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