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My mother, she died and left me in 1920... And after then I got on my own, I could go everywhere I wanted then without letting anybody know where I was - Blind Willie McTell

Author Topic: Liner Notes That Never Were  (Read 396 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Liner Notes That Never Were
« on: April 15, 2013, 06:20:15 AM »
I note that today is the birthday of the late Frank Frost and, although somewhat out of Weenie's realm, I couldn't resist posting this. The following sleeve note was originally written in 1985 for a proposed Flyright reissue of Frank Frost?s Jewel material using tapes licensed from Stan Lewis. Unfortunately Charly Records made Lewis an offer he couldn?t refuse and the UK reissue rights for Jewel went to them. Gazumping not solely the province of the property market.

A Charly inspired Frost compilation eventually appeared two years later in 1987.
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Frank Frost can be best described as a truly talented artist with real potential of becoming one of the outstanding rhythm and blues personalities to come along in the past decade... You can bet that you're gonna be hearing a lot of this boy from Arkansas that now resides in Lula, Mississippi. This album was put together to give the multitude of people that love rhythm and blues not just a few songs that are tops in their field, but to give you twelve potential hits on one great album.

Such was the gushing manner in which Phillips International Records of Memphis, Tennessee attempted to launch their latest denim duckins clad discovery on the R&B world of 1962 with an album comprising Jimmy Reed/John Lee Hooker/Slim Harpo/Howlin' Wolf inspired material. In reality neither record nor artist were to make any impact on the R&B buying public; both sank into obscurity with Frost having to wait three years for another record company, Jewel Records in Louisiana, to produce the hit that Philips International thought him so capable of.

Frank Otis Frost was born in Augusta, Arkansas on April 15, 1936 the second of seven children born to T. R. and Dorthula Frost. When interviewed by Jim O'Neal in 1971 for "Living Blues" (1), Frost's recollections of his early Arkansas childhood and musical influences did not go beyond stating that he had sung and played piano in a church choir. Nor, indeed, did Frost venture to tell how he came to leave Arkansas for St. Louis in 1951. It may be that Frost's memories about these matters were either too vague or too confused to merit reporting. However, once in St Louis he was befriended by harmonica player "Little" Willie Foster through whom he made the acquaintance of drummer Sam Carr son of the celebrated Robert Nighthawk. "I was just sitting in with different groups, blowing harmonica with, for one, Willie Foster and he gave me my first start in show business. He's ask me to blow a number, I'd blow one and next night I'd blow two and finally Sam came along and he needed a harmonica player...and ever since then we been together". Despite his close association with Foster, Frank maintained that his real tutor in blues harmonica was Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex "Rice" Miller) with whom he recalled accompanying on guitar at various venues around St. Louis between 1956 and 1959; he also claimed to be the guitarist on Williamson's 1959 Checker recording of "The Goat''.

In 1960 Frost and Sam Carr went to Lulu, Mississippi to enable the latter to take care of his ailing mother. "I came down here to spend two weekends, I wound up spendin' '60 to '71" joked Frost in 1971. The pair of them acquired a manager J Lee Bass, and began to play local clubs and parties under the billing of The Night Hawks. In early 1962 Bass thought they were good enough to merit recording so he, Frost, Carr and local guitarist, Jack Johnson, went to Memphis in search of a record company: "I came to Lula, and some people heard us, and asked us, 'Have y'all ever did any recordin'?"...We got in a car and we left and went to Memphis". Bass's first port of call with his troupe was the fledgling Stax studios but the company had no interest in their brand of downhome R&B. They next tried Sam Phillips's Sun Studios on Madison Avenue where they were received enthusiastically by Scotty Moore, one time Elvis Presley band member turned Sun producer. Moore, at that time, was producing Sun's fourteen year old answer to Paul Anka, Tony Rossini, which must have been a comedown from engineering Furry Lewis's Prestige/Bluesville sessions the previous year. In later years Scotty Moore admitted that "It was really quite hard going for me to manufacture pop sounds...I was used to Elvis or Frank Frost. We cut a really good blues album on him in '62 that was really so different from Tony Rossini". (2) At two sessions, held on 7th and 28th April, Frost's band recorded eighteen titles from among which a 45 ("Crawlback/Jelly Roll King") was released on the Phillips International label. An album was also issued, only to be lost amongst Berry Gordy's overwhelming assault on the R&B record industry with Tamla Motown.

