Detroit-area musician Stewart Francke -- a blue-eyed soul singer/songwriter and guitarist whose inspirations include classic R&B, garage rock, roots rock, and folk -- has been releasing albums since the early '90s, but was performing long before then. At the age of 19, while the rest of his age group was experimenting with the punk and new wave sounds of the late '70s, the Saginaw-born Francke joined a local blues band as its bassist. The next ten years were spent in bar bands, highlighted by opening gigs for Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Luther Allison. The musician settled down, got married, and worked as a journalist until, in 1995, he released an independent CD called Where the River Meets the Bay, featuring the soulful "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which was featured in an episode of Melrose Place. Francke continued to release an album each year: Expecting Heroes (1996), House of Lights (1997), and Sunflower Soul Serenade (1998). After he was diagnosed with leukemia, he was encouraged to lend his talents to raising cancer awareness -- a thread that ran through Swimming in Mercury (1999) and What We Talk Of...When We Talk (2000). This productive phase of Francke's career was capped off with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: The Best of Stewart Franke (2001).
As Francke fought leukemia, he continued to write and record; in 2002, he released his seventh studio album, Wheel of Life, and followed it in 2005 with Motor City Serenade, a set backed by Motown's Funk Brothers with a guest appearance from personal hero Mitch Ryder. He beat his disease, but his energy quickly shifted toward his ailing parents, mother-in-law, and father-in-law -- all of whom passed within a four-year period. He also spent time raising his children. His first live album, Alive & Unplugged, was issued in 2008. Heartless World, boasting an appearance from Bruce Springsteen -- as well as assists from Ryder and almost 40 other Detroit musicians -- followed in 2011. ~ Zac Johnson & Andy Kellman