- Randall Franks
Randall Franks designated the "Appalachian Ambassador of the Fiddle."
The glow of dozens of kerosene lanterns fill the rural night in the Appalachians of North Georgia as neighbors dance to the sound of an old black fiddle played by A.J. “Harve” Franks. Little did he know that as he taught his son Tom to play, a century later, these same notes will touch more than 25 million people enjoying the music of his great grandson, Randall .The award winning singer and musician shares his homespun humor, music and songs in concerts from coast to coast. His music is heard on radio from Malaysia to the Grand Ole Opry. Randall is one of Bluegrass music’s brightest stars. When performing, the champion fiddler also shares his talents on mandolin, guitar and mountain dulcimer.Randall was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
TV and movies
As TV’s “Officer Randy Goode” on the hit series "In the Heat of the Night ", he appeared for five years on NBC and CBS and now on Turner South and is seen in 150 countries around the world.Franks has appeared in numerous films including Hallmark Hall of Fame’s “The Flamingo Rising” co-starring with Academy Award winner
William Hurtas “Officer Randy Kraft.” He starred in the sci-fi thriller “Phoenix Falling” with Stella Parton, in the Vietnam War era action adventure “Firebase 9.” He also made a special appearance in Dolly Parton’s “Blue Valley Songbird” for Lifetime. Franks began his movie career with a singing role in the movie “Desperate For Love” with Christian Slater.Franks recently hosted and directed the PBS documentary “Still Ramblin’” highlighting the life of Georgia singing cowboy and early Grand Ole Oprystar Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott.His latest Crimson CD “God’s Children” pays homage to the brother duets of the 1930’s. The project includes appearances by David Davis, Sonny Shroyer, “Enos” from the “Dukes of Hazzard,” the late Cotton and Jane Carrier and Marty Hays. The single “Children In Need,” co-written by Franks and Tommy Scott, featured a performance with Sonny Shroyer reminding listeners of the importance of helping the children in one’s community through a whimsical tale told by “Ollie the Old Church Owl” portrayed by Shroyer.
Randall embarked on a new facet of his career when he co-authored the award winning “Stirring Up Success with a Southern Flavor” with Shirley Smith, executive director for the Catoosa County Learning Center. Franks gathered over 70 celebrities for the cookbook that incorporates celebrities, center stories and Catoosa County history and photos to assist with the fundraising project for the center. In just one year of sales, that book yielded the program over $27,000 in 2004. With the 2007 release of "Snake Oil, Superstars, and Me," the autobiography of Ramblin'
"Doc" Tommy Scott, Franks joined Scott and fellow co-author Shirley Noe Swiesz in completing the 700-page project highlighting Scott's 90 years on the stage, film and television. Franks is currently working on two other books, one featuring stories of his experiences in entertainment and another reflecting the Appalachian upbringing of his late mother.
Early musical experiences
As a child, Randall was exposed to the rich heritage of Georgia fiddlin’ at family reunions. Randall’s desire to learn was sparked at the age of eight when he heard the “Orange Blossom Special” by Ervin Rouse and Chubby Wise. He was inspired to study both classically with Donald Grisier, Ph.D. and at the feet of some of Georgia’s fiddle legends such as the Skillet Licker Gordon Tanner, WSB Barndance host Cotton Carrier, Anita Sorrells Mathis and Dallas Burell.While still in school, Randall formed the children’s bluegrass band The Peachtree Pickers. It was through this act that he gained attention from national acts and television becoming a regular on the “Country Kids TV Series” and appearing for the Grand Ole Opry. The group recorded five albums.To support the group’s efforts Franks started a Randall “Randy” Franks Peachtree Picker Fan Club, coordinated by Pearl Bruce. The club grew to include around 8,000 fans by 1986 rivaling and exceeding those of top country stars of the period. Franks created “The Pickin’Post” newsletter to keep the large group of fans informed sharing info on his career as well as Southern bluegrass festivals and other groups. The club also launched “The Singing Post” for fans exclusively interested in gospel music. The club grew even more dramatically during Franks' success on television. After more than 20 years, “The Pickin Post” continues to keep fans informed three times each year from P.O. Box 42, Tunnel Hill, Ga. 30755.