Returning to Lula, Frost augmented his band with bassist Chip Young and harmonica player, Arthur Williams (who went under the name of "Oscar") changing the aggregation's name to The Jelly Roll Kings. Together they played blues, rock 'n' roll and country and western dates around Clarksdale, Tunica and Moon Lake. In 1966, they went to Scotty Moore's Music City Recorders studio in Nashville. By then Moore was acting as an independent producer for the country arm of Stan Lewis's Jewel/Paula/Ronn concern, which had come into existence the previous year. Lewis was a major figure in the independent record business and in Jewel's first year he achieved a Top 50 R&B hit with the Carter Brothers' "Southern Country Boy"/"Do The Flo Show". It's not clear how Stan Lewis got to hear of Frank Frost (or perhaps vice versa) but the Scotty Moore connection may well have had something to do with it. Two sessions were cut at Music City Recorders with a mere six titles being chosen for eventual release as three singles. "My Back Scratcher"/"Harp And Soul" was the first Frank Frost single to appear on Jewel, "Scratcher" being a version of Slim Harpo's, "Scratch 71y Back" which had made the top spot in the R&B charts for two weeks in February/March 1966. In August that same year "Billboard" magazine showed Frank Frost's cover on Jewel jumping into their R&B top 50 at no.43. The flip of "My Back Scratcher" was a superb harmonica duet between Frost and Williams. Flushed with this success Stan Lewis issued another single from the session "Things You Do"/"Harpin' On It", again following the pattern of a vocal "A" side and instrumental flip. The record did reasonably well in the South, but failed to make any impression on the R&B charts. In a final attempt to keep record purchasers interested in Frank Frost, Jewel released "Pocket Full Of Money"/"Ride With Your Daddy Tonight", but although a much more commercial release, the record was just not able to compete with the welter of Stax/Atlantic product in the R&B Top 100 and sales were very poor. The remaining material did not see the light of day until the mid-70s.

This compilation brings together that entire Jewel output. Echoes of Jr. Parker on "Feel Good Babe" and "Never Leave Me At Home" as well as Howlin' Wolf with "Ride With Your Daddy Tonight" and "Pretty Baby" tend to bear out Frost's claim that, apart from Rice Miller, those two artists were his main heroes and influences. The harmonica work is left almost entirely to the talented Arthur "Oscar" Williams, who does a passable impression of Sonny Boy on "Things You Do" and comes very close to sounding like Frost himself on "Harpin' On It", a reworking of "The Crawlback". Although these sessions were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee "home of country and western" the sound that Frost and his band produce couldn't be further from it; pure southern blues, in the style of Slim Harpo, propelled by strong modern bass-guitar patterns as in the swampy "Didn't Mean Me No Harm" or the aforementioned single, "Pocket Full Of Money".

After these sessions Frost returned to Lula taking a day job and gigging in the evenings and at weekends. The Jelly Roll Kings went their separate ways although early in 1979 they briefly reformed, returning to Memphis to record an album for Michael Frank's Earwig label at the Ardent Studios. That same year they appeared on an ABC News documentary and in November 1931 (the year their Earwig album was released) they travelled to Utrecht, Holland to take part in a blues festival. Today Frank Frost can still be seen playing in a variety of clubs and other settings in the Mississippi/Arkansas/ Memphis area. The history of Frank Frost's recording career  is a depressingly familiar one. Perhaps this twenty year old Jewel material will bring a little belated recognition to a bluesman who is still working hard every weekend to entertain his friends and neighbours. Alan Balfour March 1985

(1) Living Blues 7, Winter 1971.
(2) Quoted in Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins "Catalyst: The Sun Records Story" (Aquarius Books 1975).

Sources:
Sheldon Harris: Blues Who?s Who (Arlington House, 1979)
Charlie Gillett: Blues From The Bayou (Pye International NPL 28142, 1970)
Mike Leadbitter Jerry McCain/Frank Frost/Arthur Crudup: Harpin? On It. (Polydor 2941 001, 1972)

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