Saturday, April 16, 2016

Blues Run The Game: The Story Of Jackson C. Frank.

I intended doing some gardening today but it rained non-stop so I spent the afternoon in the kitchen listening to an album that I bought recently. It is called Blues Run The Game by Jackson C. Frank. I am indebted to an internet friend  for bringing this influential singer-songwriter to my attention because I had never heard of him before. I think he must have read some of my previous stories of musicians who had faded into obscurity and are only now being re-discovered and thought I might be interested in listening to Jackson C. Frank.
I am really pleased I bought this album because some of the songs are as good as any I have heard in the folk genre. The story of Jackson C. Frank is also one of the saddest I have ever read about any musician.  Although he released only one official album in his lifetime he was very influential on the likes of Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, Al Stewart, Dave Cousins,John Renbourn, Bert Jansch,Nick Drake and Roy Harper. It was only a series of misfortunes that stopped him from being remembered as one of the great folk singers.

Tragedy struck early in his life at the age of eleven. He was attending elementary school in a suburb of New York when a heating furnace exploded which caused a fire that killed fifteen of his classmates including his first girlfriend Marlene Du Pont. He later wrote a song about Marlene which is on the album. Jackson survived the fire but had burns to 50% of his body. It was during the long recovery process that he learned to play the guitar and began writing songs. In 1965 while studying journalism at Gettysburg College he received $100,000 in  insurance  compensation for his injuries. He dropped out of college and sailed to England to try his luck on the folk scene. It was on that voyage that he wrote the song Blues Run The Game.
Jackson soon made a name for himself in the Folk Clubs of London and made friends with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Paul Simon was so impressed with his talent that he offered to produce an album. The whole album was recorded in only three hours. Before long Jackson became quite famous in Britain. He persuaded his girlfriend at the time Sandy Denny to give up her job as a nurse and concentrate on singing. We should be grateful to him for that act alone because Sandy became arguably the greatest British female singer of all. Sandy recorded three of Jackson's songs for her first solo album in her pre-Fairport Convention days.

The following year though things began to go wrong. Firstly, he developed writers block and was never happy with the songs he came up with and also he began to suffer with really bad stage fright. It was the beginning of the mental illness that was to haunt him for years to come. Also his money ran out. In only two years he had managed to blow the lot. He returned to the states and moved to Woodstock which was a haven for many artistic people at that time. He landed a job as a journalist and married a former fashion model. New songs were written and he was just about to relaunch his music career when disaster struck once again. His infant son died of cystic fibrosis and the marriage fell apart. These events drove him over the edge and he descended into an abyss of depression, finally ending up homeless on the streets of New York. Things got even worse when he was shot by a gang of street toughs which left him blinded in the left eye. For twenty years he was virtually forgotten and had lost all touch with family and friends.

A guardian angel then appeared by the name of Jim Abbott who was an American folk music fan who managed to track down the long lost singer. Jim took Jackson to see sympathetic doctors and his condition immediately began to improve. He had been mis-diagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenic but what he was actually suffering from was post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the terrible fire of his childhood. As soon as was taken off the anti-depressants and given trauma therapy instead there was a remarkable recovery. His music career was revived and his work was issued for the first time on CD with previously unreleased material.
Sadly, in 1999 Jackson C. Frank caught pneumonia and died of a cardiac arrest at the age of only 56. He has left a small but great legacy of music though and his influence continues to grow. His songs have been covered by Simon & Garfunkel, Counting Crows, Laura Marling, Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes, Marianne Faithful and many others. His songs have also appeared in movie soundtracks such as Daft Punk's Electroma. Only today I discovered there is a book about him by Jim Abbott and a documentary film is a work in progress at the moment. His legend is finally beginning to grow.

The album I am listening to at this very moment contains all the songs from his eponymous album of 1965 plus five unreleased songs from 1975. I must say I love it, you can see the influence he had on Paul Simon on songs like Dialogue. To hear these haunting songs live in a folk club back in 65 must have been an amazing experience. The five songs from 1975 make me think what a shame it is that he left such a small body of work. One song called Madonna Of Swans I find particularly powerful.

