Johnny Franz

Successful and highly regarded pianist and A&R producer for Philips Records in the UK.
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Artist Biography

b. John Charles Franz, 23 February 1922, London, England, d. 29 January 1977, London, England. An extremely successful and highly regarded pianist, and A&R producer for Philips Records in the UK. Franz began to study the piano when he was 13, and two years later, he joined the music publishers Francis, Day & Hunter. In parallel with his day job, Franz worked in the evenings with artists such as Jack Jackson, George Elrick and Nat Allen. He also served as accompanist to harmonica soloist Ronald Chesney, on the latter’s radio series. In 1940 Franz played the piano for the band singer Bernard Hunter’s first stage appearance, at Collins Music Hall, and, by the late 40s, had established a reputation as one of the leading accompanists in Britain, working with Adelaide Hall, Benny Lee and visiting American star Vivian Blaine. One of his most enduring associations was with Anne Shelton, and they were part of an entertainment ‘package’ that was flown on a round trip of 1, 500 miles to play three dates in the American zone of Nurembourg, West Germany, in 1950. Ironically, not long afterwards, Franz was a passenger in a Rapide small aircraft that up-ended on a runway in Jersey, and he was reluctant ever to fly again.

In 1954, after spending 17 years with Francis, Day & Hunter, while also discovering and coaching new talent, Franz was appointed the A&R Manager of Philips Records in 1954. His previous background meant that he was ideally suited to the job. He was able to select the right kind of material for his roster of artists, routine them, and explain to the musical arrangers precisely the sound that he wanted to hear on the finished records. Blessed with perfect pitch, he could also spot a clinker in the string section from the other side of the control room. In the late 50s Franz was responsible for the output of some of the most successful artists in the UK, such as Frankie Vaughan, Shirley Bassey, Harry Secombe, the Beverley Sisters, the Kaye Sisters, Robert Earl, Ronnie Carroll, Susan Maughan, Julie Rogers and, of course, Anne Shelton. It was his idea, when recording Shelton’s 1956 chart-topper ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, to add the sound of martial marching feet by having one of the studio staff shuffle about in a sand tray. In complete contrast, he worked with the risqué American cabaret star Ruth Wallis, and also produced the sophisticated Mel Tormé Meets The British, which was arranged by Wally Stott, one of Franz’s key conductor-arrangers along with Ivor Raymonde and Peter Knight.

In the late 50s, Marty Wilde was at the forefront of Philips’ assault on the charts, as Franz adapted to the radical musical changes that were happening all around him. Early in the 60s he nurtured the vocal instrumental group the Springfields, from which emerged one of the decade’s superstars, Dusty Springfield, with a string of hits that included the million-sellers ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ (written by her musical director, Raymonde, with Mike Hawker) and ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’. The Four Pennies were another successful Franz act around that time, with their UK number 1 ‘Juliet’; so too were the Walker Brothers, who introduced the pop world to another 60s icon, Scott Walker. The sound that Franz created for Walker Brothers hits such as ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’, ‘My Ship Is Coming In’ and ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More’, is sometimes called ‘Phil Spectorish’. This had shades of truth, although the two producers were very different in appearance and style: Franz could easily have been mistaken for a bank manager - albeit one who chain-smoked and devoured copious amounts of tea. As well as producing Scott Walker’s chart hits ‘Jackie’, ‘Joanna’ and ‘Lights Of Cincinnati’, Franz’s influence was also apparent on Sings Songs From His T.V. Series, which, with show numbers such as ‘I Have Dreamed’, ‘The Song Is You’ and ‘If She Walked Into My Life’, showed Walker to be a romantic balladeer of the old school. In a way, it was the ‘old pals’ act’ that brought much of the best commercial material Franz’s way. His contacts in the music publishing business, such as Cyril Shane, ensured that Philips were offered many potential hit songs, some of them from abroad. Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ came to London from the 1965 San Remo Song Festival, and in 1973, Franz placed ‘Welcome Home’ (‘Vivre’), a French number with an English lyric by Bryan Blackburn, with Opportunity Knocks winners Peters And Lee. It gave them a UK number 1, and they hit the top spot again in the same year with We Can Make It, the first of their four Top 10 albums in the 70s. Among the most fondly remembered television and recording performers of the decade, the duo was a part of the final flourish in the life of a man who has been called ‘the last of the great pro’s’. Johnny Franz died in 1977 at the age of 54, in a Chelsea hospital.