Tillman Franks: 09/29/1920 to 10/26/2006
Bassist, songwriter, promoter and manager Tillman Franks died in Shreveport, Louisiana, on October 26 after a lengthy illness. He was 86 years old.
Franks was best known for befriending Hank Williams Sr. and for bringing a young Elvis Presley to the attention of the Louisiana Hayride. Williams was still largely unknown and out of work when Franks helped him get work in Shreveport in the late 1940s. The white western suit that the rail-thin Williams made famous originally belonged to his more bear-like benefactor. “The pants had been taken in so far that the pockets met in the back,” Franks had said.
Though he’s often overlooked in the Presley story, Franks introduced the young singer to Hayride producer Horace Logan in 1954. The Hayride turned out to be a significant springboard to Presley’s fame. Franks had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Hayride that lasted from that institution’s first show in 1948 until his death.
During his career, Franks also represented Opry stars such as Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce, Billy Walker, Bill Carlisle, Jimmy C. Newman and Johnny Horton, and he helped replenish the pipeline of talent that ran between the Hayride in Shreveport and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Franks co-wrote some of Horton’s biggest hits, including “North To Alaska” and “Sink The Bismarck”. His song “Honky-Tonk Man” was a hit for Horton in 1956 and for Dwight Yoakam 30 years later.
An entrepreneur, Franks virtually invented the artist manager role. At a time when artists were the sole property of the record label, he protected his clients and took an active role in their career development. Franks’ combination of intuition and business smarts provided a model for such hands-on music business managers to come as Colonel Tom Parker, Brian Epstein and Albert Grossman.