The Magic's in the Frost

Frank Frost - Blues Legend and Harmonica Player

Frank Frost approached the microphone Friday, October 8th, 1999 on the Main Stage of the King Biscuit Blues Festival in obvious discomfort. The 63 year old Blues musician had been suffering for many years with a number of illnesses. Though in poor health then, he went on with the set, perhaps with a premonition that this may be his farewell performance. His longtime friend and partner of 45 years, drummer Sam Carr, could see that Frost was having trouble. But, the determination of his friend was too strong to yield to and the drummer openly wept for him as he continued to play along.

Four days later, Frank Frost succumbed to heart failure at his home on the street that had been named for him in a dedication at the Festival one year earlier.

Photo by Michele Lotta from Clickin The Blues

He was born on April 15, 1936, as Frank Ottis Frost, in Auvergne, Arkansas. His first exposure to music came as a young child when he learned to play the piano for the choirs in his family's church. At the age of 15, he moved to St. Louis, where he teamed with harmonica player, Little Willie Foster and began to learn both the harp and the guitar. While with Foster, Frost met Sam Carr, the son of the legendary Delta guitarist, Robert Nighthawk. The two became fast friends and decided to put their own band together in 1954, a venture that was short-lived at the time as they soon took on the role of backing harmonica great, Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1959, the two left Williamson and headed to Mississippi, once again to form their own band. Three years later, they hooked up with guitarist, Big Jack Johnson and began to call themselves Frank Frost and The Nighthawks.

The trio caught the attention of Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. He brought them to Memphis in 1962 and they put together their first recording "Big Boss Man!" for his newly created Phillips International label. Three years later, they were in Nashville, working with Elvis Presley's guitarist, Scotty Moore for yet another LP on the Jewel label that saw a minor hit single for them with "My Back Scratcher" (a take-off on the Slim Harpo song, "Baby Scratch My Back").

The group disbanded in 1975, but reunited again in 1979 with the new name The Jelly Roll Kings. Under this name, they became the first artists to record for the newly founded Earwig Records, releasing "Rockin' The Juke Joint Down" that same year. The band thrived over the next two decades as the preeminent example of modern Delta Blues. Big Jack Johnson eventually left to pursue a solo career, but Frost and Carr continued under the name, adding guitarist Fred James to the mix.

Frost would also have a successful solo career. He released several albums under his own name including the acclaimed, "Deep Blues" in 1992. He could also be seen in a commercial for presidential candidate Bill Clinton, as well as a short performance in the film, "Crossroads". The Jelly Roll Kings were also featured on the soundtrack for the Blues documentary "Deep Blues".

For many of the past few years, Frank Frost's health had been failing. A staunch supporter of the Sonny Boy Blues Society of Helena, Arkansas, Frost was a recipient of the medical support that their Blues Aid relief program had been designed for.

A funeral was held on Sunday, October 17th, 1999 at the Malco Theater in Helena, followed by a Blues jam in tribute of his memory.

© 1999 Cascade Blues Association - by Greg Johnson