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Frank Frost

April 15, 1936 – October 12, 1999

Frank Frost can be heard on Earwig CD 4901, The Jelly Roll Kings’ Rockin’ The Juke Joint Down (organ, piano, harmonica and vocals); CD 4910, The Oil Man (piano); CD 4916, Daddy, When Is Mama Comin Home?; and is featured on CD 4914, Midnight Prowler (piano, harmonica, vocals).

Although the atmospheric juke joint blues of Frank Frost remained steeped in unadulterated Delta funk throughout his career, his ongoing musical journey took him well outside his Mississippi home base. Born April 15, 1936, in Auvergne, Jackson County, Arkansas, Frank got interested in playing the blues after seeing Howlin’ Wolf at a club in Brinkley, Arkansas.

He moved to St. Louis in 1951, learning how to blow harmonica first from Little Willie Foster and then from the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson II, who took him on the road — as a guitar player — from 1956 to 1959. Drummer Sam Carr, a longtime Frost ally, was also part of the equation, having enticed Frost to front his combo in 1954 before they hooked up with Sonny Boy.

Leaving Williamson’s employ in 1959, Frost and Carr settled in Lula, Mississippi. Guitarist Jack Johnson came aboard in 1962 after sitting in on bass with the pair at the Savoy Theatre in Clarksdale. When Jack joined the band, it featured Frank on guitar, harmonica and vocals, Jack Johnson on 2nd guitar and bass, and Sam Carr on drums.  The three meshed perfectly — enough to interest Memphis producer Sam Phillips in a short-lived back-to-the-blues campaign that same year. Hey Boss Man!, issued on Sun’s Phillips International subsidiary as by Frank Frost and the Nighthawks, was a wonderful collection of uncompromising Southern blues (albeit totally out of step with the marketplace at the time).

Elvis Presley’s ex-guitarist Scotty Moore produced Frost’s next sessions in Nashville in 1966 for Jewel Records. Augmented by session bassist Chip Young, the trio’s tight down-home ensemble work was once again seamless. “My Back Scratcher”, Frost’s takeoff on Slim Harpo’s “Baby Scratch My Back,” even dented the R&B charts on Shreveport-based Jewel for three weeks.

As Jack Johnson became better and better, bandleader Sam Carr switched Frank over to Farfisa organ, as well as rack harmonica. Chicago blues fan Michael Frank sought out Frost in April 1975. He located Frost, Johnson, and Carr playing inside Johnson’s Clarksdale tavern, the Black Fox. Mesmerized by their sound, Frank formed his own record label, Earwig Music Company, to capture their raw, charismatic brand of blues. 1979′s Rockin’ the Juke Joint Down, billed as by the Jelly Roll Kings (after one of the standout songs on that old Phillips International LP), showcased the trio’s multi-faceted approach — echoes of R&B, soul, blues and country. Even Johnny & the Hurricanes permeated their Delta-based attack.

This album drew a lot of attention to the band, resulting in their being booked in November 1979 and 1981 at the Blues Estafette in the Netherlands, where they garnered rave reviews. In 1983 Frost toured Europe, again to great acclaim, without Big Jack Johnson and Sam Carr, instead accompanied by guitarist Andrew “Shine Turner” and drummer/vocalist C.V. Veal, both from Clarksdale, Mississippi. After moving to Greenville, Mississippi, in 1986 Frost performed with his Greenville band in the feature film Crossroads. In the late 1980s,  Frank  moved to Helena, Arkansas, where he performed regularly, often with Sam Carr, in a small club and at the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival.

In the years following, Frost played piano on Big Jack Johnson’s The Oil Man album for Earwig, waxed his own Earwig album (1988′s Midnight Prowler) and appeared on Atlantic’s 1992 Deep Blues soundtrack — an acclaimed film that reinforced the fact that blues still thrives deep in its southern birthplace. Frost and Carr recorded again in 1993 on the Appaloosa recording Keep Yourself Together, produced by guitarist Fred James. Frank died from cardiac arrest October 12, 1999, at his home in Helena, Arkansas. He was 63.

“…blows harmonica with a flair that recalls Sonny Boy Williamson…” -Seattle Rocket

“For down home blues fans it doesn’t get much better than this.” -Billboard