SoWal People - Franko Washboard Jackson
September 21, 2012 by Gwen Break
Some forty years ago a tall, skinny hippie kid left a Missouri commune to search for a jug band in order to hone his skill as a washboard player.
Franko “Washboard” Jackson began playing in 1974. He turned professional after answering an ad in a New Orleans newspaper for a washboard player. He thought there would be a line of people out the door but “was the only who showed up.”
Franko has long been a member of local favorite band Hubba Hubba which has just completed recording its first CD, “Live at the Red Bar.”
Jackson is not only a much sought after musician, but is also a folk artist of some note. He began painting about 10 years ago at the urging his wife, Eileen West, and good friend the late Woody Long, a successful South Walton folk artist. Eileen was owner of the Eileen West Gallery which was located in Ruskin Place until May 2011 at which time it became an online-only gallery.
“Eileen didn’t teach me a thing,” Franko states emphatically. “She encouraged me.”
His artwork is as rustic, folksy and colorful as his music. Long a member of the legendary South Walton band Hubba Hubba, he has worked with and started a number of bands in SoWal. His music is part rock, part New Orleans, part soul.
Franko and his wife Eileen West have lived in the area since 1984. They met almost 40 years ago when Franko worked as a bouncer at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. Eileen was a single mom with two children (now referred to as “their kids”) and an art museum curator. Franko was a musician and worked at other odd jobs in order to pay the bills.
The couple has been married for 29 years. “But our kids decided the life of bohemian musician and artist wasn’t for them,” says Eileen, and became “regular people.” Their son is in the Air Force. Their daughter, an art teacher. They have seven grandchildren.
Franko and Eileen moved into a house with just a roof and studs in Seagrove in 1989. Built by themselves and friends, the couple says a friend dubbed it “the house that beer built.”
They sold the house in 2005 when they were offered “a ridiculous amount of money.” They bought some acreage in the vicinity of Rock Hill Road, where as Eileen puts it, she “tends to the garden in her underpants.” The pace is slower and there isn’t a party every weekend.
Franko is now better known as “Pawpaw” to family members. He still has his beard only now it’s gone white. He still has a massive head of curly locks that frame his cherub face and make him look a little like Santa Claus. He is a tall man with a slight middle age spread. He answers questions about himself in a shy almost-practiced voice, a stark contrast to the larger-than-life stage presence or when in the company of other performers. There is a gentleness to him that you can sense almost immediately and a friendliness that pulls you into his world of music, art and family.
“He has a pure heart. He is one of the few people I’ve ever met that has a pure heart,” Eileen softly says, her love for the teddy bear of man clearly evident. “We have led a charmed life.”
You can hear Franko play with his new band on Sunday afternoons at Shorty’s in Grayton Beach. Other band members include Marcus Buckner, Neal Sebree, Bryan Wise and Billy Garrett, part-time.