Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Franc Robert - "It all started with hearing Clapton". Certainly those words have been heard before from many musicians over the years, but it's rare for one to grow far beyond the seed that germinated one afternoon in 1980. And for Franc Robert, that seed has grown into a life-long love affair with the blues.
"I just became obsessive about playing guitar, to the point it drove both my parents crazy, being locked away in my room, tiny amp blasting out what I was playing. Eventually, my mother stopped calling it noise and started calling it music... one of the better days of my life!" Soon after starting to play, Franc joined a series of bands through high school (like so many others) constantly honing his chops, but none of them really went anywhere, nor did they satisfy his love for the blues.
Fast-forward to 1984, and a move to Montreal, Canada, to join his father in his magazine illustration business. Almost immediately, Franc gravitated towards the small but close-knit blues community, which then centered around The Rising Sun, a small club known for having big name performers playing there on weekends. "It was a great time back then-saw Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Dutch Mason, Willie Dixon play there. There was the Jazz Fest going at the time as well, with the blues stage just down the block from the Rising Sun". Franc started showing up at the Blue Monday Jam sessions, eventually hosting the jams himself from time to time. "You'd never know who would show up-Dutch Mason made it down, Jeff Golub sat in on my guitar one night, local harp legend Jim Zeller would come down, lots of touring bands' backing people would show up. The place was really well known across Canada, and the best players made a point of stopping in when they could." Being around so many talented musicians inspired Franc even further, and eventually he was leading several of his own bands around town, working all day with his father and playing all night.
Moving to Tampa Bay, Florida in 1990, Franc fell right into the blues scene-and fell right back out. "It was good because I caught on with a band immediately-I showed up at a jam the first night I got there, on a Monday, and was gigging with a band by Friday! It was fun while it lasted, but I needed to feed my kids, so I had to quit playing for awhile." Franc finally returned to the blues scene in 1996, but blues music was not often heard on the north side of Tampa Bay back then. "Myself and Donny Kuryliew (of Lazy Boy And The Rockers) were the only guys in our neck of the woods who wanted to really play blues-everyone else wanted to do Lynyrd Skynyrd!" It took awhile, but Back Alley Blues Band, led by Franc, won over converts up and down the Nature Coast of Florida, playing a mixture of Chicago and Texas blues, with some swamp music thrown in for good measure. BABB became a fixture on the scene, eventually opening up concerts for Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers, Tinsley Ellis, Sean Carney Band, Pat Travers, LeRoy Parnell, "Sauce Boss" Bill Wharton, and many others. They also released a CD "Boxcar Tourists" in 2006 to positive reviews and local airplay
Franc formed the Boxcar Tourists specifically for the release of 49x61, recruiting Trent Sholl on bass and Remi Sawyer on drums. This combination is making its first appearance in August, 2010, and will be getting very busy for the rest of the year.
Remi Sawyer is a bit of a tortured soul. Dealing with dyslexia, the only area he found where he could excel was music. Walking into a music studio at fourteen he asked for the drum instructor. When they were introduced, he stated he wanted to learn how to play and wasn’t interested in any of that, “reading music sh#% ” !
The Instructor paused, and with a puzzled look, said ok! Unknown to Remi at the time, the man was Vic Dery, a Boston area Jazz legend. This man played for Woody Herman’s Thundering Heard at the tail end of the big band area, played in a house orchestra that once backed Frank Sinatra and, at the height of his career, worked for Stan Getz !
Remi's abilities were immediately recognized by Vic and a bond between them was formed instantly. Vic was able to accommodate his learning disabilities and Remi absorbed everything like a sponge. He hung around the music studio on Saturdays, where Vic would gave him additional lesson for free as no shows and cancellations dotted his Saturday afternoons lesson schedule.
By 1977 Remi was a member of a premier opening act in the Boston
area, The B Street Bombers. Through out his early career he has had the
privilege of opening for ZZ Top, Joan Jett, John Cafferty and the Beaver
Brown Band and Cindy Bullins to name a few. Finally, in 1981 the
pressures of raising a family and pursuing a professional career in
business took too great a toll on him and his family. As a result, he
wasn’t heard from or seen in professional music circles for the next
Then…he reappears in Tampa Florida, and for the first time in his
career, joins a Blues band! His style is so refreshing. When you watch
him perform you see the extensive repertoire of Jazz licks. Unlike most
Blues drummers who are Rock converts, Remi’s Jazz influences blend
artfully with the Chicago style of Blues grooves. When laying down
shuffle beats, his sense of dynamics and his soft touch express his
unique Jazz abilities. Brushes are rarley employed by today’s Blues
Trent started playing bass in his native Ohio, learning initially from his father, who played bass in numerous bands from the 50's to the 90's. Moving to Florida in 1989, Trent fell in with the band Scrooge, an "A Circuit" club band, and toured through the southeastern US through most of the 90's. Trent later met Franc while playing in the Rock 'n' Roll Xpress, which Franc had co-founded, but had left earlier. Fast forward to 2010, and Franc needed a bass player for a new project. Needless to say, Trent jumped at the chance, and an instant bond formed that has become the heartbeat of the band, along with Remi, forming a unit that is tighter and more cohesive than it's yound existance would imply.