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From the Ozarks to NOLA to FoWal to 30A – The “Washboard” Jackson Story

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Franko “Washboard” Jackson and Eileen West at the 2016 Beachcomber Music Awards in Destin.
Photo by Chris Manson.

By Nikki Hedrick

 

We all know him as Franko “Washboard” Jackson, and most of us know him well given that he’s been playing in the area since 1987.

 

When Jackson was 14 he tried his hand at guitar, but it was short lived. “I didn’t do too much until I got a hold of a jug band record,” he says. “Those guys were playing anything, and I thought, That’s for me. It started out as just kind of a hobby.”

 

In 1975, he owned his first washboard, and it would not be his last. Jackson lived in what he affectionately calls a “hippie commune” in the Ozarks where everyone either could play or was learning to play an instrument.

 

In 1976, he and a couple friends hitchhiked down to New Orleans. Jackson left his washboard on the side of the road, but the journey wasn’t for naught. “I fell in love with the place,” Jackson says of the Crescent City. “I stayed there for 10 years, up until we moved to Fort Walton Beach.

 

“When I got to New Orleans I got a new washboard. I saw an ad in the Figaro paper—Jug band needs washboard player – nonprofessional only. I jumped on it. I had only been there for two weeks, and it was like it was meant to happen.”

 

They became the Bad Oyster Band, made up of three medical professionals and Jackson. “I was the token hippie of the band,” he says.

 

Jackson’s decade-long history with New Orleans runs deep. He worked at the famed music venue Tipitina’s when it first opened, eventually living in the apartments above it and playing multiple years at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

 

It was in New Orleans that Jackson met Eileen West, and as her children reached high school age they opted to relocate to the Emerald Coast. That was some 30 years ago, and he quickly started gigging with Billy Garrett under the moniker Willy and the Wahoos. The bones of Hubba Hubba were falling into place, and for Jackson and West the area was beginning to feel like home.

 

“I kind of have a style of my own,” says Jackson. “Most washboard players play with thimbles, sticks or church keys, and I got into playing with these doggie brushes. I developed my own style and influenced a few people.”

 

One of those people is drummer John Reinlie. “I’ve been kind of teaching him my style of washboard playing,” says Jackson. “(It) makes me feel so good that he’s interested in playing the way I play. He’s going to take it to the next level with all his talent. It’s not going to end with me, and I’m so happy about that.”

 

Sitting in the Jackson-West home surrounded by artwork—and sipping home-brewed tea—Jackson is eager to show off the steps it takes to properly prepare a washboard for playing. “I’m so proud that I get to say that Fritz (Froeschner) worked on my axe,” he explains while revealing the wooden knob that controls the pickups to amplify his playing.

 

Talking about the area’s music history, we touch on the recent losses of those close to Jackson—Marcus Buckner, Kenny Oliverio and Suzette DeJarnette. But as quick as he is to express sadness, he is grateful to the community for rallying around him on his medical journey for a liver transplant.

 

To be activated on the list, a fundraiser was organized by Jim Richard and the staffs of Stinky’s and Trebeache in a two-week span. “That was a beautiful thing,” says Jackson. “The folks at Stinky’s took such good care of me. I am still overwhelmed every time I think about that—for all the support and how lucky I am.”

 

For now, Jackson is simply waiting and continuing the required tests to monitor his MELD score that determines his placement on the transplant list. “I keep a backpack ready and am just waiting. It’s scary.” In the same breath, he is quick to reassure. “Everything considered, I’m doing good.” (For the latest updates, follow facebook.com/frankophilefan.)

 

As he waits, Jackson still performs weekly, primarily with Duck Phat at Stinky’s Sunday brunch. He also continues to paint, but that’s a whole other story.

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