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.
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.
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.
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),
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.
(Follow-up of the good article by Phillip J. Tricker in a 1992 Hillbilly Researcher issue, with additions by Bopping’s editor). See earlier the first article.
For the next release in order of issues we return to a Western swing disc with « Jelly roll blues » (# 5010) by fiddler/vocalist Guy “COTTON” THOMPSON & his Village Boys. The song, a jazz standard, which had been cut Western swing style by Cliff Bruner in 1937, has the steel player definitely Herb Remington. Thompson is best known for making Kokomo Arnold‘s « Milk cow blues » (1934) a western swing standard via his 1941 recording with Johnnie Lee Wills [brother of Bob] on Decca 46012, largely to be recorded later by e.g. Joe Martin on Coral, even in a folkish version by Tom Rush. A well known personality in Houston for a long time he had already recorded for GOLD STAR under his own name (« How long » #1381) and a vocalist on early Moon Mullican KING releases. Here he is in great form and the Village Boys cook along well.
JACK RHODES RAMBLERS (# 5011) had « Missing persons » and « How can I tell », although untraced do beggar two questions. First, who would the vocalist be : one Fiddling Bob Henderson ? This was not Mr. Rhodes, already a songwriter, bandleader and promoter, and evidently not a singer. Could it be JIMMY JOHNSON the vocalist, although many others fronted Rhodes’ band? As to « Missing persons », a song with that title appeared on Capitol by FERLIN HUSKEY, and the label credit « Reynolds-Rhodes-Huskey » as songwriters.
Freedom 5013 is untraced. The mysterious TRAILBLAZERS cut « A cowboys silent night » (# 5014), which is delivered ‘acapella’ and has a recitation by CAROL while « Little Moohee » has an acoustic guitar support and GEORGE handles lead vocal. Issued for Christmas 1950, it was cut at ACA studio, a location often used by Freedom, although they also are known to have made recordings at Bill Quinn’s Gold Star setup.
However where the next 78 was cut is a real mystery. HUB SUTTER and his Hub Cats were a superb outfit who recorded for LASSO, 4* and Columbus and Hub had a reputation for putting on a very fine act. « I don’t want my baby back » (# 5015) is a magnificent slab of bluesy Western swing, with Hub’s unique vocal style well suited to the song : he was capable of crooning the cooziest ballads or shouting the most whiskey-soaked blues; the backing is excellent with guitar and steel interweaving well.
Another gap in our knowledge appears at # 5017 and then we have the arrival of one of the most talented Hillbilly singers to come from Texas: JOHNNIE NELMS (born Houston in 1931). His output covers many years and includes a range of labels that extends from Decca to Gold Star, Starday, D and obscure labels like Westry (not in order given). With his Sunset Cowboys, his « If I can’t have you » (# 5018) is pure Texas Hillbilly/Honky tonk music. Great vocal over a superb band with swirling fiddles (Doug Myers), haunting steel (Herb Remington) and brilliant « knocked out rinky dink » piano. The flip side, « The bride to be » has unfortunately an organ backing, but even so Jimmie’s vocal is pure class. Another gap appears at # 5019.
TOMMY SANDS is the most well-known name to record for Freedom. His # 5022 (« Love pains/Syrup soppin’ blues » is extremely rare. Credited as Little Tommy Sands (The West’s Wonder Boy), it is his debut on record. He was not a Texan, born in 1937 in Chicago ; his family moved to Houston when he was young, and he would have been only 14 when he cut his record. Yet his vocal is assured and insouciant, and both sides are excellent boppers with great backing from an uncredited band, except Herb Remington on steel (the lead guitarist, unfortunately afforded no solo space, remains unidentified).
The fine uptempo « Somebody’s stealin’ (my baby’s kisses) » (# 5023) by BOB JONES & his Troubadours is a fast Hillbilly bop ditty. One may wonder if this is the same Bob Jones who appeared later on Starday (# 148 and 210) and more later on, on Dixie # 1070 (April 1964)(I want’ cha baby), valued at $ 50-60. Sorry, no picture available.
Bob Jones “Somebody’s stealin’ (my baby’s kisses)”
Gaps appear on # 5024 and # 5026, sandwiching the great double-sider (# 5025) « Cross roads » and « Hula boogie ». The former is a lugubrious ballad, that was quite a regional hit of little interest, but the latter is a fine bopper with good vocal and the Westernairs providing fine backing which include nice steel. TOMMY DURDEN also recorded for 4* (« That’s where you dropped your candy » with Boots Gilbert) with a band of the same name, led by Vic Cardis (4* 1500) , and for Pappy Daily’s ‘D’ label later, but his main claim to fame is as co-writer of « Heartbreak hotel ».
Issue # 5027 is by LAURA LEE & The Ranch Hands, but I’ve not heard « Everybody but me » ; « I’m lonely for you darling » is a good jumping uptempo (fiddle, steel) song..However it would seem that she is LAURA LEE McBRIDE, the wide of Dickie McBride, whose band probably supply the backing. LAURA LEE is a well-known and respected Western swing vocalist, who, besides recording under her own name (i.e. M-G-M 11086 « I love you boogie »), also sang and recorded with Bob Wills.
The location is the Trail ’80’ Courts, a motel in Mineola, about 90 miles east of Dallas, Texas. Inside a bunch of good ole boys have gathered for a songwriters’ jam session convened by the motel’s owner, Jack Rhodes. After various jobs, among them moonshiner and a back accident, he began writing country songs and putting on his first band, Jack Rhodes’ Ramblers, in 1947. They made their first professionnal recordings the same year, backing Rhodes’ brother-in-law Leon Payne. The acetates were sent to Jim Bulleit in Nashville, who issued 6 singles during 1947-48 by Payne. But in 1949, Payne switched to Capitol Records, forming his own band,the Lone Star Buddies, which led to a failure between he and Jack Rhodes. Rhodes’ Ramblers, later also named Lone Star Buddies did include the three Hayes brothers : Joe ‘Red’ and Kenneth ‘Little Red’ on fiddles, and Leon on bass. (more…)