Top 10 List – Mental Musical Masterpieces # 6 (Jackson Frank)

Jackson Frank- “Jackson C. Frank” (1965)

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By Dale Nickey:

The tale of this suffering artist makes all others pale by comparison.  At age eleven, Jackson Frank was badly burned in a school fire.  A fire that killed fifteen of his classmates.  He began playing guitar during his recovery.  He was eventually awarded a $110,000 legal settlement.  Frank traveled to England and became a folk sensation during that country’s early 60’s folk heyday.  He released a dour, finely crafted album produced by his flat mate Paul Simon.  Such was his psychic damage, Jackson Frank could only cut tracks in the studio behind a screen curtain.  There are no  happy moments anywhere in his catalog.  Sullenly wistful is about as cheery as it gets.  His most famous song  “Blues Run The Game” has been widely covered and is the penultimate anthem of the exhausted spirit.  Listen to his album and it’s easy to see the influence he had on Paul Simon’s subsequent work.

Frank was the toast of the London folk scene for a very brief time. However, he did contribute mightily.  Aside from his own timeless debut, he dated one Sandy Denny and convinced her to give up nursing in favor of a singing career.

By 1966 his health and muse started to deteriorate as did his settlement money.  He moved to Woodstock in the 70’s and married an English fashion model. They had a son and a daughter.  Soon the son died of Cystic Fibrosis and Frank started spiraling into a depression that landed him in a mental institution.  He was a diagnosed paranoid-schizophrenic; but Frank always denied the diagnosis, saying his problems stemmed from the childhood trauma of the school fire.

In 1984, Frank traveled to New York in a desperate (perhaps delusional) attempt to find and contact Paul Simon.  He became homeless instead, eating out of garbage cans and sleeping on streets in a filthy blanket between visits to mental institutions.  An admiring benefactor tried to give aid and comfort to Frank late in his life.  It was during this period that  a Juvenal delinquent fired a B.B. gun into one of his eyes blinding him.  The B.B. was inoperable and caused Frank  pain and discomfort until his death at 56.  History will need to look hard to find an artist who walked the walk as Jackson Frank did.

Top 10 Countdown – Mental Musical Masterpieces # 9 Wild Man Fischer

NUMBER  9…..Number 9…..Number 9……

Wild Man Fischer – An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (1968)

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Wild Man Fischer - An Evening With Wild Man Fischer

Larry “Wild Man” Fischer was a regular sighting on the streets of Hollywood in the 60’s and beyond; the type of guy you would go to great effort to avoid or ignore despite the fact Larry would sell you one of his songs for a dime.  Fischer was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with bi-polar disorder. He was institutionalized at the age of 16 for threatening his mother with a knife. He claims he escaped and remained at large simply because nobody bothered to look for him.  What may have repelled others attracted Frank Zappa.  Maestro Zappa met Fischer and saw something different. He saw an artist.  Zappa befriended Fischer and signed him to a record deal with his boutique label “Bizarre Records”.

Fischer’s masterpiece is “An Evening With Wild Man Fischer” Produced by Frank Zappa,“Evening…..” is a sprawling mess of a double LP album. Songs like “Merry Go Round” are maddeningly repetitive and catchy. Much of the album consists of Fischer engaging in banal chatter with loiterers on the streets of Hollywood.  These lo-fi man-on-the-street field recordings are backed by Zappa’s studio overdubs’ which sound like mechanized ticking sounds of a mind gone mad.  Elsewhere Fischer performs his original songs a cappella with varying degrees of  cogency. Other songs approach conventional rock song craft. To paraphrase Zappa himself, “Wild Man Fischer had something to say, whether you wanted to hear it or not”.

Fischer’s corrosive ramblings were equal parts harrowing and hilarious.  It’s easy to write off  Fischer as a nutter on first listen. However, a careful study of his music reveals the seedling of an artist struggling to break through the concrete of mental illness. Aside from Fischer’s violent teen episode, he seems to have managed his madness into a benign lunacy in his adult years. And, we’ll never know how much Zappa’s patronage or the healing powers of music helped Fischer during his bittersweet struggle through life (he died in 2011 at age 66).  The following tune “Jennifer Jones” is probably Fischer’s most revealing song.  WARNING…Not for faint hearts or delicate sensibilities……

Rare Birds – Top Five Pioneers of “Rock Violin”….# 1

Eddie Jobson

(Jethro Tull, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, YES, UK, King Crimson, Curved Air)

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If  Mozart were reincarnated as a rock musician he would most likely come back as Eddie Jobson. Like Mozart, Jobson was precociously talented on both keyboards and violin from an early age. He was the featured soloist at the age of seventeen for B-list proggers Curved Air before Roxy Music snapped him up and made him a star member ( at age eighteen) of their studio and touring band for the next three albums. Due in part to Jobson, Roxy became one of the biggest bands in Europe.  His trademarks were a decidedly androgynous sex appeal and a custom made see-through Plexiglas violin.  Onstage, Jobson brought a glammy, confident swagger that enhanced the appeal of the electric violin as a Rock instrument.  After Roxy Music, Jobson said thanks (but no thanks) to an offer from Procol Harum  and joined the finishing school that was Frank Zappa’s road band in 1976.  After Zappa, he then established his own brand as both electric violinist and world class multi-keyboardist in the progressive all star unit UK.  After three albums, UK folded.  Jobson remained in the Prog elite-league as a member of Jethro Tull and was breifly a member of the 1983 platinum version of YES; going as far as to appear in the video for “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” before ultimately turning down the gig. King Crimson fans can also enjoy his work on the live album “USA”, where he surrepetitiously replaced much of the violin work of previous bowsman David Cross.

Jobson’s first legendary burst of genius was his epic electric violin solo on Roxy’s “Out Of The Blue”. After all that had gone on before, this 1975 electric violin solo finally demonstrated -once and for all- the boner inducing potential of the instrument in a Rock context. Eddie’s solo comes at the end of this video and is worth the wait.