WUMB May Program Guide

The Elusive Jackson C. Frank

You probably don’t know the name Jackson C. Frank, and there’s really no reason you should, but please read on anyway.

He recorded one obscure album in 1965 and, even though he was an American, it was recorded in England. If you know any of his songs it is because, like me, you are an Anglophile. Everyone on the British folk scene knows a couple of his songs, but they are usually reserved for late night parties after the gig. Perhaps you remember his best known song “Blues Run the Game” because it was recorded by Simon & Garfunkel. Really it was. Maybe you heard Laura Marling’s recording of it, but didn’t associate it with Jackson. Just recently, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists sang it at the concert called “Another Day, Another Time, Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis”.  Yes, it is on the soundtrack album you may have received as a thank you gift during our Spring Member Drive. 

His backstory leading up to the recording was a tragic one, his later years were even more so.  At age 11 he was severely burned in an explosion and fire at the school he was attending. Ironically the fire was in the Music Room. Burned over a major part of his body, recovery took years, and he suffered major pain from the injury for the rest of his life.

Upon reaching his majority, he took the proceeds of an insurance settlement and headed for London which was where he recorded that singular album. It was, by the way, produced by another young American abroad, that being Paul Simon, which explains the later Simon and Garfunkel recording of “Blues Run the Game.” While in England he dated Sandy Denny, before she joined Fairport Convention. He also attempted to perform, but he was nervous about having people watch while he played. It was then that the first inklings of mental illness started to surface.

His money ran out and, returning to America, he spiraled downward rapidly. He developed full blown Schizophrenia, was hospitalized several times because of it, and ended up homeless. It is a very sad tale indeed but there is some light. A chance meeting with someone who knew his music, and was willing to help, nearly turned his life around. His name was Jim Abbott. He took Frank into his own home, helped him get treatment and even got him playing and writing again. This was not without a price for Abbott, who nearly lost that home, and his marriage, because of his involvement with Jackson.

When Jackson C. Frank passed away in 1999, his friends started urging Abbott to write a book about Frank. He finally has and it is a beauty. By the fact that it took from then until now to write you can see that it was a struggle for Jim to come to grips with tragedy of his friend’s life. Since he arrived late in Jackson’s life, Abbott turned to the people who knew him to construct the story of his earlier days. These included musical friends and associates, people who knew him in school and Frank’s own mother who outlived him. His mother was a treasure trove of information, having saved everything he had ever written to her, and there was much.

Some of the most moving parts of the book come late, when the story is Abbott’s own, as well and Frank’s. He is a very good writer, and his love for Jackson comes through on every page. So why should you read a depressing book about a songwriter you’ve never heard of? Because it is, ultimately an uplifting story and you come away liking the author and Jackson himself as well.

The book is called Jackson C. Frank: The Clear, Hard Light of Genius and is available in paperback and e-book versions. When you buy it, you should also buy Frank’s album which is self-titled. It is readily available from the usual sources. There is also an album of outtakes and other things called “Fixin’ to Die.” While I bought it, I don’t recommend it. Better to remember him in that one shining moment in 1965.

Of course, if you chose to buy the book and/or the recording from Amazon, please visit WUMB.ORG first. If you click on the Amazon logo you’ll find there, a portion of the proceeds of your sale will be donated to WUMB without costing you anything. We thank them for doing that, and we thank you for making a couple of extra clicks.

-Dave Palmater

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