Frankie's Man, JohnnybyJakeRivers©
Frankie's Man, Johnny
by Jake Rivers ©
A trifle to fill my idle time.
Various versions of the song "Frankie and Johnny" evolved from times past, and include: Frankie and Johnny, Frankie and Albert, Frankie's Blues, and numerous other versions. One form or another was already popular among railroaders of the west and along the Mississippi River by 1888.
Too much time has passed to have any agreement as to the origin., but one wide held possibility concerns a woman named Frankie Silvers. She became the heroine of a ballad, though probably not the direct ancestor of the various women of song named Frankie, after chopping up her no good husband - with an axe, yet - on the Toe River in North Carolina, in 1831. There were claims that this version was sung by Federal troops before Vicksburg in 1863.
Note that there is little agreement on the antecedents of Frankie and Johnny but lots of speculation.
This stanza will give you a sense of what a current version of song is like:
"Frankie reached down in her pocketbook,
And up with a long .44.
She shot once, twice, three times,
And Johnny fell on the hardwood floor.
Oh, he was a man all right,
But she shot him because he was doing her wrong."
Now this isn't a song just from the ancient past; even Lindsay Lohan has done a version, along with: Brook Benton, Elvis, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Van Morrison, Cisco Houston, Bluegrass Messengers and probably dozens of others, possibly including my sainted grandmother, Dottie Agnes Rivers.
Of them all though, the one I like the best is from Johnnie Cash, "Frankie's Man, Johnny." He has a different slant to the story.
"Then in the front door walked a redhead.
Johnny saw her right away.
She came down by the bandstand to watch him while he played.
He was Frankie's man but she was far away.
He sang every song to the redhead; she smiled back at him."
Thanks to Techsan for his editing support.
There were no two ways about it: Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts. They had been neighbors: Johnny was the handsome, devil-may-care teenager, always getting into trouble. Frankie was the cute girl next door and looked adorable in her first-in-town wearing of her pageboy hairstyle.
Frankie was sweet, all right, but she had steel in her. Johnny did have the roving eye and whenever he looked too long he paid the price: kissing Frankie became like kissing a frozen pumpkin.
Things might have gone that way for a while, love drifting along, but for the Chinese crossing the Yalu into Korea and the kind request of Johnny's friends and neighbors for him to go to Korea and kill those hordes of Chinese Communists.
For Frankie, this meant that the more yonder Johnny became the fonder of him she became. Love became desire and Frankie ached for her lover's return. Nights became a recurring flood of tears on Frankie's pillowcases.
Johnny, though, took yonder to mean wander … and wander he did. Frankie was far away and there were all these girls: Korean beauties, nurses, USO staff … and several times the sexy entertainers.
Johnny surprised himself … and a hell of a lot of other people, Frankie included, when he showed an unexpected flair for killing the evil Chicoms. An unfortunately aimed - from Johnny's perspective, not from the Chicom sniper's who got a great communist attaboy for the six-hundred yard shot -- left Johnny with a forever kind of limp and his heroics earned him a Silver Star.
The combination of the limp and the medal, not to mention his All America Boy good looks, earned him a war bond tour. Frankie was proud to see her lover boy in the headlines of the papers for killing all of those "Godless Commies." The papers didn't print pictures of the hanger's on, the groupies before there were called groupies; she didn't know that her man had a wicked wandering eye. He was her man … nearly all the time -- mostly.
Released from the war, released from the rigors - and the de rigeur wanderings - of the War Bond tour, Johnny came home. Two days later Johnny's lust and Frankie's firm "No, not until we are married!" led them from Nashville to a neighboring state where any justice of the peace would marry them.
Blissfully wed, Frankie and Johnny looked forward to a happy life together. Johnny found that his new wife could satisfy all of his lust. He was her man and they were true as a blue, blue sky. There was only one fly in the ointment, so to speak, and that was that Johnny had only two skills: killing those nasty hordes of Chinese communists and picking at his Tennessee flat-top box. He in no manner wanted to go back to Korea -- even with the nubile, willing USO girls -- but he was damned good at his guitar picking.
When Frankie started expecting something other than Johnny coming home at night … well, push came to shove and Johnny quit playing his guitar in local bars for free beer and got an agent. When all that expecting Frankie was doing eventually produced another mouth to feed, things were gonna get expensive and Frankie's man, Johnny needed to make some money.
Now Johnny's agent was a good old boy from Huntsville and he quickly got gigs for Frankie's long legged guitar picker with the wandering eye … 'cepting she didn't know about that part but he was her man nearly all the time. Johnny picked up to leave his love Frankie and her promised he'd be back.
He told her, "Honey, I just have a little pickin' to do a little farther down the track. I'm your man and I wouldn't do you wrong."
Her man played that Tennessee flat-top box from Macon to Medina and from Nashville to Knoxville to Fayetteville and all the other Villes throughout the south. He became known and crowds began to flock to every tavern and honky-tonk for miles around wherever he would play. It did seem there were lots of young ladies showing up in heat for that brown-eyed man with the curly black hair.
One night when Johnny was playing far away and couples were dancing to the music of his band, Frankie got to thinking, "He's my man … he wouldn't do me wrong."
It wasn't but a couple weeks later that Johnny and his band were playing at a dance hall in Dothan, Alabama. The crowd was happy, the night warm, the beer cold and the music hot. He had just started the second set when he saw the woman come in. If the music was hot she was even hotter. Johnny was good enough that his guitar seemed to play itself while he appreciated the lovely vision as she strutted towards a table right in front of the bandstand.
It wasn't the warmth of the stage lights that made his forehead bead with sweat. She was tall, most of six foot, with bright red hair cascading down to her waist. She was wearing a tight crimson dress with a hemline unfashionable way north of her knees. Her waist almost wasn't, her bust was straining the seams of the dress and when he lustfully looked at her hips he broke a string on his guitar and had to grab his backup to finish the song. When she sat down Johnny almost drooled as he caught sight of a flash of bare flesh at the top of her stocking as she sat down.
He could see her watching him play, a smile on her lips and in her emerald eyes. Johnny vouchsafed a wink and was rewarded with a wink back. He knew at once the game was on. He sang every song to the redhead and her smile became more and more friendly. He was Frankie's man but she was far away. What she didn't know wouldn't hurt her none.
When the break came he walked down to her table and sat down. "Wal, darlin', how 'bout a beer?"
She nodded so he waved to the bartender with two fingers. They chatted as the beers came … several times. Johnny was feeling pretty good about how his night was going to end. With the end of the music the lights were low and dim and he was feeling amorous. He leaned over to kiss those ruby lips and casually put his hand on her bare knee. Well, then the fat hit the fire. The long lanky redhead stood up and slapped him a time or two … then she slapped him again.
"I'm Frankie's sister and I was checkin' up on you! If you're her man, you better treat her right."
Well, this story ends with a moral: be good but carry a stick. Sometimes it seems a guitar picker just can't tell what to pick.
He was Frankie's man and he wasn't doing her wrong … any more.