 Marlene,the song about his girlfriend who perished in the fire is also very moving. To give you a taste of the album I have put a video of Blues Run The Game below which I urge you to listen to. Thank you very much once again to Gerard  for turning me on to the music of Jackson C.Frank.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Monday, April 04, 2016

Review : Christy Moore At Brighton Dome 2/4/2016

It had been nine long months since I last saw Christy Moore. That was on the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury last summer so I was really looking forward to Saturday's concert at the Brighton Dome. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable Christy concerts I have seen. That was partly because for the first time ever I was lucky to get a front row seat, but also because Christy, Declan Sinnott and Jimmy Higgins were on such good form.
The three of them came on stage promptly at 8.00 and began with the powerful North And South Of The River which was followed by Yellow Furze Woman. Both of these songs received warm applause from the audience. "Thank you very much", said Christy, "We've been hanging around all day, waiting for 8 O'Clock". City Of Chicago from his Ride On album was next, followed by Go, Move, Shift, written by Ewan McColl with extra verses by Christy. This song was greeted with a lot of cheers which suggested to me that there were quite a few members of the travelling community in the audience.
I wasn't familiar with the next song How Long. It is a very moving song written by Jackson Browne. I think Christy must be quite a fan of Jackson. Declan's guitar playing was quite exquisite on this song. Matty was next and the audience started clapping along. Christy stopped and said, "It's not that kind of a song", and started again and this time the audience listened. I love this song but I'm still not sure what a 'curra line' is. The second Jackson Browne song of the evening followed which was Before The Deluge. The perfect song for Spring time was next which I had never heard before. I put in my notes, The Garden Song so I hope that's right. No doubt young Colm will put me right if I have got that wrong. Shane McGowan's classic song A Pair Of Brown Eyes got the audience singing along with, 'a roving,a roving, a roving, I'll go'. Ride On, the title song from the album that first got me into Christy's music three decades ago was performed brilliantly. When Christy reached for his bodran an audience member shouted something out and Christy said, "You should have been here earlier, the support band were feckin' great". He then sang  The Well Below The Valley which the audience loved. Christy said that he first heard Nancy Spain in Jersey, sung by Barney Rush and it was the first time he ever flew to a gig.

I had never heard of the next song before which was Oblivious and written by Mick Blake who I had also not heard of. One of the great things about Christy which he has in common with Van The Man is that he can lead you on to discovering other great musicians who you might have missed otherwise. I have heard of Peter Gabriel, but I didn't know his song Wallflower before. The lyrics are really powerful and I just read that the song was actually banned in South Africa.
The mood was lightened a lot by the next song which I had never seen Christy perform live before but I knew really well by The Saw Doctors. It is Tuam Beat. I did actually meet the writer of this song Padraig Stevens outside a Saw Doctors gig at the Colston Hall Bristol one night. Christy's version is just as much fun so I hope he has a big hit with it. That was followed by another fun song which was Don't Forget Your Shovel. There was a song for a girl in the audience called Tallulah next which was Reel In The Flickering Light.

The mood was more sombre then for the very moving Missing You written by Jimmy MacCarthy. The Spanish Civil War song Viva La Quintar Brigada which is one of Christy's greatest self-penned songs was next and Declan picked out some really sweet notes on his guitar during this one. Christy said he would take one request and a lady in the audience asked for Victor Jara which I was really pleased about because I love this song which was co-written by Arlo Guthrie and Adrian Mitchell. It is 43 years since Victor was murdered by the Pinochet regime and he should never be forgotten.
The political songs continued with Ordinary Man and then Magdelene Laundries which I hadn't realised was written by Joni Mitchell. I saw a film recently about the Magdelene Laundries and it was horrific how people could be treated by a so-called church. Another of the humorous songs followed which was Delirium Tremens. I have noticed though that even with Christy's funny songs there is often a serious message. This song was dedicated to Andy who had just completed 900 days off the booze. Well done Andy. Natives  written by Paul Doran was next followed by Christy reciting On The Mainland followed by the Bobby Sands song Back Home In Derry. Johnny Duhan's song Voyage was followed by the ever popular Lisdoonvarna and Declan really went to town on his guitar during this song.

