Jackson C. Frank
|Jackson C. Frank|
Jackson C. Frank
March 2, 1943|
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
|Died||March 3, 1999
Great Barrington, Massachusetts, U.S.
Jackson Carey Frank (March 2, 1943 – March 3, 1999) was an American folk musician. Although he released only one official album in his lifetime and never achieved much commercial success, his influence stretches to several well-known singer-songwriters such as Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, and Nick Drake.
When Jackson Frank was 11, a furnace exploded at his school, Cleveland Hill Elementary School in Cheektowaga, New York. The fire, on March 31, 1954, killed fifteen of his fellow students, including Marlene du Pont, Frank's then girlfriend, about whom he would later write the song "Marlene". Frank survived, but suffered burns over 50% of his body. During his hospital stay he was introduced to music, when a teacher, Charlie Castelli, brought Frank an acoustic guitar to keep him occupied during the recovery. When he was 21, he received an insurance check of $110,500 for his injuries, enough for him to "catch a boat to England."
His eponymous 1965 album, Jackson C. Frank, was produced by Paul Simon while the two of them were living in England immersed in the burgeoning local folk scene. Frank was so shy during the recording that he asked to be shielded by screens so that Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and Al Stewart could not see him, claiming 'I can't play. You're looking at me.' The best-known track from the sessions, "Blues Run the Game", was covered by Simon and Garfunkel, and later by Wizz Jones, Counting Crows, John Mayer, Mark Lanegan, Headless Heroes, Colin Meloy, Bert Jansch, Eddi Reader, Laura Marling and Robin Pecknold (White Antelope), while Nick Drake also recorded it privately. Another song, "Milk and Honey", appeared in Vincent Gallo's film The Brown Bunny, and was also covered by Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, and Sandy Denny, whom he dated for a while. During their relationship, Jackson convinced Sandy to give up her nursing profession to concentrate on music full-time.
Although Frank was well received in England for a while, in 1966 things took a turn for the worse as his mental health began to unravel. At the same time he began to experience writer's block. As his insurance payment was on the verge of running out he decided to go back to the United States for two years. When he returned to England in 1968 he seemed a different person to his friends. His depression, stemming from the childhood trauma of the classroom fire, had grown worse, and he had completely lost whatever little self-confidence he once possessed. Al Stewart recalled that:
"He [Frank] proceeded to fall apart before our very eyes. His style that everyone loved was melancholy, very tuneful things. He started doing things that were completely impenetrable. They were basically about psychological angst, played at full volume with lots of thrashing. I don't remember a single word of them, it just did not work. There was one review that said he belonged on a psychologist's couch. Then shortly after that, he hightailed it back to Woodstock again, because he wasn't getting any work."
While in Woodstock, he married Elaine Sedgwick, an English former fashion model. They had a son and later a daughter, Angeline. After his son died of cystic fibrosis, Frank went into a period of even greater depression and was ultimately committed to a mental institution. By the early 1970s Frank began to beg aid from friends. Karl Dallas wrote an enthusiastic piece in 1975 in Melody Maker, and in 1978, his 1965 album was re-released as Jackson Frank Again, with a new cover sleeve, although this did not in the end make his music much more popular outside of a small number of his fans.
Frank lived with his parents in Elma, New York for a few years in the early 1980s. In 1984, his mother, who had been in hospital for open heart surgery, returned home to find Frank missing with no note or forwarding address. Frank had gone to New York City in a desperate bid to find Paul Simon, but ended up homeless and sleeping on the sidewalk. During this time he found himself in and out of various psychiatric institutions.
Frank was treated for paranoid schizophrenia, a diagnosis that was denied by Frank himself—he maintained that he was suffering from depression caused by the trauma he had experienced as a child. Just as Frank’s prospects seemed to be at their worst, a fan from the Woodstock area, Jim Abbott, discovered him in the early 1990s. Abbott had been discussing music with Mark Anderson, a teacher at the local college he was attending. The conversation had turned to folk music, which they both enjoyed, when Abbott asked the teacher if he had heard of Frank. He recollected:
"I hadn’t even thought about it for a couple of years, and he goes, ‘Well yes, as a matter of fact, I just got a letter from him. Do you feel like helping a down-on-his-luck folk singer?"
