A Bit Like You And Me Radio

June 24, 2014

Jackson C. Frank - Blues Run the Game (1965)

Jackson C. Frank was born in Buffalo, New York in 1943. Although Frank and his family had briefly moved out to Ohio when he was a boy, they made their return to New York when he was eleven, moving to a town called Cheektowaga. Here, Frank attended a newly built school, Cleveland Hill Elementary, where the first of many tragedies would affect his life. While attending music class in 1954, a furnace exploded in the wooden annex where Frank and his classmates were being taught. Fifteen of Frank’s sixth-grade classmates died in the resulting fire, and Frank himself was hospitalized for seven months from the severe burns, which covered fifty percent of his body. (Not only was he physically scarred for the remainder of his life, but the mobility of his hands was decreased, making it that much more impressive that he could play the guitar as well as he did.) While hospitalized, one of Frank’s teachers, Charlie Castelli, brought an acoustic guitar to the hospital to try and keep Frank’s spirits lively. It was from this kind gesture that Jackson C. Frank became interested in playing guitar.

At age thirteen, Jackson’s mother had agreed to take him to Graceland (the home of Elvis Presley) in Tennessee. While viewing the home from outside, Elvis himself unexpectedly started walking down the driveway. He was kind to Jackson, shook his hand, took a photograph with him, and even invited him inside to meet his own parents. It was one of the few high points in Jackson’s life, which would be overwhelmed with numerous lows.

Jackson C. Frank
Photo credit.

When Frank turned twenty-one in 1964, he received an insurance check for the injuries he sustained from the fire in his youth, totaling $110,500. His girlfriend of the time, Katherine Henry, noticed that it was almost immediately that Jackson’s behavior began to change. He thought- and was partly correct- that everyone was out to get his money. Friends took advantage of him; people looked to his wallet for investments; and Frank generally gave in. When Katherine told him she was breaking up with him and moving to England, Jackson decided to go with her. They took a boat to England and, not even six months later, the couple (who had remained together) accidentally became pregnant. They mutually agreed that Katherine should have an abortion and went back to New York together. Through one of Jackson’s ex-girlfriends, they were sent to a doctor in Washington DC where the illegal abortion was carried out. Between the stress from the procedure and the realization that their relationship wasn’t that strong, Katherine chose to end their relationship once and for all. She convinced Jackson to return to England without her.

Katherine Henry and Jackson C. Frank
Photo credit.

Newly single, Jackson had more free time to look for career opportunities. He began to play coffee houses around England and befriended a woman named Judith Piepe. It was then that Piepe introduced Jackson to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who were staying with her in her apartment. When Jackson played some of his music for the duo, Simon was reportedly so impressed that he offered to produce Frank’s first album. Simon kept his word when Jackson secured a record deal with Columbia. Interestingly, when it came time to record the album, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and Al Stewart were all in attendance, and Frank was reportedly so nervous he had to have screens put up around him in order to play, because he couldn’t concentrate with everyone watching him. The album, self-titled Jackson C. Frank, was recorded in its entirety in less than three hours and released in the UK in December 1965.

The album was well received by the folk community, who regularly requested it on John Peel’s BBC radio show. The requests became so frequent that Peel contacted Frank directly and got him to perform songs live on the radio show, numerous times.

With his connections in London, Frank became acquainted with some of the biggest folk names coming to the city: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and many others. He also became the go-to guy for up and coming American folk singers arriving in the city and looking for opportunities. He would often buy them dinner and help support them, knowing the difficulties of trying to make it as a folk artist. It was around this time that he became very close friends with a London-born nursing student who was trying to make it as a folk artist, Sandy Denny. Jackson and Sandy soon became an item and Jackson appeared on some of her earliest recorded material.

By 1968, Frank’s peak seemed to come to an end. The numbers had been coming back from the release of his album in the United States and it did very, very poorly. To make matters worse, his album sales in the UK were declining due to the public’s shifting interest toward psychedelic and hard rock. And after years of generosity, his insurance money was finally starting to run out. When he attempted to write new material for a second album, he was stricken with writer’s block. What songs he was able to compose were met with only lukewarm responses when performed at the coffeehouses. With what little money he had left from the insurance claim, Frank moved back the United States, no longer with Denny, and took residence in Woodstock, New York.

