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In Memoriam: Franko “Washboard” Jackson

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Photo by Shelly Swanger.

We have lost a giant. I met Franko “Washboard” Jackson somewhere around 1987 when a mutual friend introduced us at Docie’s Dock at the former Staff’s Restaurant in Fort Walton Beach. I had a regular Friday and Saturday gig there. Franko started coming and jamming with me. We have been playing together in many configurations ever since.

 

Anyone who’s ever met Franko knows he was one of the most genuinely kind people ever. This is inevitably pointed out in every one of the innumerable tributes that have poured out since his passing. We almost never saw him when he was not smiling, and he was without fail the happiest person in the room with the best, most positive attitude. He was my hero.

 

It was with great sadness that we found out that Franko had cancer somewhere around a year ago. It spread quickly. Even while this was going on, and knowing his eventual fate, whenever I called or visited him he was still that same Franko…all big smiles and hearty laughs. As usual, he was always the one with the most positive attitude in the room and the strongest of all those who knew and loved him.

 

It was only Sunday, October 6, when Franko made an appearance at his regular brunch gig at Stinky’s Fish Camp and sat in with his long-time bandmates Bobby and Lisa Steeno to sing his song “Sweet Potato Pie,” which had become an instant local favorite. Although frail, he was, as usual, all smiles. Just a couple of days later his health took a sudden turn for the worse, he became bedridden and then passed peacefully and mercifully the following Friday.

 

I spent much of Franko’s last three days with him at his home. A steady diet of our band Hubba Hubba’s music played in the background at his request. Although at times he may not have seemed awake, I spoke to him as if he were in hopes that he could hear me. I asked him if he realized how beloved he was by so many. His wife Eileen said he didn’t. I wanted to impress that upon him.

 

The world is a bit dimmer without the ray of light that was Franko. He was an accomplished folk artist who did several paintings of “Angel Bands,” musicians who have passed away. It’s hard to believe that Franko has now joined the angel band.

– Bill Garrett

 

Frank Steven Jackson

November 29, 1950-Oct. 11, 2019

Frank Steven Jackson, better known to everyone as Franko “Washboard” Jackson, passed away peacefully Friday, October 11, at home with his wife and family.

 

Born in Oklahoma City, Mr. Jackson’s family soon moved to Atlanta, where he spent his early childhood. The family moved to Dallas when Mr. Jackson was 14, and from there moved to the East Wind Community in Missouri as a young adult. At East Wind, he discovered his joy—washboard music.

 

“Washboard” Jackson’s life was rich and deep and never uninteresting. He hitchhiked to New Orleans from the commune to be there for the birth of his sister Cindy’s first child. He wound up playing washboard with the Bad Oyster Band and performed at the New Orleans Jazz Festival several times in the mid-1970s. He never went back to the commune, instead playing the streets of the French Quarter and busking with musicians from all over the world.

 

In the early 1980s, Washboard Jackson and the Hot Damn Jug Band was formed from those street performers to play the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair from beginning to end. That band went on to play festivals and gatherings in New York, and they recorded a jug band CD that is still available.

 

Hubba Hubba, the big electric blues band, came together in the ‘90s after Washboard moved to Florida and brought a tune with him that proved fateful. He taught Bill Garrett “Bayou Country,” written by Duke Bardwell, and by strange coincidence, all three ended up meeting. They started playing music together, adding Doug “Dr. D” Dickerson and Rick Arnett, and became a long-time favorite band throughout Walton County and the 30A community.

 

Around 2000, Mr. Jackson began painting primitive memory paintings of his family and musicians that influenced him. His first solo show at the Toulouse Women Gallery in 2004 was a success and advanced his reputation as a folk artist. That, and the fact that his wife Eileen had a folk art gallery—he said he slept his way to the top.

 

Mr. Jackson’s favorite gig was at Stinky’s on 30A, where he played every Sunday at brunch with his dearest friends Lisa and Bobby Steeno. He has his own gallery there, where Jim Richard and Stan Meadows exhibit his artwork in the main room.

 

A memorial is forthcoming. Some of Washboard’s ashes will be placed in the foundation of the Red Bar in Grayton Beach, where Oli Petit hired him to work in the kitchen, and then tapped Hubba Hubba to play the restaurant’s annual anniversary blowout.

 

A celebration of the man’s life will be held Thanksgiving week. Details will be announced on the Franko “Washboard” Jackson Facebook page. You can find some of his original songs on YouTube, as well as many covers with his musician friends.

 

Mr. Jackson is preceded in death by his adoring parents Elizabeth and Frank. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Eileen West; the two children he helped raise, Jeffre Lynn West and Scott Lucas West; Scott’s wife Cheryl; grandchildren Caslen West, Tucker and Lillia Luinstra, and Jackson Heath; sisters Cindy Mounger and Lisa West; Lisa’s husband Brad; brother Rob Jackson; nieces Kaitlyn West and Angela Connelly; nephews Kevin West, Mart Mounger and Paul Mounger; and many, many wonderful friends.

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