FRANKIE MILLER (By Phil Davies)
Born Frank Miller Jnr., 17 December 1930, Victoria, Texas, on the Gulf Coast between Houston and Corpus Christi
I first heard of Frankie via Sleepy LaBeef's excellent 1971 cover of Frankie's great Blackland Farmer. Then I found Frankie's version on an old Ember UK lp. He had a fine pure country voice. Like many other worthy talents the much appreciated efforts of Germany's finest, Bear Family records, kept Frankie from being a long forgotten footnote in country's long forgotten past.
Frank's older brother Norman was hooked by the music of Ernest Tubb, but Frankie didn't become a convert until he heard ole Hank Williams in his late teens. Hank was his hero, but he also loved Floyd Tillman, Jerry Jericho and later, Lefty Frizzell. He formed his own country band while he went to college on a football scholarship (an all round sports star, he nearly became a pro boxer) and was soon making regular Saturday afternoon appearances on a local radio station in Victoria. His career progressed when he was featured on Hank Locklinīs show in Houston. It was in 1951 that Frankie first went into the recording studios and cut four tracks for Gilt Edge, a subsidiary of Four Star. He had five singles released from a 1951 session before Uncle Sam came a callin'. In 1952 his career was temporarily interrupted when he was drafted into the US Army for two years . After basic training in California he was sent to the front line in Korea where he attained the rank of sergeant and was awarded the bronze star. During his military service he managed to compose some 40 songs. Back in Texas again he was lucky to be signed to one of the major labels, Columbia. On the 27th July 1954 he entered Jim Beckīs studios in Dallas, Texas (where Lefty cut some gems) and recorded four tracks. "Hey! where ya goin?" and "Itīs no big thing to me" formed his first release on Columbia but it didnīt sell particularly well. He recorded a total of 12 songs for Columbia but none of them sold that well probably due to the newfangled rock n roll boom, and after five releases Columbia dropped him. He was regarded as an anachronism, a throwback to Lefty and Hank. Despite the lack of chart success Frankie continued to make personal appearances and was a regular on the Cowtown Hoedown radio show in Fort Worth. In 1957 he had a single release on the Cowtown Hoedown label. Miller then signed a recording deal with Manco, which resulted in one release. Then he signed with Starday and recorded the single "Blackland farmer/True blue" (Starday 424), a great rocking flip, both sides recorded over two years previously at Bill Quinn's Gold Star studio in Houston. The record entered Billboardīs Country Charts on the 13th of April 1959 and finally reached #5 and became Millerīs biggest seller.
It re-entered the charts in 1961 making the top 20 again. Frankie Miller was voted most promising New country Artist for 1960 by Cash Box Magazine. The follow up single "Family man" reached #7. Only two more releases managed to reach the charts, "Baby rocked her dolly" (1960), written by the great Merle Kilgore, and "A little south of Memphis (1964). He recorded over 50 sides for Starday and the world is waiting for a definitive Starday cd anthology to supplement the BF cd which covers the pre-Starday era. In the early sixties, Frankie, who was living in Arlington, Texas, was a member of the cast of the "Louisiana Hayride" in Shreveport, Louisiana and made several guest appearences on Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He also toured with Pee Wee King, Ferlin Husky and Johnny Cash. He was also a regular on the Big D Jamboree in Dallas. Check out the disog below for details of two live tracks from this legendary show. Frankie moved to Nashville, had two singles out on UA but by 1965 he lost interest in the fast changing music business and moved back to Texas. He started to work for Chrysler cars in Arlington, Texas. However, he recorded a single for Stop records in 1968 and and also recorded four songs under the direction of Dave Kirby and Hal Bynum in Pete Drakeīs studio in 1979. Those recordings were not released. Then in 1999 he suddenly started to appear again and surprised everyone with a cd on Cowboy Capital Records (The Comeback). He even overcame his reported stage shyness and appeared at the UK's annual Rhythm Riot in November 2003, delivering a fine hillbilly set.
Note -Beware of another Frankie Miller, a later Scottish gravel voiced singer, stick with the real thing.
Recommended web page:
good discography, some sides (also featured on the essential RCS page too).
Source for much of the above info.
Sugar Coated Baby, 1995 Bear Family cd. Fine notes as usual by the reliable Kevin Coffey. Great Hankalike music, the pre Starday sides, some from an earlier BF vinyl release (Hey, Where Ya Goin', BFX 15082); another BF lp had Starday material as well (Rockin' Rollin Frankie Miller, BFX 15128).
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