A Forgotten Buffalo Legend: The Jackson C. Frank Story

Posted at 3:08 PM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-24 22:55:51-05
Watch our full story on Jackson Frank

It's a story of tremendous talent, fueled by incredible tragedy. 

Jackson C. Frank was born in Buffalo on March 2, 1943, but his fate was sealed the morning of March 31, 1954, he was only 11-years-old. 

A furnace explosion ignited a wall of fire that consumed the old wooden annex at Cleveland Hill School in Cheektowaga, nearly wiping out a 6th grade music class in session at the time. 

15 of his classmates died, Jackson suffered severe burns covering more than 50% of his body.   

Among the dead, Jackson's 6th grade sweetheart, Marlene Dupont, the muse for one of his most haunting songs, aptly titled, Marlene. 

"Marlene" Courtesy: youtube.com/tojugula

For the remainder of Jackson's life, the musician would be plagued by pain; both physical and emotional. 

"He had his brief moment in the sun, but the rest of his life was a real struggle, all because of the fire," said Jim Abbott, a friend and fan who chronicled Jackson's story in his book, Jackson C. Frank, The Clear, Hard Light of Genius. "We might not have any of his music, if it hadn't been for the fire," added Abbott. 

"He had his brief moment in the sun, but the rest of his life was a real struggle"

As Jackson fought to recover, the gift of an acoustic guitar from a teacher, would change the course of his life, and the folk music scene. 

His musical journey, in addition to a settlement from the fire, took Jackson to London at the height of the "Swinging 60's."  That's where he crossed paths with Paul Simon, a pivotal influence on Jackson's one and only album, released in 1965.  

But bouts of crippling anxiety often made a typical recording session drag-on for hours, even days.  

"He blew through the money by the time he got done in England," said Abbott, "A year later, the money was gone, all of it." 

A young Jackson Frank posing with Elvis Presley
"I don't know if I believe in curses exactly, but he sure was in the wrong place at the wrong time, an awful lot of the time."

Soon, Jackson was back in the U.S., and things didn't get any easier for the western new york native.  Marked by the death of his young son, and a failed marriage, life, was taking a toll.  

"I don't know if I believe in curses exactly," said Abbott, "but he sure was in the wrong place at the wrong time, an awful lot of the time."

The remainder of Jackson's life would be clouded with chronic health problems, linked to obesity and depression, and a stray bullet that blinded the singer in one eye.

Jackson, center, with his parents

Jackson died in 1999, his music, nearly forgotten, until fans stepped in.  

"In 2015, he was finally inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame," said Abbott, which is a big deal, it's the first time any institution or governing body or anything in the country recognized him."

Greg Hennessey a local musician and longtime fan, performed Frank's most famous song, Blues Run the Game, during the induction ceremony. 

"The lyrics are timeless and the melodies too," said Hennessey.  "When they hear his music, they're drawn to it, and I think that's the specialness of it from the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame stand-point, he just touched so many people with his music." 

His legacy is one of genius and innovation, but his life, marred by tragedy and pain. 

"I would like him to be remembered as a talented and kind man who didn't get a lot of breaks in life," said Abbott, "he was damn good." 

Listen to more of Jackson Frank's Music

A teenage Jackson (right)