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FRANKO "WASHBOARD" JACKSON BIO

ARTWORK    BIOGRAPHY     MUSIC     PHOTOS    HISTORY OF JUGBAND MUSIC

Mardi Gras 1979

would have a lasting influence on the life of a young washboard picker.

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Franko Washboard Jackson was born in Oklahoma in 1950, moved to Atlanta when he was three, and back to Oklahoma when he was thirteen. 

He spent his childhood listening to his mother play her hot pink upright piano and her comb and cellophane as a wind instrument.

When he was 24, Jackson moved to the Ozarks where he chanced to hear the Jug, Jook, and Washboard Band LP: 

Music made without formal training on homemade instruments. 

Just like his Mom used to do.

 

Jackson took up the washboard in 1975 and, at 25,  moved to New Orleans to find the music. A few months later he saw an ad in the Times Picayune:

“Washboard Player Wanted: Non-Professional Only.”  

He was surprised when he was the only one to show up to audition

Washboard Jackson joined the The Bad Oyster Band that played irregular gigs all over the  city  and still does. Their album, JUGBAND MUSIC AND BLUES is a New Orleans classic. If you find a copy call us!

During that time he sat in with Professor Longhair, the single greatest influence on his music. Jackson says Henry Byrd is "an avatar".

Playing the streets in the French Quarter, he met musicians from New York who formed Washboard Jackson and the Hot Damn Jug Band in 1979. They were a featured act for the entire run of the New Orleans World’s Fair of 1984. Every June, Washboard travels to upstate New York for a reunion with these musicians and many more to play the Ithaca Festival as the Gourmet Jugband.

In 1985 he moved to Florida with the beautiful woman who would eventually persuade him to marry her, Eileen.Eileen West

who does the website ;-)

 

He began playing with a pickup band at Docie’s Dock in Ft Walton Beach. Shortly, Jackson and Bill Garrett formed Willy and the Wahoos, and played festivals and dive bars, and tourist bars up and down the coast.

  Moving to South Walton County, FL in 1989, he and Garrett talked Duke Bardwell out of retirement and formed the local favorite electric blues band: HUBBA HUBBA with Doug Dickerson and Case Cooper. They have been playing together for over 26 years.

 

Check local listings and hear HUBBA HUBBA on Washboard's CD:

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When Jackson started painting in 2002, he was encouraged and influenced by Billie Gaffrey, Justin Gaffrey, and Woodie Long.

He  painted images from his life: family, friends, his dog and sometimes his cat, and  musicians he admired.

TOULOUSE WOMEN GALLERY in Point Washnigton Florida hosted Franko's 1st show in 2003.

Things were never the same. Thank You Dawn Chapman Whitty and Darcy Jones Hall!

RECENT ARTWORK

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The following story appeared in the Saturday, Nov. 23 1996 edition of The Walton Log:

Destin Florida and is reprinted here at the request of Patty Ally.

"Washboard Jackson Speaks"                  Patty Alley

It is a sultry Sunday evening in the smoky round room at Pandoras in Grayton Beach and the joint is jumping. Hubba Hubba is on stage and the locals have come out to play. I am here to record the tale...and maybe have a beer or two. I make my way to the center of the action, just to the right of the dance floor.

Washboard Jackson with HUBBA HUBBA (Doug Dickerson, Duke Bardwell, Case Cooper, Bill Garrett) and Sam Bush

at the Red Bar in Grayton Beach FL

 

"This song was written by the late great Washboard Sam," Franko aka "Washboard" Jackson begins. "Sam had a great big woman and a little bitty woman too..." The story goes that the little woman caught him with the big one and that's how he became the late great Washboard Sam.

With those words spoken, the beat seems released from a place deep within his soul. At this moment, he is not just playing music; on some level, Washboard Jackson has actually become that which he so loves. I caught up with Franko after the gig to meet the man behind the music.

"It was a great time in my life, " says Franko, speaking of the Eastwinds Community in the Ozarks where he lived for a couple of years during the mid seventies. It was at the commune, modeled after B.F. Skinner's classic Walden II, that he first heard the music that has shaped his life.

"Everyone at the commune either played or was learning to play a musical instrument," he remembers with a smile. It was in Eastwind's supportive communal lifestyle that Franko first began to recognize himself as a musician.

"We had a dollar a week for spending money and someone came up with an LP by the Memphis Jug Band. It was great," he says, "here was this music that didn't require any formalized training." This was an epiphany for Franko who had long mourned his decision not to take music lessons as a youth. In Eastwind's supportive environment, he learned that true self-expression need not require years spent learning technique and form. Franko perfected his craft, and in the process laid the foundation for his future.

"Memphis Jug Band" 2007

Washboard Jackson

Born on the streets of Memphis during the 1920's, jug band music is the last non-commercialized indigenous music form in the country. Because the music was born on the streets, the lyrics are a reflection of the jazz and free thinking which characterized the decade. References to the news and world events of the time are peppered throughout a lexicon of hundreds of songs known by jug band musicians around the world. The music is characterized by the use of homemade instruments like the washboard from which Franko gets his moniker. The concept of the Jug Band fosters humanity's need for expression free from the boundaries and rules which can squelch the creative spirit. It is pure music straight from the soul; a celebration which invites all to partake.

