Blues Run the Game / Here Come the BluesJackson C. Frank -- Blues Run the Game
Jackson C. Frank -- Here Come the Blues
When Jackson C. Frank was 11 he was in a school fire which killed a number of the other students and left him convalescing from third-degree burns. He used the seven months in the hospital learning to play guitar, but he didn't receive an insurance settlement for another ten years. On receiving the settlement, he left the country for the burgeoning folk scene in the U.K., and on the boat over he wrote "Blues Run the Game," his signature song. It's a catchy bit of pop folk with a bittersweet melody, but the lyrics are not bittersweet. What they are is exhausted, almost ready to give up: "Some time tomorrow, someplace down the line / I'll wake up older / So much older, mama / I'll wake up older and I'll just stop all my trying."
"Here Comes the Blues" is in the same vein: a beautiful and poignant song, proto-Nick Drake, John Ashberry to music, despair laid bare in hopes of catharsis. The guitar work is very good: the low end chugs along sounding like a train, and the filigrees sound both improvised and perfectly considered, not a note out of place. Allmusic dismisses his vocals but I think it's great work here, strong and on point, a very commanding presence.
In England, Frank met up with Sandy Denny, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel, all of whom later covered his work (as did Tom Paxton, Nick Drake, and Bert Jansch). He and Denny began dating, and Paul Simon produced Frank's first album; Frank recorded it in just a few hours, from behind several screens to prevent him having to see anyone watching him play. That first album had both of the songs here on it, and in Europe it was a relatively big hit insofar as folk albums go, at least until Frank failed to come up with a follow-up.
The insurance money soon ran out and Frank felt increasingly withdrawn and anxious, suffering stage fright and creative paralysis; he returned to the United States, where his marriage broke up and his young son died. The album ran out of print, the royalty checks dried up, and Frank was homeless within a few years, spending most of the rest of his life either on the streets or in mental institutions. In 1997, T.J. McGrath published "Lost Singer Found," which ended speculation about whatever happened to Frank. The article led to renewed interest in his career, a re-release of his debut (which had been out of print for decades), and the release of some new material. At that point Frank had been suffering arthritis and a thyroid disorder for years, he was grossly overweight, and he'd been shot in the left eye.
Mentions of suicide pepper his work, both elliptical and obvious, and there's a general sort of weariness and anxiety throughout his work. Some of his music is so far in the doldrums it can't be arsed to come up with much of a melody, but these two posted today are more tuneful; though they might not be most typical of his work, they're the tunes that speak to me most right now. Other standouts include "Halloween Is Black As Night" "My Name Is Carnival," and "Goodbye to My Loving You."
Frank died in 1999, apparently of natural causes.
[Blues Run the Game: Expanded Deluxed Edition]--or, if that's too much melancholy for you, there's a shorter reprint of the original.
Game, Set, Blues:
Whatever happened to Jackson C. Frank
Newcomer Sabas sent an email mentioning his new mp3blog and threatening to flood my mailbox with V1/\GRÅ and mortgage spam if I didn't give it a mention. Under such duress, I had no choice but go check it out and to recommend Neko Case's "Star Witness," Kelley Stoltz' "Memory Collector," The Gossip's "Standing in the Way of Control," and Swearing At Motorists' "Lost Your Wig." And of course you can't go wrong with Cat Power or Belle & Sebastian. He's making some good picks (though myspace, as a music host, is running about a 50% failure rate on letting me download the tracks).