Leon Chappel remains a sadly unrecognized progenitor of western swing, later recording a clutch of singles for Capitol that are fascinating for their mutant hillbilly-blues approach.
Frank Miller Jr. was born on December 17th 1930, in Victoria, Texas and it wasn’t until his late teens that he began developing his musical talent on a Hank Williams style of Honky Tonk. Although he was a talented athlete, music finally overcame any hankerings he had of following sport as a career.
His elder brother Norman taught him how to play guitar. Norman had recorded for the obscure FBC label, based in Rosenberg, Texas (the same label that Mitchell Torok cut his first sides for). The brothers formed a band and attained a contract with Radio KNAL.
After Hank Locklin had given him a great ‘newcomer’ spot on his popular radio show, Miller got to make some recordings with Bill McCall’s Gilt Edge label. Before this Miller had given dubs to Macy Lela Henry’s Macy’s label in Houston, but Bill McCall came in first with a deal on his Gilt Edge label.
In mid 1951, along with his own band, The Drifting Texans, Miller recorded three sessions for Gilt Edge and on his second session his recording of ‘I’m Only Wishin’ almost earned him a contract with Decca, but due in part to his drafting in to the Korean war, the deal was never sealed.
After the war, Miller went to Columbia Records to begin a new contract and took with him a handful of songs he had written whilst in the army and at his first session he was assisted by Charlie Adams’ band, with the added help of Hank Thompson’s amazing steel guitarist, Lefty Nason. ‘Hey! Where ‘Ya Goin?‘ was cut at this time and released soon after. But after only two more sessions, Columbia dropped Miller in the wake of Rock & Roll.
Below are three Starday issues from 1959-1960 and a rare U.K. issue of Starday material
During this time he became a regular on the Big D Jamboree and Ft. Worth’s Cowtown Hoedown. Columbia dropped Miller some time in 1956, though he kept on writing and recording demos as he strove to remodel himself on a newer style of Country music.
Late in 1958 he signed to Starday and finally got that hit he so deserved. ‘Blackland Farmer’ backed with ‘True Blue’, became a huge hit on of all places, the pop charts, as a dance craze song! The early 1960s saw Miller notch up several noteworthy recordings for Starday that included two albums. In 1968 he released a single for the Stop label.
Australian EP below
prominent Starday recordings.
Final single release from 1968. Recorded on September 13th, 1968 at Music City Recorders, 821 19th Ave. South, Nashville 3, TN – Frankie Miller (Jerry Shook [gt], Pete Drake [steel], Jack Drake [bass], Buddy Harman [drums], Charlie McCoy [harmonica]. Producer: Tommy Hill)
By the late 1968 Frankie Miller had become disillusioned with the music industry with it’s corruption and his countless miles on the musical road of gigs and sessions and after only a string of mild hits and constant letdowns, so after a release for the aptly named ‘Stop’ label, he retired from the music business. He then began a career as a car dealer for Chrysler in San Antonio.
In 1999 he returned to the recording studio to record for Cowboy Capitol and in 2006 and 2008 he released a couple of albums for the Heart of Texas label.
2003 saw Frankie along with his guitarist Jimmy Eaves (the pair had recorded a gospel album for Pureco in 2001), came to England for a one off show at the ‘Rhythm Riot’. Miller amazed everyone with his fantastic vocal prowess, proving he can still cut the mustard. It’s a shame that the big labels back then didn’t see it. Who knows what might have become of his career if Decca had picked up his contract after the Korean War and if Columbia had let him loose in the studio instead of manipulating his musical direction?
Note from bopping’s editor: it really proved an uneasy task of choosing Frankie Miller’s music for the podcasts, his being of constantly highest quality. Hence more than 20 songs from his beginnings in 1951 to later 1964 products. I’ve excluded two Hank Williams’ renditions (Baby, We’re Really In Love, and I’d Still Want You – although well sung, not bringing something new), but added 5 fine live tracks from Louisiana Hayride 1959-60 shows.