In the 1980’s, The Father of Bluegrass,
Bill Monroetook a special interest in the young band and especially the young fiddler. Monroe spent hours teaching and sharing with Randall much like Monroe’s Uncle Pen had done for him. With the departure of Kenny Baker, Randall was asked to join the Bluegrass Boys. Still in school, he took off to tour from coast to coast. Though school beckoned him back, Randall continued to make appearances with Monroe up until he stopped touring.
Disc jockey and artist credits
While in college, Franks became part of the cast of the WRFG radio show “The Bluegrass Festival,” hosted by T.P. and Sandra Hollomon. As part of the highest-rated bluegrass show in the Atlanta market, Franks participated on the weekly broadcast and occasionally filled in for the hosts. He also from time to time, hosted his own shows on WRFG. In the early 1990s, he hosted “Sacred Sounds” featuring bluegrass gospel on WGFS in Covington, Ga.With more than 200 recordings to his credit, his music has brought him on stage or in the studio to perform with entertainers in a variety of music fields:
Carl Perkins; Charlie Daniels; Peabo Bryson; The Whites; Ricky Skaggs; Kitty Wells; Pee Wee King; Jimmy Dickens; Jeff and Sheri Easter; The Lewis Family; The Isaacs; The Primitive Quartet; Bill Monroe; Jim and Jesse; Ralph Stanley; Raymond Fairchild; Jimmy Martin; Mac Wiseman; Chubby Wise; Josh Graves; Doug Dillard; Jerry Douglas; Sam Bush; Byron Berline; The Warrior River Boys; The Sand Mountain Boys; The Gary Waldrep Band; The Cox Family; The Sidemen; Elaine and Shorty; “Doc” Tommy Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show.Randall was also tapped by two other nationally known performers: Folk Music’s Doodle and the Golden River Grass, with whom Randall carried on the Georgia Fiddle Band tradition; and multi award winning gospel quartet, The Marksmen, who Randall longed admired for their vocal artistry.
EBA and fostering bluegrass
Randall founded the SouthEastern Bluegrass Association (SEBA) in 1984 to preserve, promote and publicize Bluegrass Music. Through the organization which has grown to one of the country’s largest he supported the creation of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).Randall saw a bluegrass void in some areas in his home state of Georgia so in the mid 1980s he began promoting bluegrass concerts using regional talent in communities that did not have bluegrass events nearby to increase the visibility of the field outside bluegrass festivals. He carried this endeavor one step farther during his off time from “In the Heat of the Night” when he began the “Share with D.A.R.E.” (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) concert series held in communities in several states featuring acts including Jim and Jesse, The Lewis Family, the Osborne Brothers himself and others. The shows showcased bluegrass stars while raising awareness and funds for a program to help keep children off drugs.
In 1989, Randall released “Golden River Fiddlin’” to the Folk and Bluegrass markets. SPBGMA, the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America, said Randall had a “Special Touch on the fiddle” while Bluegrass Unlimited called him “Hard Driving…Straightahead..Solid…Sure” like Tommy Jackson and Paul Warren. Randall studied commercial music while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Georgia State University. Upon graduation, he entered a position as Sales and Promotions Manager for Atlanta based MBM Records. He quickly discovered that independent bluegrass and gospel music recordings were difficult to market amongst mainstream retailers but he set out to make the music he loved available in as many outlets as he could. As he rose in popularity on television, he used his celebrity status to break down the barriers that he previously faced as a record executive and many other bluegrass and gospel artists encountered by calling mainstream and Christian retail buyers and store managers directly using his podium from NBC and CBS to assist record companies and distributors in marketing his and other bluegrass and gospel product. Through the effort his products and many other artists sold by the companies he worked with became available in record chains throughout the country.At a time when the industry was made of largely of established stars rather than rising new performers, Franks joined fellow rising star Alison Krauss as the most visible fiddlers and personalities of the industry in the late eighties and early nineties.With Randall’s widespread notoriety he gained by weekly network exposure, he worked to expose bluegrass and Southern Gospel to this new audience appearing on radio and television talk, news and entertainment shows. Randall continues to appear on radio stations in all formats, television stations throughout the country, gives countless print interviews talking about and sharing the music he loves.
