The R.W. Norton Art Gallery >> Oral History Project               Search
 
Home About Participate Search Students FAQS FAQS
Image
0484-MUS-12/2009
Frankie Miller
Sergeant
U. S. Army
Korean War
Music
Dates of Service: 06/1952 - 03/1954
Artillery Forward Observer, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Division
Images
Audio Samples

He was born in Victoria, Texas, as the youngest of three children to Frank Miller, a railroad engineer, and Bessie Margaret Sauer Miller. Frank is a junior but he does not use the title. Much of his life he has gone by Frankie, the name given him when he began recording for Columbia Records. "They taught me to be honest and to love people," he remarks of his parents. The family home, at 1109 East Ash, was near the railroad tracks in Victoria, which was a division headquarters. In the worst of the Depression his father was laid off, and became foreman for a chicken farm near Smiley, Texas, where Frankie's maternal grandparents lived. Frankie spent many summer days at his grandparents' farm. In Victoria Frankie ran a paper route for the Victoria Advocate. He also developed a love of music, learning the guitar, listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, and playing records on his grandparents' wind-up Victrola. During World War II Victoria boomed with two air bases in town. Frankie recalls rationing, collecting scrap metal, and hearing war news on the radio. In high school he played sports. He graduated in 1949, then spent two years at Victoria College, while considering a career in boxing. "But I started playing music," he recalls. "I decided that was a lot safer business most of the time!" Forming a dance band, The Drifting Texans, Frankie performed at local venues and "all over South Texas," playing "all the popular songs" in country music. He calls Hank Williams, Sr. and Ernest Tubb, "two of my real heroes." He also admired a Houston songwriter, Floyd Tillman. "Those were three of my favorite people," he says. In 1951 he recorded his first song, I Don't Know, at a recording studio in Houston, where he signed his first recording contract with Four Star Records. Frankie entered the U.S. Army in 1952, and took basic training at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, California. There, at the post chapel on August 23, 1952, he married Ann Elizabeth Felkins of Freeport, Texas. (They would have two children and four grandchildren.) While on post Frankie assembled a band, including Sonny Trammel, who would later play on Louisiana Hayride, along with another Shreveport resident, Ray Lakey. Trained as a field wireman in artillery, Frankie shipped to Korea on the USS General M.C. Meigs (AP-116) in November of 1952, landing in Inchon. On a train ride to his base, North Koreans and Chinese fired at the trains. "Man, we were laying on the floor and the bullets started coming through the old wooden boxcars. Ping! Ping!" he recalls. Frankie served with Able Battery, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division as a wireman and forward observer. He lived with the 23rd Infantry Battalion, about a mile and a half in advance of his battery, along with his beloved dog, Kaw-liga. Frankie earned a Bronze Star for his service as a liaison specialist and reconnaissance sergeant. In early 1954 he shipped home aboard the USS General R.L. Howze (AP-134) and was discharged at Fort Bliss in El Paso. Frankie quickly re-formed his band, which included older brother, Norman Miller on rhythm guitar; Jimmy Summey, steel guitar; Donald Hawks, bass fiddle; Dutch Wells, fiddle; Jack Kennedy, piano. Later, however, at the urging of an executive with Columbia Records, Frankie and the family moved to Arlington in 1955, while his brother kept the band in South Texas. Woodward "kept me busy" with bookings, Frankie recalls. He ranged across the country, as well as to Canada and England, traveling "a lot" with George Jones, with whom he still maintains a friendship. He also traveled in a "package show" with such stars as Jones, Webb Pierce, Freddie Hart, and Bill Anderson. Meanwhile, he played a Saturday night radio show, Cow Town Hoe Down in Fort Worth. Miller began appearing on Louisiana Hayride in 1955, along with a young Elvis Presley. "He was a friendly guy, always smiling," he says. "He'd just come out on stage and just tear that whole Louisiana Hayride up." For each night's performance he earned $17.50. One song he wrote and sang on the show was Black Land Farmer, a hit that soared to the top of the country chart and won a Grammy. "This was my biggest song," he says. Frankie performed on the Hayride until it closed. He also appeared on Grand Ole Opry and Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, he estimates, he was performing more than 200 shows a year. In 1966, weary of life on the road, Frankie left the music business and joined Chrysler Corporation, where he worked for 32 years before retiring. In 1998 he returned to the recording studio. He also performed for ten years at Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Fort Worth and was inducted in 2002 into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. More recently he has produced a CD, Frankie Miller, the Family Man for Heart of Texas Records label.