A staple of the Odessa country music scene for 50 years, guitarist-fiddler Freddie Frank (1931-2005) spent his formative years 470 miles to the east, 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.
"12,000 Texas Longhorns" was Freddie's debut, from 1952. 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. Red Hayes seems to have been everywhere in the early '50s. He would eventually follow Freddie to Odessa.
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 Rhodes on Gene Vincent's "Five Days, Five Days," but received no credit for writing the music to Vincent's "Red Blue Jeans and a Ponytail." Freddie's original demo of the latter can be heard on the Various Artists CD, Gene Vincent Cut Our Songs (Ace). ("Five Days, Five Days" credited there to Jimmy Johnson, may actually be Freddie.)
Freddie Frank and his Band, c. May, 1959. Possibly taken in Odessa. Click to enlarge.
The Northeast Texas scene coalesced almost entirely around Kilgore and Longview for the same reason that Jack Rhodes was able to run a lucrative bootlegging operation: most of the the surrounding counties were dry, and music jobs were scarce. Proximity to Shreveport and The Louisiana Hayride provided some glamor and promise for awhile, but that started to fade as the '50s wore on. This explains the exodus to West Texas that started happening with many Northeast Texas musicians. "You couldn’t make any money there," Freddie explained. "We were playing in those damn clubs for seven and eight dollars a night. And then, we come out here (to Odessa/Midland), and we’re making $150 a week. That was pretty good money for a musician. It’s always been easy to find work and make a living out here."
Friday, August 26, 2005 Odessa American
Frederick William “Freddie” Frank
Odessa Freddie was born July 19, 1931, in Baton Rouge, La., to Bill and Edna Frank and passed away Monday, Aug. 22, 2005, in Odessa. He was 74.
He is survived by his wife, Ila Joan Frank of Odessa; one daughter; one brother; two sisters; and two stepchildren. Freddie was a member of the Andy G. Vaughn Masonic Lodge in Odessa.
Freddie grew up in Kilgore and began his career as a professional musician there at the age of 17. He traveled all over the country, from Texas to California to Louisiana and Florida to Greenland and Nashville.
Freddie was a great fiddle player, teacher, songwriter and vocalist. He wrote and recorded several songs, one being a West Texas favorite, “This Old Rig.” Most People will remember him from the Stardust in Odessa, The Stampede in Big Spring and The Texas Country Bluegrass Band. He’ll be missed by all.
Arrangements are by Frank Wilson Funeral Home.
Thanks to Al Turner for the sound files and label scan.