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Tillman Ben Franks, Sr. (September 29, 1920 – October 26, 2006), was an American bassist and songwriter and the manager for a number of country music artists including Johnny Horton, David Houston, Webb Pierce, Claude King, and the Carlisles.

Tillman Franks
Born(1920-09-29)September 29, 1920
DiedOctober 26, 2006(2006-10-26) (aged 86)
Resting placeForest Park West Cemetery in Shreveport
Alma materC. E. Byrd High School
OccupationCountry music bassist/songwriter and manager
Spouse(s)Virginia Helen Suber Franks (married 1946-2006, his death)
ChildrenTillman Ben Franks, Jr.

The Reverend Watson Franks
Darlene Pearl Franks Pace Launius

Carolyn Rose Franks Browning



Franks was born in Stamps in Lafayette County in southwestern Arkansas, to George Watson Franks (1890-1967) and the former Pearl Galloway (1896-1983).[1] When he was two years of age, Franks' family relocated to Shreveport in northwestern Louisiana, where they assumed residence in the Cedar Grove neighborhood. In his later years he lived in southwestern Shreveport near his long-term friend Claude King, known for the 1962 hit songs "Wolverton Mountain" and "The Burning of Atlanta", a ballad about the 1864 battle of Atlanta in the American Civil War.

Franks served in the United States Army during World War II, after which he married the former Virginia Helen Suber (1927-2016), a native of Carthage, Texas, and a daughter of Earl Clark Suber (1900-1954), who served with the military police in World War II, and the former Rose Lee Rich (1907-1937).[2] Virginia was subsequently reared in two Shreveport orphanages and like her husband graduated from C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport. She became an artist with speciality in oil paintings, a seamstress, and sang with her husband of sixty years and their son, Tillman Franks, Jr.[3] The Frankses had two sons and two daughters.

Music careerEdit

After the war, Franks and Claude King formed the Rainbow Boys while working at an assortment of other jobs, mostly in automobile sales. On April 3, 1948, Franks played bass with the Bailes Brothers on the first night of the Louisiana Hayride, broadcast on Shreveport radio station KWKH.[4]

In 1955, as Johnny Horton's manager, he switched the budding singer from Mercury Records to Columbia. He was the sole writer of Horton's first No. 1 single, 1959's "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)". He and Horton were co-composers of "Honky Tonk Man", Horton's 1956 hit record, that Dwight Yoakam also recorded as his first single. During 1960, Franks co-wrote with Horton the successful single "Sink the Bismark".[5] Franks was injured in the head and internally as well in the automobile accident on November 5, 1960, in Milano in Milam County in East Texas, which resulted in the death of Johnny Horton[4] and the eventual loss of a leg by a third musician, Tommy Tomlinson.

Franks' contribution to rock and roll music has been recognized by his induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Hall of Fame, and his induction in 2003 into the Shreveport "Walk of Stars" where his feet and hand impressions are in concrete beside other talents, such as Elvis Presley, Terry Bradshaw, Kix Brooks, David Toms, and Franks' longtime friend Claude King. The Walk of Stars is located under the Shreveport side of Texas Street Bridge that spans the Red River to Bossier City.[4]

Tillman Franks helped to coin the phrase "The Magic Circle," which he describes in his autobiography as: "an area 50-miles in radius from downtown Shreveport from which many kinds of music evolved. I was lucky to have lived my life in The Magic Circle."[4]


On July 11, 1996, Shreveport observed "Tillman Franks Day", sponsored by KWKH.[4]

A 1940 graduate of Byrd High School, Franks was inducted in 2000 into the Byrd Hall of Fame, along with former Caddo Parish Sheriff Don Hathaway and B. L. "Buddy" Shaw, a former Byrd principal and a member of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature.[6]

Franks' brother, William Derrel "Billy" Franks (1926-2016), was the founding pastor of the Oakmont Church of God in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.[7] Billy Franks preached the funeral of Johnny Horton in 1960. Another brother, Edward Ray Franks, Sr. (1923-2014), retired after more than three decades in the United States Marine Corps and later engaged in various patriotic activities and conducted a state-recognized puppet ministry through the First Church of God in El Dorado, Arkansas.[8]

Franks died in the fall of 2006 at the age of eighty-five. His son, the Reverend Watson Franks, preached the funeral. The family is interred at Forest Park West Cemetery in Shreveport.

In 2019, KEEL Radio recalled Franks as "a legend that should be remembered [for] 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 ...He wrote great music. He recorded great music (he's associated with more than 50 No. 1 Country hits). He managed great talent. He had a great eye and ear for musical talent. His impact is truly amazing."[9]

Franks' out-of-print autobiography entitled Tillman Franks: I Was There When It Happened is still in demand by his remaining fans.[9]


  1. ^ "George Watson Franks". Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  2. ^ "Earl Clark Suber". Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  3. ^ "Virginia Franks". The Shreveport Times. September 15, 2016. Retrieved January 14, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Tillman Franks obituary". Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  5. ^ The Legendary Tillman Franks Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Hall of Fame Inductees: 2000". Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  7. ^ "William D. Franks obituary". from The Shreveport Times. April 26, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  8. ^ "Edward Ray Franks, Sr". Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  9. ^ a b Matt Parker (February 21, 2019). "The Forgotten Legacy of Tllman Franks". KEEL Radio.

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