Frank, who had known Anderson from their days at Gettysburg College, had decided to write him to ask if there was anywhere in Woodstock he could stay after he had made up his mind to leave New York City. Abbott phoned Frank, and then organized a temporary placement for him at a senior citizens’ home in Woodstock. Abbott was stunned by what he saw when he found Frank in New York:
"When I went down I hadn’t seen a picture of him, except for his album cover. Then, he was thin and young. When I went to see him, there was this heavy guy hobbling down the street, and I thought, ‘That can’t possibly be him’...I just stopped and said ‘Jackson?’ and it was him. My impression was, ‘Oh my God’, it was almost like the elephant man or something. He was so unkempt, disheveled.” A further side effect of the fire was a thyroid malfunction causing him to put on weight. “He had nothing. It was really sad. We went and had lunch and went back to his room. It almost made me cry, because here was a fifty-year-old man, and all he had to his name was a beat-up old suitcase and a broken pair of glasses. I guess his caseworker had given him a $10 guitar, but it wouldn’t stay in tune. It was one of those hot summer days. He tried to play Blues Run The Game for me, but his voice was pretty much shot."
Soon after this, Frank found himself sitting on a bench in Queens while awaiting his move to Woodstock, when he was shot and blinded through his left eye. At first the shooter could not be found, but it was later determined that local kids had been firing a pellet gun indiscriminately at people and Frank happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Abbott then promptly helped him move to Woodstock. During this time, Frank began recording some demos of new songs. Frank’s resurfacing led to the first CD release of his self-titled album. In later pressings, Frank's demos from the 70s were included as a bonus disc with the album, and an anthology Blues Run the Game contained all these tracks as well as his final demos made in the '90s. In 2014 an album of Frank's unreleased demos—"Forest of Eden"—has been released through London based record label Secret Records. The collection includes his unheard song, "Forest of Eden", alongside 1950s demo recordings of "Heartbreak Hotel"; two Christmas songs, called "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me" and "Precious Lord" (with a spoken word greeting to his grandparents); and three home-recorded demos of his original songs made prior to his 1965 album. These original song demos are of "I Want To Be Alone", "Here Comes The Blues", and "You Never Wanted Me". The only available recordings of Frank yet to be officially released are songs made for the BBC Radio 1 show "Nightride" in 1968, but they only exist as poor quality off-air sources.
Frank died of pneumonia and cardiac arrest in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on March 3, 1999, at the age of 56.
Though he never achieved fame during his lifetime, his songs have been covered by many well-known artists, including Simon and Garfunkel, John Mayer, Counting Crows, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Laura Marling, and Robin Pecknold (as White Antelope) of Fleet Foxes.
Nick Drake covered 4 songs from Frank's debut album, "Here Come the Blues", "Blues Run the Game", "Milk & Honey", and "Kimbie". These are found on Drake's posthumous release, Family Tree.
Frank's song "I Want To Be Alone", also known as "Dialogue," appeared on the soundtrack for the film Daft Punk's Electroma. This song plays when the gold robot is on fire, and slowly walking through the darkness of the Southwestern USA Salt Plains.
Soulsavers covered "Blues Run the Game" on their single "Revival" (7" vinyl, 30 April 2007).
Erland & The Carnival also covered "My Name Is Carnival," apparently Frank's favourite song. Bert Jansch also covered this song as a gesture to Frank.
Sandy Denny covered "You Never Wanted Me" and "Milk and Honey" on the album "It's Sandy Denny" released by Saga Eros in 1970. Her song, "Next Time Around," contains coded references to Frank, her ex-boyfriend.
Laura Barton's BBC Radio 4 programme "Blues Run the Game", first broadcast 20 November 2012, included interviews with Al Stewart, John Renbourn, Jim Abbott and John Kay as well as archive material of Jackson C. Frank talking and singing.
South Korean jazz singer Na Yoon-sun covers "My Name Is Carnival" on her album "Same Girl" (2010)
Frank's song "Milk and Honey" featured on the soundtrack of Vincent Gallo's 2003 movie The Brown Bunny (and prominently in the movie's trailer). It was also sampled by Hidden Orchestra in their track "The Burning Circle" and by Hip Hop artist Nas in his track "Undying Love".
French singer and Kora player Stranded Horse (Yann Tambour) covers "My Name Is Carnival" on his album "Luxe" (2016)
- Jackson C. Frank (1965)
Reissues and compilations
- Jackson Again, vinyl 1978, CD 1996, vinyl& CD 2001, 2 CD 2003
- Blues Run the Game (2003) 2 CD Anthology containing all (then) available recordings
- Forest of Eden (2013) (previously unreleased tracks and demos) from Secret Records
- Jackson C. Frank (2014) Earth Recordings
- Fixin to Die (2014) more previously unreleased tracks and demos
- Jackson C. Frank : The Complete Recordings (2015)
- "Blues Run the Game" / "Can't Get Away From My Love" (1965, 7")