Christy and his two companeros left the stage but we knew there would be an encore which was Black Is The Colour which the audience sang along with and finally a song I don't think I have heard before called No Time For Love written by Jack Warshaw. I had never heard of him before either but I just looked him up and Jack is an American singer-songwriter who has lived in Britain since 1965. There are some terrible gaps in my music knowledge. It was a great song to end the night on.
Afterwards it was nice to have a little chat with Hilary from Kerry who put me right on a few song titles. It was a great night, so thank you Christy, Declan & Jimmy for a wonderful concert at Brighton Dome.
PS, Thanks a lot to Amanda for providing me with some photos.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: Tom Russell, Mesabi.

It was colder than moonlight on a tombstone this afternoon. I didn't mind though. I put the oven on in my kitchen and put my new CD on the music machine and had a nice time drinking wine and listening to some great music. The album is by Tom Russell and is called Mesabi. That was a new word to me so I looked it up and Mesabi refers to a huge range of iron ore deposits in Minnesota USA. That was a surprise  because this album has a very Mexican Tex/ Mex sound to my ears. I came across Tom Russell because a Facebook friend asked if I knew his work. I was in my local music shop ' Raves From The Grave' in Warminster on Friday and I asked if they had any Tom Russell. There was just one album in the Country Music section which was Mesabi. This album isn't country music as I know it though.

                                                        Mesabi is also the title of the opening song which I really like. It has references to Howling Wolf, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens but I think the song is a homage to Bob Dylan. It mentions Duluth and  'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' and Bethlehem I guess is the Bethlehem Steel Corporation and 'The Troubadour Kid' can be none other than His Bobness. As you know Bob came from Minnesota. The second track is When The Legends Die  which has lots of horse racing links such as Silky Sullivan ridden by Willie The Shoe ( Willie Shoemaker). It also mentions being drunk in the kitchen which I can identify with as I have spent many an hour drinking in the kitchen and playing music. I am very pleased to see that one of my heroes from nearly 50 years ago Van Dyke Parks plays piano on some tracks on this album. I used to love his work with Brian Wilson many moons ago. The third track Farewell Never Never Land  is really nice as well with its lush brass intro. Someone else who I really like, Gretchen Peters features on this song. It is the sad story of Bobby Driscoll who was a famous child actor for Walt Disney. He died in 1968 aged only 31 from drug abuse. I love these songs that tell a story even if the outcome is quite tragic.

                                                                                 The next song is The Lonesome Death Of Ukelele Ike  which features Fats Kaplin on yes, ulelele. The song mentions Hannibal, Missouri which is the hometown of Mark Twain. The next song is Sterling Hayden which recounts the actors sad decline. I think you will realize by now that a lot of the songs are inspired by Hollywood. Tom Russell is obviously a big film buff. The song recounts various episodes in Sterling Hayden's life such as kidnapping his kids and sailing to Tahiti. Another film song follows which is Furious Love,( For Liz). This is a homage to the one and only Elizabeth Taylor and her life at the Plaza Hotel in Juarez. My favourite song after two listens of the album is A Land Called 'Way Out There'. It is a truly epic song which recounts the car crash in which James Dean died. I think Tom might think the driver of the other car Donald Turnipseed was to blame. John Phillip Sousa is mentioned in the lyrics which isn't surprising considering the amount of brass instruments deployed in this song.( Scroll down to listen ) Roll The Credits Johnny is another movie inspired song. I wish I knew who the small blonde leading lady in the tight black jeans was. A Heart Within A Heart is a really nice moving song featuring Regina & Ann McCrary on vocals. And God Created Border Towns is a song co-written with Angie Meyers who also plays piano. It is a sad lament about migrants and American guns fueling drug wars in Mexico.Lots of nice accordian and trumpets on this song. Goodnight Juarez is another sad song on the same theme of a beautiful tourist town ruined by violence. Jai Alai  is a song about a sport like Pelota and probably originates in the Basque country of Spain or somewhere like that. I have never heard of it before and am guessing from the lyrics.Anyway, it was recorded in El Paso which is where I think Tom Russell lives these days and there is some really nice flamenco guitar on this song. Love Abides is just Tom on his own on vocal and guitar and is a really nice song. Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall is a fabulous duet with the one and only Lucinda Williams. Finally The Road To Nowhere is a song from the film of the same name directed by Monte Hellman and is a great song to end this wonderful album.

