Where You Gonna Rock Tonight: Jimmy Franklin, Part 1

He could sing “Hawaiian War Chant” and make your hair stand on end. – Chuck Oakes [1]

Jimmy Franklin publicity portrait, late 1940s

Jimmy Franklin publicity portrait, ca. 1947. Source: Keith Cady

During the summer of 1957, Colby’s Bowling Alley in Port Huron rocked with a boogie beat. Pianist Pete DeBree and his country-western band, the Wanderers, performed nightly. The new rock’n’roll music proved just as popular with Colby’s crowds as the old square dances. Lucky for DeBree, versatile singer Jimmy Franklin kept the dance floor bouncing, whether by shouting the blues or calling square dance moves.

Franklin wrote “Hey, Mr. Presley,” a tribute song to Elvis, and recorded it for Fortune Records in Detroit that year (issued on Fortune 200). For the flipside of the 45-rpm disk, Franklin came up with another screamer called “Long Tall Lou.” Not long after he cut these rockers, assembled into one of the wildest records of the Fortune catalog, Franklin disappeared.

The Prairie Drifters

Around late 1947 or early 1948, Jimmy Franklin (born in 1927) made his recording debut in Dayton, Ohio, with Jimmie Saul and his Prairie Drifters, a country swing band. Franklin, who sang and played upright bass, and guitar, and his brother Marvin “Whitey” Franklin, who played steel guitar, had moved from West Liberty, Kentucky, to work in Dayton’s country music nightclubs after World War II.

The Prairie Drifters cut four sides, which Saul pressed on his Redskin label through an arrangement with Four Star Records of California. Bill McCall had operated Four Star, out of Pasadena, for just a few years. Besides finding artists for his label through talent agents, McCall chose music for his catalog through a custom service that gave him access to recordings he could license to issue on Four Star.

"My Long Tall Gal From Tenn." by Jimmie Saul and his Prairie Drifters (Redskin 500 A)Franklin and company swung the beat on both sides of Saul’s first Redskin record (no. 500): Franklin’s “My Long Tall Gal From Tennessee” backed with “That’s All” (credited to “Saul-Travis” on the label, even though Merle Travis claimed full authorship on his 1946 recording for Capitol Records). The second record (no. 501) featured “Firecracker Stomp” (credited to Saul-Dalton), an instrumental with guitar and bass solos as explosive as its title. From the grooves of the flipside came “Oh What A Price You’ll Have To Pay,” a sweet, slow song by Franklin. From the start, Franklin’s vocals favored pop musical styles.

Saul’s unidentified crackerjack band included electric guitar, acoustic rhythm guitar, upright bass, and fiddle. In 1947, guitarist Roy Lanham established a version of his group the Whippoorwhills in Dayton, including Doug Dalton (mandolin), Gene Monbeck (rhythm guitar) and Donald “Dusty” Rhoads (bass). [2] Members of the Whippoorwhills may have been at Saul’s session, which might explain: a) over-the-top country jazz performances, and b) why Dalton’s name appeared on “Firecracker Stomp.” [3] Guitarist Chuck Oakes, who worked Dayton nightclubs with the Franklin brothers at the time, said, “I used to know a bunch of guys in Dayton who were real good musicians and one of ’em was Doug Dalton, [another] was Dusty Rhoads, and the other guy was Gene Monbeck, and he had a Stromberg guitar that was made in New York, a beautiful thing. … They were all friends of mine.”

Listen to: Jimmy Franklin – My Long Tall Gal From Tennessee

Billboard magazine gave Saul’s first record a favorable review in its May 8, 1948, edition. [4] Around December 1948, Bill McCall paired “Firecracker Stomp” and “My Long Tall Gal From Tennessee” on his Four Star label, just a couple of releases after the Maddox Bros. and Rose’s popular recording of Woody Guthrie’s “Philadelphia Lawyer.”

