Jackson C. Frank - Biography



Jackson C. Frank is a folk hero to those who have heard him, with a style that fused American and British folk music with blues, jazz and his own dark visions. He only made one album, Blues Run the Game (1969 Columbia), produced by Paul Simon, before fading from the public spotlight. He died in 1999 without ever making another album.

 

Frank was born in 1943 in Buffalo, New York, but grew up on a farm in Elyria, Ohio listening to country music on the radio. When he was 11, he attended Cleveland Hill Elementary School after the family had moved back to New York State. In 1965, a furnace exploded and the school burned down, killing 15 of his classmates and almost burning him to death. He started playing guitar in the hospital during his recovery. Needless to say, he grew into a downbeat, melancholy young man. He played his bluesy folk songs on the coffee circuit with his pal John Kay (Steppenwolf) after high school, then, in 1964, he got an insurance check for $100,000 for his injuries and he left for London.

He was playing folk clubs in London when he was befriended by Paul Simon, who was reinventing himself as a folk singer after quitting Tom & Jerry, the teen rock duo he had with Art Garfunkle. A notoriously shy performer, Simon had to talk Frank into recording his first and only record Blues Run the Game (1969 Columbia.) His amazing guitar work and his gloomy lyrical vision marked him as an original voice, while his chilling vocals impressed everyone with their dark beauty. He was dating Sandy Denny at the time; she later covered his songs "Milk and Honey" and "You Never Wanted Me" on her own debut album Sandy and Johnny (1967 Saga UK.)

The album was a hit in England and Scotland but Frank’s depression and stage fright kept him from touring. When the money from his settlement ran out in 1969, he moved back to New York and settled in Woodstock. His depression got worse and he spent the next 20 years homeless. In a street fight he was shot in the head and rendered blind in one eye. In the early 90s, an old friend, Mark Anderson, helped him get settled back in Woodstock. He started working on new songs, but his voice was shot, although his guitar chops were still impressive. When Blues Run the Game came out on CD as Jackson C. Frank (2003 Castle) with five unreleased tracks, it didn’t improve his mood. In 1999 he caught pneumonia and died, a cult figure known exclusively by lovers of obscure folk recordings.

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