                                                                                       I must say I spent a very nice afternoon listening to this album so thank you very much Mike Pearce for the heads up about Tom Russell. I will certainly look out for more of his albums in the future.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Story Of Wendy And Bonnie.

A friend of mine who has been reading my stories about long lost singers and albums recently suggested that I might like to check out Wendy And Bonnie. I had never heard of them but this friend who is an expert on the history of music has turned me on in the past to the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Shelagh McDonald and many others. We often have long phone conversations about music and he knows what he is talking about. As Christmas was coming I thought I would treat myself to their album which arrived this morning and I'm really pleased I bought it because it is brilliant.
                                                                                                                                                       When I opened the package I discovered it a 2cd set in a gatefold sleeve, very attractively designed with lots of photos and a booklet with all the information you need to know about Wendy & Bonnie. The album is called Genesis and is the only album they ever made. The girls are sisters Wendy & Bonnie Flower and the album was released in the summer of 1969. When they recorded the music a few months earlier Wendy was aged 17 and Bonnie was only 13. I must say they display an incredible talent at such a young age.

 As soon as I started listening to the first disc I knew this was something a bit special. The opening track is called Let Yourself Go Another Time. It features some frenetic drumming by Jim Keltner and fabulous hammond organ by Mike Melvoin. A great band had been assembled for the three sessions of recording the album. The second song Paisley Window Pane is a more acoustic sound with lush harmonies. This was actually released as a single. ( If you scroll down you can hear this song) Wendy has a really sweet voice and sings lead on most of the vocals with Bonnie's deeper voice harmonizing. For someone like me who loved the sound of the Beach Boys and all West Coast music this is bliss. I Realized you is a really nice song about friendship growing into love.  By The Sea is the fourth track on the album which was released on the Skye label and produced by Gary McFarland. You Keep Hanging Up On My Mind  is another great song. It's What's Really Happening evolved from a poem that Wendy wrote after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968. This is followed by Five O'Clock In The Morning. On first listen I thought my favourite song was Endless Path which has a great bass opening but now I have played both discs twice I think the whole album is great and I couldn't choose a favourite. Children Playing is the penultimate song followed by The Winter Is Cold which features some superb guitar work by Larry Carlton. As well as the ten songs from the original album disc 1 has seven more tracks of out-takes and alternative versions some of which are as good as the originals in my opinion. Disc 2 is seventeen tracks of demos and live recordings. Thirteen of the tracks just feature Wendy and Bonnie with Wendy playing vibes and Bonnie on acoustic guitar. The songs are no less beguiling for that. There are also three songs by their original group which was called Crystal Fountain.

                                                                                 After the album was released in 69 promotions were arranged and live performances booked including an appearance on the Merv Griffin show but then disaster struck. Firstly the record label Skye went bankrupt and all plans were cancelled. Then their producer and mentor Gary McFarland was murdered when somebody spiked his drink with methadone in a New York nightclub. The girls career fell apart and they never worked together professionally again. At that young age going to college seemed a more sensible option than the risky music business. Even so, they both kept an interest in music and Bonnie was even offered a chance to join a girl group just starting out which she turned down. That group evolved into The Bangles.

                                                                                 A thing of beauty will never die however. Word spread about Wendy & Bonnie and in 2001 the album was re-released on the Sundazed label and began to attract a following around the world. The popular Welsh group Super Furry Animals sampled one of their songs on an album and they came to the attention of the High Llamas. Sean O'Hagan formally of Microdisney and very much influenced by Brian Wilson and West Coast psychedelia  really loved their sound. Wendy Flower was invited to the Meltdown Festival in London in 2007 and performed the music to an appreciative audience at the Festival Hall. Finally in 2009 a de-luxe release came out to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the albums release and that it what popped through my letter box today.

 I must say on a cold,dark, bleak mid-winters day in England in January this has been the perfect music to listen to so I am really pleased I bought this album and I hope the legend of Wendy & Bonnie continues to grow. I have been California dreamin' on such a winters day!


Wendy & Bonnie - The Paisley Window Pane