Inspiring the youth
He also carried this message to America’s youth as an Honorary D.A.R.E. Officer appointed by the National Dare Officers Association, he has appeared for more than 10,000 students across the country to encourage them to live a successful drug-free life while also sharing his love of bluegrass music to a new generation of listeners. He coordinated a nationwide radio campaign featuring Alan Autry, David Hart and himself to encourage a drug-free life.Randall began the 1990’s as he crossed over to the Southern Gospel market being the first bluegrass performer to take his solo music project “Handshakes and Smiles” to the Top 20 Sales Charts. Singing News gave it “Four Stars”.
In the Heat of the Night Christmas
Serving both as an artist and producer, Randall Franks and his "In the Heat of the Night" co-star
Alan Autryjoined forces under the banner of Autry-Franks Productions to produce the charity "In the Heat of the Night" CD "Christmas Time's A Comin'" featuring the cast of the show. The project raised funds for drug abuse prevention charities.With Franks producing, Autry performed his rendition of " Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" in homage to Gene Autry. Franks performed an original song with Grand Ole Oprystars The Whites entitled "Let's Live Everyday Like It was Christmas." The duo both performed on "Jingle Bells" and "Christmas Time's A Comin'." Franks and Autry were able to include many music legends, some among them, Country Music Hall of Famers Kitty Wells, Jimmy Dickensand Pee Wee Kingas well as almost every top legend from the Bluegrass genre, from Jim and Jesse to the The Lewis Family. The “Christmas Time’s A Comin’” CD released on Sonlite and MGM/UA was one of the most popular Christmas releases of 1991 and 1992 with Southern retailers.
Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys
In addition to his own concert and personal appearances in the early 1990s, Randall became part of the Grand Ole Opry’s
Jim and JesseShow in 1990 appearing at concerts and festivals intermittently with the bluegrass Hall of Honor members until 1996.Franks formed his Hollywood Hillbilly Jamboree in the early 1990s, bringing his unique style of bluegrass into fairs, festivals and communities not normally including bluegrass in their annual celebrations. His show packages included a variety of stars, one of those casts were Donna Douglas, “Elly Mae Clampett” of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Sonny Shroyer“Enos” from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and himself. Another television commercials package featured Dan Biggers“Doc Robb” from TV’s “In the Heat of the Night.” Other musical acts that appeared with his show include David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, Gary Waldrep, Ryan Robertson, Barney Miller, James Watson, Danny Bell, Bill Everett, Gilbert Hancock, Sue and Kim Koskela, Roger Hammett, The Sand Mountain Boys, The Dowden Sisters and others. At one South Carolina event alone over 30,000 people came out to see the show and his show was the only featured attraction.Both his “Sacred Sounds of Appalachia” (1992) and his “Tunes and Tales from Tunnel Hill” (1995) were among the top thirty bluegrass recordings of the year. His “Let’s Live Everyday Like It Was Christmas” single with Grand Ole Opry stars The Whites was given a nod as one of the top Country Vocal Collaborations.Randall was tapped to host the SPBGMA Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn. at the Roy Acuff Theater in 1995. He presented Del McCoury his Male Vocalist of the Year Award at the IBMA Awards in Owensboro, Ky. in 1992.
