When most people think of Paul Simon, it’s as a singer-songwriter and not a producer. But it’s thanks to Simon that the world knows about Jackson Carey Frank at all, really. He produced Frank’s sole eponymous album, 1965’s Jackson C. Frank, and helped popularize what might be Frank’s best-known song, “Blues Run The Game,” via the the Simon & Garfunkel version on Old Friends. Frank learned hard luck from an early age, suffering severe burns on over 50 percent of his body in a freak school fire at the age of 11. While recovering from the tragedy in the hospital, he picked up a guitar for the first time, which is one of those little dagger-twist ironies that stories like his always seem to contain. He was 21 by the time the insurance payout was settled. Still deeply emotionally and physically scarred by the fire, he took his $110,500 in retribution and caught a boat to England. It was there that he met Simon and penned “Blues Run The Game,” which was supposedly the first song he ever wrote.
Retrospectively, it’s easy to build up mythologies in our mind when we learn about tragic figures like Karen Dalton, David Kauffman and Eric Caboor, or Frank. Their talent seems so precious and obvious to us, so poorly managed at the time. The story goes that in Frank’s case, he was so nervous about performing that he wouldn’t sing or play until Simon (and recording studio bystanders Al Stewart and Art Garfunkel) put screens up so they couldn’t see him. Only then would he launch into the songs. Following this self-titled record for Columbia, though, Frank wasn’t able to officially produce or release much else. His insurance money ran out, and he ended up returning to New York for good, eventually settling in Woodstock. Tragedy continued to strike Frank; his marriage fell apart, his infant son died of cystic fibrosis, and he suffered a mental breakdown. The after-effects of surviving that fire never really left him, and he spent most the rest of his life shuttled between mental health institutions.
New York music enthusiast Jim Abbott is mostly credited with the renewed interest in Frank. Abbott located Frank after tracing out various clues scrawled in album liner notes, his curiosity further spurred by uncovering rare one-off records in Woodstock record stores that Frank had pawned long ago when he was desperate for money. Abbott found Frank and helped him get re-settled in Woodstock, where he eventually recorded some new demos in the late ’90s. Frank died in 1999, but Abbott recently published a book about his life entitled Jackson C. Frank: The Clear, Hard Light Of Genius, which sparked more interest in his story and unreleased recordings. Jackson C. Frank has been reissued several times — including Sanctuary’s 2003 reissue that included 33 unreleased songs — but this new reissue via Ba Da Bing includes 24 new songs as well as completely remastered versions of all his material. They’ve shared two unheard songs from the collection — “China Blue” and “Juliette” — both of which can be heard below. The complete tracklisting for the 3xCD/6xLP release is here. It’s a comprehensive look at yet another of folk’s unsung heroes, a last-ditch effort to give him the acclaim he deserves. Listen.
Jackson C. Frank: The Complete Recordings is out 8/4 via Ba Da Bing. Pre-order it here.