He was young, he was once called “the new Bob Dylan”, he released one self titled album.
The album has since then become a much sought after collectors item.
He has became a cult hero – and is probably one of the best singer-songwriters you have never heard*.
The year was 1972.
His name is Bob Frank…
But he didn´t dissapear, he was always there, writing songs, playing music. And he started recording again almost 30 years after his cult album “Bob Frank” was released and has since then recorded 7 albums all in all.
This Q&A interview with Bob Frank is mostly about his debut “Bob Frank”, a bit about how his life has been, and how remarkably little the record industry has changed since 1972
-Back in 1972, you´d released you self titled debut album. How was the process to record this album?
The album was put together by Cletus Haegert and Gary Walker. They picked the songs and they produced it. I just sat in the studio and drank wine and smoked weed and sang the songs, over and over again, until they were happy with it. Then they got some great musicians to add the finishing touches, Charlie McCoy on harmonica, Buddy Spicher on fiddle, Eric Weissberg on guitar, and Russell George on bass. So the overall sound of the album was achieved by Clete and Gary.
-It seem like you have a narrative going trough the album, would you call it a concept album? If´s so could you tell more about the concept?
Well, at the time, it was not any specific concept, other than a bunch of story songs, little vignettes. Like I say, Gary and Clete picked the songs. If there was any concept there, it was theirs.
-You were called “the new dylan” back in the days – was this something that caused a lot of pressure for you and your career?
Not really. I was never anything like Dylan actually, other than, we both wrote songs and played the guitar and sang. I don’t think we were very similar in the way we did this.
-It seemed like your career took a quick stop after your debut, and your album has been a much sought after collectors item. What happened?
One thing that happened was, at the release party at Max’s Kansas City in New York, I refused to play any of the songs on the album. I did this because Maynard Solomon at Vanguard had promised me that he would not release the album unless I was totally satisfied with it, but in fact, there were a couple of things I wanted him to do that he never did, so I figured “two can play at this game.” So to “get even” with him, I figured I wouldn’t play the songs from the album at that gig. It was a dumb thing to do. As Jim Dickinson said, “Not a good career move.” Basically, it ended my “career” before it ever got started. Vanguard didn’t ship any more of the albums, other than the ones they’d already shipped. So it was only in a few places that people heard it. Mostly in North Carolina and KFAT, a radio station in Gilroy, California. Also, some places down south, in Arkansas and Texas.
-I read somewhere that you were dubbed something like «the greats singer-songwriter you´ve never heard of» (was it Rolling Stone magazine?) how is it to get a title like this? Jim Dickinson gave me that title. It was one of his unique sayings. He had a lot of ’em. I thought it was perfect, fit me like a glove, so I put it on my website. My “music career” is mostly a joke anyway, so it is very appropriate to have a joke for a motto.
-Close to 30 years after your debut, you did a comeback in 2001 with «A Little Gest of Robin Hood» what made you come back, and start recording again? I was retiring from my regular job doing irrigation work for the City of Oakland, and my intention was to get that “music career” going again…. I always considered myself a professional songwriter, even though I never made any money at it.
-You have recorded and released 7 albums, , since your comeback, do you feel your fans buy your records after they discovered you in 00´s or is there old fans, who followed you from the start, who still follows you and your career?
Both. Although, not very many of either.
-There was 30 years between your debut and your second album – and much has happened in the music industry since then. Do you feel its easier to write and record music in the 00´s or was it easier back in the 70s
It’s easier now. Now, everybody makes an album, a CD. You can do it at home, in the living room. You can put it on CDBaby and Youtube, promote it yourself through the internet, and make some sort of living at it, seems like. Before, you had to have a big record label pick you up and produce you and promote you. There wasn’t much room for you then. They only took a few artists to do that with. The rest of them had to get a day job.
-What were you doing in the years between ’72-01? Were you still writing music, thinking about writing music?
I’ve always been writing songs. It’s a habit I started early in life and have never been able to shake. Not that I ever wanted to…. Anyway, yes, I’ve always been doing that. I write songs in my sleep. “Judas Iscariot” was written in my sleep. In a dream.
-It’s often said that musicians have music in their blood, meaning they have to share their stories. Are your feeling it the same way?
I’m not really a “musician.” I write songs and play the guitar. I never could play it the way most songwriters and folk singers do it, with that Cotton picking, or Travis picking. Never could do that. So I developed my own way to do it. Sounds more like I’m playing a harp than a guitar. But I’m very happy with it now. Mainly, I leave out a lot of notes and just play the ones that convey an emotion. I write songs with people in mind. One individual person per song, usually. I write ’em like I’m singing it to one person, make it something I know they would like to hear. But of course, I want everybody else to hear them too, and like them. That’s all a part of it. But I never do anything to actually get anybody else to hear them. Somebody else has to line up gigs for me. I was never any good at doing that. I go to a few folk festivals, in Arizona mostly, where the people like to hear my songs, and other than that, “I just stay home, laying in a chair, that’s about as far as they’ll get, right there.”
-Do you feel it´s easier to reach out to the music lovers out there these days than it was back in the 70s? Has your fans changed?
I think it’s pretty easy to reach music lovers these days, what with the internet and all. People you never heard of contact you via email (like you did) and boom! there’s a connection. Never had that back in the old days. My “fans” (all 6 of them) are probly the same sort of people I attracted back in the 70’s. People who see the sacred in the profane. Mystical misfits. Rednecks and dope fiends. Soldiers and anarchists. Your normal human beings. “The usual suspects.”
-What do you think is the future of music, will we go back to the physical formats like we see these days, where we see vinyl is the hotted medium these days. Will the CD die?
I have no idea. I was never interested in subjects like that. I just like to write songs.
-If you listen to music digitally – like streams, what are your favorite source to finding new music/inspiration?
I never listen to music, unless a friend sends me a recording of a new song he or she wrote. Actually, I don’t care anything about music. I’d rather listen to a sports talk show.
-And the last question, is as always in these Q&A interviews; What are your musical inspiration? And what are your all-time favorite albums?
My musical inspiration came from rock songs in the ’50s. Groups like the Drifters, or Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, etc. And also from old cowboy songs. Like all kids who grew up in the 50’s, I listened to Gene Autry. Dickinson said, “If it weren’t for Gene Autry, there never would have been Elvis.” So I also listened to Elvis, too, but mainly his ballads. The songs I liked best were the pretty songs, not the fast ones, not the blues, but songs like “Teen Angel” or the Everly Brothers. Another big influence on me was Jimmie Driftwood. Look him up. His “career” was a lot like mine. Had an album out when he was young, then nothing for thirty years. Then, “The Battle of New Orleans.” Also, Jimmie Rodgers, the “yodeling brakeman” from Mississippi. Also, the Irish singers, the Clancy Brothers. For awhile there, in the early ’60’s, they were my favorite group. After that, it was just old folk songs, cowboy songs, and so on. One of my strongest influences was Jim Dickinson. I don’t have any all time favorite albums. I like a lot of them, but like I say, I don’t listen to any of them any more.
Maybe I just got my heart broken by music, so I don’t trust it any more. It’s not a true source of happiness. When you die, it won’t help you at all.
*Quote by Jim Dickinson taken from Bob Franks homepage. All photos borrowed from http://bobfranksongs.com Bob Franks self titled cult debut can be heard on Spotify – Bought on iTunes or BUY THE PHYSICAL COPY FOR THE REAL EXPERIENCE on vinyl and CD from any good retailer!