There are hundreds of covers of Jackson C. Frank songs on YouTube. Only slightly fewer on Spotify. Most of them are of Frank’s best-known song, “Blues Run the Game.” Other covers are harder to find. “Milk and Honey” was popular to sing in the ’60s, with Sandy Denny and Nick Drake, among others, recording versions. It’s not clear whether Frank lived to hear a cover of what he said was his favorite song, “My Name is Carnival.” He was quoted as saying he never understood why someone didn’t cover it. His friend Bert Jansch did in 1998—and two more bands followed with versions in 2010; Frank died in 1999. Also included in this mix are songs about Frank, and the traditional folk ballad “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” first set down by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, that inspired Frank’s “Kimbie.”
Listening to these songs together, I am struck by the commonalities: the sadness, the sweetness. The songs are calming. Even when sung by other people, the empathy translates. His catalogue, all together, feels like a balm.
I’ve also included some Frank rarities, which are surprisingly catchy, along with “Marlene,” his song most clearly about the 1954 Cleveland Hill School fire, a tragedy which changed Frank’s life, almost ending it. Like traditional blues songs, none of these songs have bridges. They don’t need them. Rather, their bridges take the form of a voice softening or gathering intensity, vowels being swallowed, words almost lost. Frank’s bridges are only his hands, open and upturned to you.
[Editor’s note: Read “Snowfall Blues” by Alison Stine from our Winter 2015 issue.]