Does anyone else ever think about or wonder about the history of certain songs? Blues Run the Game is a song that has intrigued me for years. It’s the title track to an album by Jackson C. Frank, who actually grew up in a suburb of Buffalo. When Frank was 11, his school caught on fire. Fifteen of his classmates were killed and he was severely burned. He learned to play guitar during his recovery, got a personal injury settlement ten years later, and “caught a boat to England”, where, with Paul Simon’s help, he made an album. There’s a made for TV movie there if I ever saw one. His life actually went downhill from there and I won’t recount it all here. It’s fascinating though. I first became aware of him when the late, great, Dirty Linen magazine ran about a twenty page story on his life in the early 90’s. Here’s a couple of relevant links.
I’ve listened to the whole album and it’s perfectly fine. It’s a good example of mid 60’s, American folk music. Frank’s playing and his voice are fine, if unspectacular. The title track though, is a masterpiece. I hear it and I’m immediately transported to his life at the time, crashing in a European hotel and living off of my settlement money. The lyrics are haunting and dripping with Frank’s pain.
Here’s Simon & Garfunkel’s version.
Here’s Nick Drake’s take on it. I love Nick Drake but this is not my favorite version.
Here’s a more recent version by Colin Meloy, from the Decemberists.
Here’s a female take on it by the amazing Sandy Denny, who I believe dated Frank for a while.
A quick youtube search shows that everyone under the sun has covered this song. Famous people. Pretty remarkable for a song that was never a hit by a tortured kid from Cheektowaga, NY.
If you only listen to one version that I’ve posted, let it be this one. Bert Jansch took this song and really made it his own, with his ridiculous guitar work and his own, hauntingly sad voice. I was lucky enough to see Jansch twice before he left us. If you’re into folk music and you haven’t heard Jansch, here is your chance.