A few years after Saul’s Four Star record came out, both songs appeared again. “Firecracker Stomp” was reissued on Four Star under the name Jimmie Lane, as the B-side to the Davis Sisters’ “Jealous Love” (leased from Fortune Records in 1953). In 1957, Franklin, with Pete DeBree and the Wanderers, burned down “My Long Tall Gal From Tennessee” to extract the hard-rocking “Long Tall Lou” for Fortune. [5]

The Franklin Brothers
Whitey Franklin at Detroit's Dixie Belle bar, early 1950s

Whitey Franklin at Detroit’s Dixie Belle bar, early 1950s. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Arizona Weston

While living in Dayton, the Franklin brothers met guitarist Chuck Oakes, and worked with him and rhythm guitarist Emerson “Happy” Moore for several weeks before Oakes and Moore moved to Detroit. Jimmy’s wife, Dimples Darlene, also played bass and performed comedy with her husband on stage. In June 1949 the Franklin brothers toured Canada as the Radio Rangers, landing at CHAB radio Moosejaw, Saskatoon. [6] The group moved to the Motor City by 1950.

In Detroit the Franklins easily found work in the jumping nightclub scene. Chuck Oakes hired them as soon as they arrived. In 1951, fiddler and comedian James “Chick” Stripling worked with the Franklins, along with guitarist Chuck Carroll, at the Roosevelt Lounge. It was one of Carroll’s first jobs in Detroit. “Jimmy did most of the singing, then,” said Carroll. “Chick Stripling played fiddle, … Al Allen played [guitar]. I guess they were playing music six nights a week and we [Carroll and Allen] took turns. I’d play about the first three nights, … he’d switch it around and I could have the weekends off.” [7]

Jimmy and Dimples Franklin

In early 1951 the group headed for a job at CKUA radio Edmonton, Alberta (Al Allen remained in Detroit). In June Billboard reported, “Georgia Cotton Pickers, heard daily over CKUA, Edmonton, Alta., have cut four sides for 4-Star. Personnel includes Jimmy and Whitey Franklin; Chick Stripling, formerly with Sunshine Sue, WWVA, Wheeling, W.Va.; Chuck Carroll, who did some sides for Fortune, the Detroit label, and Dimples Darlene, Jimmy’s frau.” [8]

Listen to: Jimmie Saul’s Prairie Drifters – Firecracker Stomp

Twelve months later, Billboard said the Franklin Brothers were touring Canada with Wilf Carter, a.k.a. Montana Slim. [9] Chuck Carroll returned to Detroit by the start of 1952.

After the Canadian tour with Carter, the Franklin brothers returned to Detroit, where they played gigs with Chuck Oakes, Danny Richards, and Eddie Jackson. Stripling also returned to Detroit, playing fiddle in the Motor City’s country nightclubs through the 1960s.

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Coming in Part 2: Jimmy Franklin heads west for TV and radio work, then returns to Port Huron and Detroit, where he cuts his most famous disk of all.

 

Notes

  1. Chuck Oakes interviewed by Keith Cady in 2000.
  2. Rich Kienzle “Neither Fish Nor Fowl” Southwest Shuffle (New York: Routledge, 2003), 224.
  3. Jimmie Saul played the bass. This was confirmed by Happy Moore‘s wife Elizabeth to Craig Maki during conversation in February 2014. After reading this story, researcher Kevin Coffey sent Craig Maki a note on May 6, 2013. Years ago, Coffey had a suspicion Roy Lanham played on “Firecracker Stomp.” He asked bassist Red Wootten, who was associated with Roy Lanham and Doug Dalton, if he recognized the musicians on the instrumental, and Wootten suggested Doug Dalton played fiddle on the session.
  4. “Record Reviews” Billboard (May 8, 1948. Vol. 60, No. 19), 127. “Franklin’s singing clear and well-phrased. Lyric a cut above average folk stuff, and the Drifters come on.”
  5. Jack and Dorothy Brown of Fortune Records leased their recording of the Davis Sisters “Jealous Love” to Four Star after the Davis Sisters signed a contract with RCA-Victor and left Detroit. Pete DeBree’s first single on Fortune was an instrumental called “Wanderers Blues” backed with a shuffling version of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” sung by Bernie Sanders (no. 193, 1956).
  6. Johnny Sippel “American Folk Tunes” Billboard (June 11, 1949. Vol. 61, No. 24), 30, 34.
  7. Chuck Carroll interviewed by Keith Cady in 2000.
  8. Johnny Sippel “American Folk Tunes” Billboard (June 9, 1951. Vol. 63, No. 23) 30. Records by Chick Stripling and the Georgia Cotton Pickers could not be identified in Four Star discographies. Recordings could exist on custom labels the group might have ordered from Four Star.
  9. Johnny Sippel “American Folk Tunes” Billboard (June 14, 1952. Vol. 64, No. 24), 59.

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