Folksinger Bob Frank was born and grew up in Memphis, TN, where he began playing in coffeehouses in the early '60s. He briefly attended Vanderbilt University before being expelled for playing his guitar in the dorm. He earned a degree in English from Rhodes College in Memphis in 1966. He was then drafted into the Army, and his two-year stint included a tour of duty in Vietnam. After getting out in 1968, he moved around, working on a ranch in Colorado and a cannery in Washington state, and living on communes in Northern California. He counted himself "one of the original hippies" and certainly was the only one to join the Tree music publishing company in Nashville as a staff writer. He was signed by Vanguard Records, which released his self-titled debut album in 1972. Despite good reviews, it did not sell, and he had a falling out with the label after he refused to sing any of the songs from the LP at a showcase at the New York nightclub Max's Kansas City. In 1973, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, settling in Oakland. In the mid-'70s, he led a band called the Hardheads that also featured Bruce Jackson on bass and Joel Shapiro on fiddle. Eventually, however, he dropped out of the music business and worked for the city of Oakland as an irrigation specialist while raising four children. Meanwhile, his songs were recorded by other artists. His old Memphis friend Jim Dickinson put "Wild Bill Jones" on his album Dixie Fried in 1972. Frank was also discovered by cowboy singers. During the 1970s and early '80s, Chris LeDoux recorded "Horses and Cattle," "The Buckskin Lady," "Six Bucks a Day," "Old Tom Horn," and "Montana Rodeo." Gary McMahan put "My Good Samaritan" and "The Buckskin Lady" (the latter of which he co-wrote) on his 1980 album Colorado Blue, as well as "Horses and Cattle" and "Montana Rodeo" on Saddle 'Em Up and Go! in 1988. The Starlite Ramblers recorded "The Buckskin Lady" on their Live at Apple's album in 1981.
By 2000, Frank discovered that he had become a cult artist much discussed on the Internet, with copies of his sole album changing hands for as much as $100. He returned to performing and began his own label, Bowstring Records, which issued his album A Little Gest of Robin Hood, his adaptation of a 13th century Middle English poem, in 2001. Reconnecting with Dickinson, now a renowned producer, he recorded his first album of original songs in 30 years, Keep on Burning (July 16, 2002). Then, in quick succession, came Pledge of Allegiance (June 21, 2004) and Ride the Restless Wind (June 17, 2005). World Without End (October 26, 2006) was a duo album by Frank and John Murry. On February 19, 2008, Memphis International Records released Red Neck, Blue Collar, a compilation of tracks from Keep on Burning, Pledge of Allegiance, and Ride the Restless Wind. For his part, Dickinson continued to record Frank compositions, putting "Last Night I Gave Up Smoking" on Free Beer Tomorrow (2002) and "Red Neck, Blue Collar" on Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger (2006). Meanwhile, the JPT Scare Band, which had performed Frank's song "Wino" from Bob Frank in the 1970s, finally put a nine-minute version of it on their 2007 album Past Is Prologue. Other recordings of Frank's songs include "No Reason to Cry" by the Thrifts and "She Pawned Her Diamond for Some Gold" and "Before the Trash Truck Comes" by Don McGregor. ~ William Ruhlmann