Jim Franz Is Not Done Yet
The city's longtime community development coordinator is the Island’s ultimate go-to good guy.
Photo by Paul Haggard
When Alameda’s longtime Community Development Coordinator Jim Franz retired last year, it might have seemed liked he was finally going to take it easy. But that’s just not Franz’s style. Since he left the position where, among other things, he helped develop programs for Alameda’s youth to embrace nonviolence and understand that a social media post lasts forever, Franz has been as busy as ever. Among other things, he walks dogs who’ve been traumatized by being in a shelter for Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter, is the vice president of the organization that puts on the city’s annual Fourth of July parade, and continues to perform with his wife, Jan, in their trumpet and piano duo, The Franz-Nichols Band. At first blush Franz’s service to Alameda (that also includes running the city’s Red Cross chapter) would appear to be more than enough to fill out one’s résumé, but before moving to Alameda in 1980, he had an entirely different career. Four years out of high school in Chicago and playing in his own band, he became musical director of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars. Later he helped form another band and also managed a zany group of former Santa Cruz street performers, The Flying Karamazov Brothers. He even found time to manage a Berkeley deli. “I may have served you a sandwich,” he likes to tell people.
Why did you retire?
One of the reasons I decided to retire was two years ago, I realized that I had some heart problems. So they had my party for me on January, and I retired in the middle of March , and by mid-March I had to cancel a trip to Hawaii because they had to move the date of my open-heart surgery up. A year ago, on April 9, I had a valve replacement bypass and pacemaker. So it took me around six months to get over that. I am feeling great now. I had double cataract surgery a month ago, and I’m not wearing glasses for the first time in my life. I really like that. I thought, with the Red Cross, with the city and in the community, I always tried to deliver excellent customer service. I think I did a great job of that, but it took a toll where I didn’t get to do as many things with my wife and my family as I wanted. So when I retired, I decided I would stay in the customer service business, but my wife, Jan, would be my primary customer.
What was it like working for a legend like Dick Clark?
It was great. He was a real gentleman. You really had to work, because he worked hard. I was musical director for his rock and roll road shows, and I headed his Chicago office in ’64 and ’65. Our first tour, we did 48 states in 70 days with one day off. There was 70 days, but we actually played 84 different towns, because we would play a matinee in one town, jump back on the bus, and play another town the same day. We picked up Tom Jones at the airport; took him out on his first national tour. The Supremes — it was their very first national tour, and they were too young to be by themselves, so Diana Ross’ mother had to come along as their chaperone.
We were the backup band. We opened the show. I would introduce Dick, and then we would back up all of the different acts. That was a great education, because you learned what worked, and you had a chance to work with Del Shannon, the Coasters, the Drifters, the Four Tops, Sonny and Cher. I mean, I could go on too long.
It seems like you could have happily stayed with Dick Clark for the rest of your life but chose not to. Why?
I enjoyed performing. Being the head of the Chicago office, I spent most of my time booking the tours. It was a lot of fun, but I wanted to be on stage with my own group. We formed a group called The Mob in early ’66. I was with that group for 10 years. We did The Tonight Show. It was a guest host, Joey Bishop. And we did American Bandstand and Dick Clark’s other thing, Where the Action Is. We did a number of other television shows over the years. We headlined in the lounges in Vegas, Puerto Rico, across the country, throughout Canada. We had a couple Top 20 records. Never became famous stars, but always enjoyed it. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, we were stars to them. Throughout South Dakota, we had three No. 1 records. We put the band together again and went back to be inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and did an hour show for around 2,000 people, many of them our age. We had sort of like a senior citizen mosh pit. People were swaying up and back to a song, and one woman was holding her walker over her head. I have a past. I am a bonafide has-been.
How’d you reconnect with your wife whom you hired to play piano for Dick Clark back in the ’60s?
There’s a place called Tucker’s Ice Cream, and it used to be a restaurant called The Courtyard. I had a little jazz quartet in there, and she saw it advertised in the paper. She said, “It can’t be the same guy,” but she came in. I looked at her, couldn’t remember her name, but pointed at her and said, “Piano lady!” Then we started having lunch after that, and we lived together for, I don’t know, 10, 12 years. Then we got married around 12 years ago. It was meant to be.
So, would you say love brought you to Alameda?
Yes. I’ll go with that.