"Doc" Tommy Scott
In addition to his schedule, Randall began working with Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott in 1995. While he worked on the sets of “Grace Under Fire” and “Foxworthy” in Studio City, Calif., he arranged for “Doc” Tommy Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show with its unique bluegrass flavor to perform at celebrations during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A veteran 1940s Grand Ole Opry comedian, Scott joined Franks on his 1999 “Comedy Down Home” on Crimson Records. The duo co-wrote the 1999 Lewis Family hit “You Can’t Stop Time.” Scott founded the original Hollywood Hillbilly Jamboree in 1945. Each has appeared on the others’ stage shows.
Some awards and appearances
Randall was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004.Randall has been honored with countless awards including The Fiddlin’ John Carson Award, A.S.E. Male Vocalist of the Year, The Cotton Carrier Award, Little Jimmy Bryant Musician Award and a S.A.R. Citizenship Award. The Governor of Kentucky honored him for his contributions to the music of Bill Monroe. Catoosa County designated him “Appalachian Ambassador of the Fiddle” in 2004. Franks said he is honored that visitors to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Macon can see his exhibit in the Skillet Licker Café beside other Georgia notables Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood.He has performed at thousands of events and television shows including 20 years at CMA Fan Fair, most of the leading Bluegrass Festivals, The National Folk Festival, National Black Arts Festival, Georgia Mountain Fair, ACM Fan Fest, Grand Ole Opry, Fiddlin’ Fish Music and Arts Festival, The Grand Masters, Command Presidential Performance, Nashville Now, Crook and Chase, Miller & Company, Reno’s Old Time Music Festival and HGTV’s Extreme Homes.
Journalism and screenwriting
Randall began an interest in writing while still in high school. He began writing entertainment articles for various publications such as Bluegrass Unlimited, the SEBA Breakdown, Precious Memories magazine, and others.His love of writing blossomed into scriptwriting under the tutorage of Carroll O’Connor during his time on “In the Heat of the Night,” which yielded him the unique opportunity to co-write the screenplay for the #1 Country song “Wolverton Mountain” with
Merle Kilgore.Another career in mainstream journalism began in 2001 in association with News Publishing Co. His syndicated slice of life and entertainment column “Southern Style” is used in numerous publications. Many readers equate his folksy style to that of the late columnist Lewis Grizzard.In his first year of journalism, the Georgia Press Association awarded him a First Place Feature Photo award for a unique photo of the Bluegrass group The White Oak Mountain Boys. His writing has yielded numerous awards; one among those is W. Trox Bankston Award. He has helped garner two W. G. Sutlive trophies for community service and assisted The Catoosa County News in achieving the General Excellence award in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and a National Press Association award for Local News coverage.Randall served as the Chairman for the Catoosa Citizens for Literacy in 2002-04 and he took that position again in 2007-08 after serving as co-chair for two years. The organization operates the Catoosa County Learning Center helping residents reach their goals by learning to read, getting a GED or acquiring basic computer skills.Georgia honored Randall for his work to preserve the heritage of Georgia’s fiddling by naming a state sponsored fiddle contest in his honor. Franks serves as a field researcher for several museums throughout the South.
It was perhaps Franks' love for journalism in the entertainment field specifically, that also caused him to discover a huge oversight in a popular publication about television. In the renowned "Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows" by
Tim Brooksand Earle Marsh, the authors had long left out Franks' name in the complete regular cast list of "In the Heat of the Night". In the late 1990s, Franks picked up a copy of what had to have been the 1995 edition of the book, the first to have information on the entire series after it ended in 1994. Obviously feeling slighted when he discovered that he was never listed as a principal character in that edition and two previous ones, Franks wrote to the authors himself; he pointed out that he had co-starred on the series for five years, and asked to be added in the next edition. A rare instance of the authors omitting a prominent actor in a TV series listing, Franks got his wish when he was finally added, starting with the seventh edition in 1999. Brooks and Marsh even mentioned their contact by Franks, in their 1999 epilogue, to make up for the long holdout.
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