Bob Franke is one of those songwriters who can convey the most heart rendering human emotions in a small quick phrase that rattles around in your head for weeks afterwards. You just can’t shake it. His lyrics deliver deep messages to the hearts and souls of music lovers everywhere. Despite his reputation as such a strong and spiritual songwriter, he charms audiences with his sharp wit and self-deprecating humor.
To learn more about Bob Franke, check out his website.
Here’s a video of one of Bob’s most memorable songs, “Hard Love.”
It’s astonishing to see on your website that you’ve been in the music business for 50 years! Congratulations! Do you recall the first show you ever played and what you played?
One of my first paid gigs was opening up the Ark Coffeehouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in October 1965. I had already written a musical for my high school.
When you were first starting out in the “business,” did you have any mentors who helped you along? And have you had the opportunity to pay it back and mentor others along the way?
Old friends (The Rev.) Ed Reynolds and Peter Bowen taught me a few guitar tricks; Ed and the late Rev. J. Daniel Burke gave me a job taking money at The Canterbury House, a world-class music venue in Ann Arbor where I got to see the likes of Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Penny Nichols, the Kweskin Jug band, and many traditional folk artists like the Rev. Gary Davis, Dock Boggs and Skip James. I wrote a glowing review of Ms. Mitchell at one of her first solo gigs there, so I guess you could say I mentored her, in a way. I’ve been teaching songwriting since about 1988, and many of my students have gone on to have honorable careers.
This list of musicians who have played your songs is awe-inspiring: Peter, Paul, and Mary, Kathy Mattea, Garnet Rogers, Claudia Schmidt, and David Wilcox to name a few. I can only imagine the joy that you must feel when you hear someone else singing your song. Are there any renditions that are your particular favorites?
They are all favorites, as you might expect; June Tabor’s version of “Hard Love” showed me things I didn’t know were there, and Lui Collins’ version of “For Real” came at just the right time to encourage me.
Your songs are deeply personal and at the same time very universal. You’ve probably met hundreds of fans who have told you that your songs have meant so much to them.
A young man in California handed me an envelope before a show once; in it was a photograph of his mother’s tombstone, with the words, “It was Hard Love.” I haven’t gotten much in the way of traditional or academic honors, but when stuff like that happens, I know I haven’t been wasting my life.
You have a close relationship with the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Marblehead and you have been presenting a Cantata each Good Friday that is quite moving. What was the genesis of that project? Can you describe it to those who have never experienced it before?
After writing a humorous Epiphany Cantata the previous year and getting encouraging feedback, I decided to try a more ambitious format and subject in 1980. With the church’s support, I recruited various folksinger friends to take solo roles, and we’ve developed a sort of repertory community over the years to keep it rolling. “Meditations on the Passion” is my attempt to find meaning for 20th and 21st century folks in this central Christian story.
You have said that you give your music students both the mechanical and psychological tools in your song writing classes. We all understand what you mean by “mechanical” tools but how do you advise students about getting their “psychological” tools into working order?
I tell them to listen to and write down their dreams, and to remember that the language of song is very similar to the language of dreams.