Local musician Franko "Washboard" Jackson was treasured for his time spent with bands like Willie and the Wahoos and Hubba Hubba.
FREEPORT — As the condolences poured out online Saturday morning following the death of beloved local musician Franko “Washboard” Jackson, a common thread seemed to connect each one.
That’s because Jackson, who played a brand of music described as “southern-fried funk and rhythm and blues” had a very particular effect on the people whose lives intersected with his.
“To say he was beloved would be a gross understatement,” said Jackson’s longtime friend and fellow musician Bill Garrett. “It’s hard for the people who knew him to imagine a world without him … that’s the part that’s really inconceivable.”
Jackson, 68, battled cancer in recent years and underwent a liver transplant in that same stretch. He died Friday night around 6 p.m., surrounded by his family. A true musician until the end, he played in public for the final time last Sunday at Stinky’s Fish Camp in Santa Rosa Beach – his regular brunch gig.
Jackson, who began playing the washboard in the mid-1970s, moved to Fort Walton Beach from New Orleans in 1986 with his wife, local artist Eileen West, and teamed up with Garrett and Duke Bardwell to form Willie and the Wahoos, which eventually morphed into Hubba Hubba.
Bardwell, a bass player, famously toured with Elvis Presley in the mid-1970s and his team-up with Jackson later in his career pops up on most of his biography pages.
Nikki Hedrick wrote an in-depth profile of Jackson for a Destin publication in 2016. She first met Jackson and West when she was in middle school.
“He was just … there’s only one of him, and he was absolutely larger than life,” Hedrick said. “The moment you met him or knew him, if it was just five minutes or 30 years, he became part of your narrative. He was one of those type of people.”
For being a great musician, Jackson seemed to have another quality that came up just as much as friends crafted their own tributes online.
To that point, he was unfailingly kind to everyone he met.
“To me, he was a real ray of light and everywhere he went, every room he walked in was better for it because he just lit it up,” Garrett said, choking back tears. “I hope when my time comes to face the abyss I do it with the same grace, grit and bravery as Washboard Jackson did.”