While living in Woodstock in the early 1970s, Frank met Elaine Sedgwick, a former model. The two fell in love, were married, and had two children: a son and a daughter, Angeline. With heartbreak, the couple lost their only son at an early age to cystic fibrosis. Having been on the brink of emotional instability from the fire experienced in his youth, the death of Frank’s son was enough to cause him to mentally crack. The death of their son also caused Jackson and Elaine’s marriage to crumble, which threw Jackson into a further state of depression.

It wasn’t until 1977 that Frank started to make a mental recovery and began recording new music. Unfortunately, when he attempted to have his music picked up by a record studio, he was consistently met with negative feedback. This time, Frank fell back into a depression much worse than before, while his ailing body grew weaker from the injuries sustained at the fire so many years ago. He was eventually hospitalized for both emotional and physical reasons before he was able to move back home with his mother.

In 1984, Frank left for New York City in a desperate attempt to find Paul Simon, who he felt could help boost his career. When what little money he had ran out before he could find him, he was forced to sleep on the streets. For the next few years, Jackson lived on the streets, homeless, poor, and facing numerous physical ailments related to the Cleveland Hill Elementary fire from his youth. After years on the streets, Frank was finally picked up by the state and transported to a mental institute called Simmonds Court in Woodstock, New York.

In the early 1990s, a fan of Frank’s by the name of Jim Abbott located him and tried to get him back on his feet. Having only seen the picture of him from his album, he was stunned to see that Frank had become vastly overweight, scruffy, and disheveled looking. The weight had been brought on from a problem with his thyroid, which was one of the many physical problems attributed to the fire when he was eleven. To add insult to injury, it wasn’t long after Abbott tracked Frank down that Frank lost sight in his left eye, as he was the victim of a group of kids who decided to shoot an air soft rifle at random strangers.

To help Frank, Abbott was able to track down some of the royalty money owed to Frank from his 1965 album, which was still moderately popular in places in Europe. He was also responsible for getting Frank taken out of the mental institution and put into a home for senior citizens. Lastly, Abbott was able to get Frank back in the recording studio to record new material, as well as getting all of his old material re-released on CD- this time accompanied by previously unreleased demos. On March 3, 1999, just one day after his fifty-sixth birthday, Jackson C. Frank passed away from pneumonia and cardiac arrest in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Jackson C. Frank
Photo credit.

The song heard below was the opening track to Frank’s debut, eponymous titled album, recorded in July 1965 and released in December 1965. Considering the fame of artists such as Simon & Garfunkel and the obscurity of Jackson C. Frank, it's quite possible you've heard this song before by a different artist. It was written and composed by Frank, and as such, his version is the original. Since its initial release, the song has become a blues/folk standard and has been covered by numerous artists, including the previously mentioned Simon and Garfunkel, as well as Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, the Counting Crows, John Mayer, and many, many others.

album art

Jackson C. Frank - Blues Run the Game (1965)

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Lyrics:

Catch a boat to England, baby
Maybe to Spain
Wherever I have gone
Wherever I’ve been and gone
Wherever I have gone
The blues are all the same

Send out for whiskey, baby
Send out for gin
Me and room service, honey
Me and room service, babe
Me and room service
Well, we’re livin’ a life of sin

When I’m not drinkin’, baby
You are on my mind
When I’m not sleepin’, honey
When I ain’t sleepin’, mama
When I’m not sleepin’
You know you’ll find me cryin’

Try another city, baby
Another town
Wherever I have gone
Wherever I’ve been and gone
Wherever I have gone
The blues come followin’ down

Livin’ is a gamble, baby
Lovin’s much the same
Wherever I have played
Whenever I throw them dice
Wherever I have played
The blues have run the game

Maybe tomorrow, honey
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 tryin’

Catch a boat to England, baby
Maybe to Spain
Wherever I have gone
Wherever I’ve been and gone
Wherever I have gone
The blues are all the same

1 comment:

  1. After a life riddled by so many painful events.......RIP Jackson.

    ReplyDelete