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Blues Run the Game: a starring role in The Old Man & the Gun

I noted with surprise today that I have not mentioned the late Jackson C Frank's gripping song, The Blues Run the Game, for three years (plus three days).

But yesterday, screening room number five at Picturehouse Central just off Piccadilly Circus resonated with the spellbinding mix of voice, guitar picking and song that makes this one of my all-time favourites. So why not share another listen?

The reason for my pleasant surprise at the cinema - actually one of two; I enjoyed A Star is Born much more than I'd expected to - is a dominant part of the trailer for Robert Redford's new film, The Old Man & A Gun, about the San Quentin jailbreaker Forrest Tucker. That suggests a great soundtrack. The film looks half-decent, too.

Without further ado, here is that 2014 posting:

Enjoy it while the enthusiasm lasts. This is another in the revival series, Song of the Day Revisited. My choices so far have drawn entirely on the material that ran at Salut! Live between June and August 2011; the format may change. The re-posted and in some cases updated articles replace the originals. This is one of the songs I really wanted to master but could not; so far as I recall I never dared sing it in a folk club, whatever else I was prepared to murder ...

What a tragic life Jackson C Frank led.

At 11, living in Cheektowaga, New York State, he suffered severe burns in a school fire that killed 18 of his classmates.

He had already shown himself to be a gifted singer, and learning guitar formed an important part of recovery and therapy. Eventually, a compensation payment allowed him to drop out of journalism college and follow the handful of troubadours who made their way across the Atlantic to explore the booming London folk scene.

Frank shared a flat with two of them, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and became the boyfriend of the fabulous English singer Sandy Denny. He is credited with persuading her to give up nursing and concentrate on singing.

Simon produced an album for him and also covered one song that was on it and which I have chosen for Song of the Day. There was a time when Blues Run The Game was part of many self-respecting contemporary folk singers' repertoires. It is a great song, an ideal vehicle for Frank's smooth, mournful tones and has not aged a second.

It brought him respect but not fame and wealth. Soon, his money ran out. He suffered a bout of writer's block and went home to the US. He took a job as a journalist on a local paper, married and fathered a son. Then the marriage broke up and the son died from cystic fibrosis.

The medical profession let him down. The anti-depressants he was prescribed made for a spectacularly bad cocktail with the painkillers he still took because of the burns. Bloated from rapid weight gain, he had spells in hospital and on the streets of New York City. Then he was shot in one eye by young louts.

Eventually an American folk music buff called Jim Abbott tracked him down, took him under his wing and did his level best to straighten out this wasted talent and blighted life. He recovered well enough to start writing and performing again but died from pneumonia and cardiac problems, aged only 56, in 1999.

Whoever he hoped might help him out of his protracted decline had failed to do so, at least until the heroic figure of Jim Abbott entered his life. He left many good songs, and a number of fine memories, but none better than this.

A man also called Jim wrote this at the YouTube page where I located the clip: "I worked with Jackson in the early 60s in London. Paul Simon produced this album for him. Such a terribly sad ending for a marvellous performer."

* Blues Run The Game is the title track of an album available at this Salut! Live Amazon link.


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