more a fantastic two-sided bopper. Energetic voice well to the fore, fine fiddle and a rollicking steel for « Tool pusher from Snyder », revived from Slim Willet‘s original issue (1951) ten years earlier on the Star Talent label (# 770). The final side « Haywire Jones » (written also by Slim Willet and published in 1959 on Winston 1040), although a little quieter, is equally a very nice bopper in the George Jones vein. The Permian label also published Earl Montgomery (regular bassist on Winston Slim Willet issues) and Bill Massey (unheard).

Slim Willet « I’m a tool pusher from Snyder »

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Freddie Frank « Tool pusher from Snyder

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Freddie Frank « Haywire Jones »

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With thanks to HillbillyBoogie1 (biography); John Burton (Abbott issue) : Armadillo Killer for one Permian issue ; Uncle Gil for the Starday project ; notes by Rob Finnis to the CD (Ace) « Gene Vincent cut our songs ».. May « HillbillyBoogie1 » get in touch please to get us more details from his corresponding with Freddie Frank. I really don’t know what happened to him between his Permian sides from 1961 and his death in 2005.

the FARMER BOYS, Bakersfield Hillbilly bop (1955-1957)

Bobby Adamson walked over to a coat closet in the entrancy of his comfortable home in Exeter, California and pulled out a garishly colored jacket and trousers. He held them up, displaying them with pride. Golden yellow in color, the suit was decorated with strappings of California’s San Joaquin Valley, icons which were no different from any other farming community in 1950s America : husks of corn, bales of hay, and barefooted, overalled farmers carrying buckets. The suit was designed for Adamson by Nudie Cohen, rodeo taylor for stars. In those days, a Nudie suit was the mark of stardom for country and western performers ranging from the Maddox Brothers and Rose to Elvis Presley. In the mid-50s Bobby Adamson was a member of this select fraternity of celebrities, for he and his boyhood friend Woody Wayne Murray were the Farmer Boys, a talented vocal duo whose brief moment in the spotlight lasted for only a few years before being obliterated by the coming of rock and roll. Despite recording for the prestigious Capitol Records label and touring with stars of the Grand Ole Opry as well as Elvis Presley himself, the Farmer Boys are never mentioned in the annals of country music history. Yet the Farmer Boys helped popularize the distinct and provocative « Bakersfield Sound » that lives on today in the music of Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam. (suite…)