Twice this year, for the RFT, I’ve written stories on musician Andrew Franklin. One, published in May, detailed his pitched battle with cancer; the other, published early today, noted his passing at the too-young age of 29.
We were introduced a while back by Kelsey McClure, who mentioned that Franklin’s band at the time, Big Brother Thunder & The Master Blasters, was looking for group photos. At the time, I was working on a personal photo project called The Magic Door and, so, he, I and the rest of his band met out back of an auto repair shop on MLK Boulevard, taking pics until dark. Later, we worked on another series with the group, at Cherokee’s Bomb Door. And not much more than a month ago, we met for that purpose again, this time meeting up at Nebula for a series of shots with his new group, Sugar Kings; I can’t say I did a good job with the Sugar Kings shots and wound up getting some decent pics of each musician, but without ever getting that keeper, full-group shot. Would that we could do it all over again!
A few months prior, I’d met with Drew and his longtime partner Jessica Bellomo, catching up at Soulard Market. We sat outside on the steps of the bandstand and chatted for a good hour, before the two went inside to shop for produce. An anecdote that I’ve told since came out of that. (I’ll share it here, then will turn things over to those who knew him better, those I reached out to for the second RFT piece.) Here’s how “the potato story” goes…
Drew was talking about “food as medicine” at one of their stops in the market. Just down the row, we stopped again as he was putting a couple dozen potatoes into a plastic bag, which he handed to the farmer. Weighing the produce, the farmer asked for $2.90 and Drew handed him three dollar bills, telling him to keep the extra 10-cents, that he’d grab an extra potato to even things out. So, that didn’t go well.
The farmer, lacking anything resembling social grace, handed back the bag and the singles, saying something like “I only sell what I’m paid for,” which prompted a memory I’ll take with me for a bit. Drew took the bag of potatoes back and calmly, without a word, poured them back into the bin. They then exchanged another word, or two, after all, but all points had already been made. While Drew’s lanky body had obviously been stressed by his cancers and their treatments, his spirit had plenty of spark left; he was not about to take shit over a dime’s worth of potatoes. Not that day.
Random, maybe, but it’s the impression of him that’ll last with me longest.
Here are what his friends had to say when asked to contribute some thoughts to today’s RFT piece. Due to story brevity, I was unable to include most of these, so they’re all here, minus any real edits:
Darian Wigfall: I’m still collecting my thoughts a bit. This is hitting me pretty hard. He was one of the first people to buy my book and one of the first people I met and liked in the music scene in St. Louis when I was writing music buzz for Examiner.com. I loved his band, his spirit; he was a good friend. He was a good friend to a lot of people. He was a fireman, which is one of the most dangerous jobs there is, and a great athlete. That was my guy, man. Even though we didn’t see each other often because he was busy, and so am I, but we always would call each other ‘brother’ when we would meet up with friends for music or drinks or at a show.
Donald Williams: A few things immediately come to mind when I think of my friend Andrew Franklin: kindness, sincerity and his smile. He always had a smile for everyone he knew. The two of us had a lot in common and our conversations almost always touched on our bands, being bass players, writing music, and what it all meant to us. As he was dealing with his cancer there was a period of time where the chemo was really wearing on him. We stayed in touch whenever he was feeling up to it and there were times that I could tell he was absolutely exhausted. I wanted to cheer him up and hear him laugh again so one night Jesse Gannon and I took him out to dinner. Afterwards, he said he had some energy and wasn’t ready to go home so we met up with our friends Darian Wigfall and Ted Brookins for a couple of drinks. It’s difficult to not have fun with that crew of people but that particular night our conversations were so hilarious and outrageous that some of us were in tears while the rest of us were screaming. At several points, Andrew said it actually hurt to laugh. A few times during the course of the evening, it crossed my mind that there was a very good chance I might not get to hang out with him again. There was a very good chance that his family, girlfriend, and close friends might soon lose him. I don’t know if the others noticed when, for a few minutes here and there, I would withdraw from our ridiculous conversations to watch Andrew. I just sat back and watched him tell his stories, crack his jokes, enjoy himself and enjoy our company. I thought about how good it felt to help make him happy, to see him smile, and then I thought, that’s exactly how he always made us feel. That night with that group of friends is how I’ll always remember Andrew Franklin.
Kelsey McClure: Drew and I rarely had to call each other to hang out because we had a habit of running into each other at late night bar spots. The night of the Boston Marathon Bombing, we found each other at the Gramophone on open mic night. Drew had come to play and I to drink because it didn’t seem the night for jokes or to be alone. So Drew refused to get on stage, unless I did, too. He coaxed me up by playing to my utter vanity and insisting a full band back my set. But more importantly, Drew swore to never speak of it again if it went poorly, which I insisted it would, having not prepared and also forgotten I was about to take the stage with the bass-playing love child of James Brown and Richard Pryor. There wasn’t a time after that night when we crossed paths that he and I weren’t blowing plans out of proportion to recreate that night in a bigger, better way.
Mathias James: I met Drew when he was about 16- or 17-years-old. Shoulder-length dreadlocks and a thirst to make music his life’s work. I immediately took to him. Despite me being a solid decade older, we ended up having a lot in common. Our love for that FUNK. Good, soulful hip hop. Our mutual zest for the way music enriches your life. Our mutual affinity for the game of baseball. Over the years, Drew became one of my trusted few. Part of the inner circle. Now and then, months would go by without seeing each other, especially when he was out saving lives with the Fire Dept., but when we’d reconnect it was always like not a single day had passed. Early in our friendship, I brought him in to audition for the vacant bass player role in Core Project. I was rooting for him to get it; perhaps he was still somewhat green at the time, so he didn’t. Immediately after that, though, he used that as fuel to go out and become one of the most soulful, innovative, celebrated musicians in STL. He became twice the musician I’ll ever be. I’ll miss Drew terribly. He was always there with a smile and a huge hug. He was one of the most genuine and passionate people I’ve ever known. I’ll be forever grateful to have been his friend.
John Harrington: Every time we played a show & didn’t get paid or I wanted to go to a party instead of practicing he would always say: “Forget about all that side track BS. Let’s get back to the music.” He also was a revolutionary & full of wisdom & would say: “We can’t sit around complaining about what we don’t have, if we don’t get up & go get what we want!”
Dan Mahfood: Not only was Drew a heavyweight in the music scene, he gave his all as a firefighter, brother, son, and cancer victim. Always blew me away that during his battle with the disease that this guy had the determination and strength to keep getting on stage and spreading love through his music. A true hero and funk soldier. RIP to a legend.