"Mama had a hot pink upright piano in the living room," Franko beams as he begins talking about the woman who first introduced him to the joys of musical selfexpression. Franko's musical musings go beyond a mere expression of his soul; the beat which he is compelled to play is in his genes.

 

"Mama played kazoo, comb and tissue paper and this toy that Mattel used to make." Franko notices the quizzical look on my face as I try to understand how one plays a comb and tissue paper. He rummages through a pile of stuff beside him. Like his mama, the makings of an impromptu jam session are never further than arm's reach from Franko. He wraps the comb carefully with a piece of tissue paper, holds it to his lips and begins to play .

His dog, Lulu, raises a quizzical ear as the kazoo-like sounds flow forth. The animal springs into action; ears at a 90 degree angle, and tail wagging furiously, she places both paws on her daddy's chest desperately trying to get close enough to lick his face. Franko starts to laugh as he is overcome by her wet kisses. "Poor Lulu," he muses, hugging her close, "she's really just a Labrador Retreiver trapped inside a Pit Bull's body.

About a year and a half after moving to Eastwinds, Franko went down to New Orleans to visit his sister who had recently given birth to her first child. Franko instantly became enmeshed in the synergy of the Big Easy.

"There was no keeping me on the farm once I'd seen New Orleans, " he says with a characteristic chuckle.

Thumbing through the classified ads soon after getting to town, Franko was ecstatic when he saw an ad placed by a jug band seeking a washboard player.

"The ad said 'non-professionals only need apply'," he pauses, "man, I couldn't believe it, I thought there'd be hundreds of people." A sense of awe still comes through Franko's voice at the memory of his first meeting with the Bad Oyster Band.

"It was a bourgeois band. The other guys were doctors and researchers. I was the token hippie," he says. Franko played with the band exclusively until 1979 when he became acquainted with a group of street musicians during Mardi Gras. Once again Franko was exactly where he needed to be.

"Here was this group of 12 or 13 musicians that needed a washboard player..." his voice trails off as though he still can't quite believe his luck.

"The Hot Damn Jug Band saved a guy's life once," he says. "One day we were playing and this lady came running out onto the street, screaming that her boyfriend had killed himself." Franko and several of his fellow musicians followed the woman into her house to find her boyfriend hanging from a noose in the living room.

"Jimmy the banjo player cut him down and gave him mouth to mouth; saved the guy's life," he says proudly. "We quit playing for a while right after that, it was kind of rough," he explains.

In 1984 Franko and The Hot Damn Jug Band played the World's Fair in New Orleans. The musicians were there six days a week between May and September until Fair organizers ran out of money. In June of 1996 Franko was reunited with the Band in New York where they were one of the featured acts at the popular Ithica Festival. In spite of Franko's easy and self-effacing manner, I am beginning to realize that his modesty belies that talent that has made him an almost mythical figure in the jug band community.

About a year after his gig at the World's Fair ended, Franko and his wife Eileen made the decision to leave Louisiana to move to the Sunshine State. As with any large metropolitan area, life in New Orleans can be difficult and often dangerous.

In 1985, Franko, Eileen and her two children moved to Fort Walton Beach. After both kids had graduated from high school in 1990, the couple moved to Seagrove where, with a lot of help from friends, they built their own home.

In 1987, Franko met Billy Garrett and began playing under the name "Willy and the Wahoos." They initially performed at Docie's Dock, a local's bar in Fort Walton. Franko has been performing in the bar, connected to Staff's Seafood Restaurant, off and on ever since. He and his buddy John Zirpola, an accoustic guitarist from Fort Walton Beach, still play there most Friday and Saturday evenings as they have for the past six years.

Serendipity once again entered Franko's life in 1990 when Billy Garrett met Duke Bardwell at the old Paradise Cafe in Grayton Beach. "We had been singing a song of his for years," says Franko. "We always credited him with the tune but none of the guys in the band ever knew who he was."

Billy had gone in for dinner one night when Duke, then the restaurant's manager, came up and introduced himself. "Billy was floored to finally meet this guy whose music we had been singing all along."

Billy and Franko immediately began trying to entice Duke, a well known bass guitarist, from his musical retirement. It was not long before Franko and Duke began performing together as Hubba Hubba, now South Walton's home town band.

In 1991 the duo became a trio when Billy came onboard. Today the band also includes Doug Dickerson on lead guitar and Greg Guthre on drums. While there are five official members of Hubba Hubba, the band regularly welcomes fellow musicians to the stage. It is especially during those times that the energy becomes contagious and their fans are helpless to do anything but dance until their weary bodies can dance no longer.

Hubba Hubba's sound, difficult to describe, impossible to explain, has been charcterized as Rockin' Blues with a Louisiana flair. Franko likes to think of it as "neck music" and having witnessed the party, I am inclined to agree. Whatever words one choses to describe the music, one thing is clear; Hubba Hubba is a darn good band. Franko speaks with particular fondness of the times when the group is joined by other musicians, formally trained or not. "That's what makes it cool," declares Franko. It's always different, fresh. I don't know, " he says with a shrug. "It just makes for a good night."

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"Almighty Love" 2009

Acrylic paint on exterior salvaged door. This story/song was composed by the artist to express how he feels about religions of the world using the word of God to do the devil's work. Lyrics on request.

To see more of Washboard Jackson's artwork, click the image.

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