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Judge Franczyk moves from courtroom to country music studio

"Are You Sincere?"

No doubt, those three words have run through the brain of Judge Thomas P. "Tim" Franczyk more than a few times as he listened to witnesses testify before him in Erie County Court over the past nine years.

But these days, the words have a different meaning for Franczyk. "Are You Sincere" is the first song on the new country music compact disc recently recorded by Franczyk and the Sportsmens Tavern's house band, the Twang Gang.

Produced by Dwane Hall, the country singer who owns the Sportsmens, the CD is loaded with classic, old school country songs, many of which date to the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Twang Gang. Carl Petersen (assistant producer), Kenny Petersen (steel guitar), Tim Franczyk (vocals, acoustic guitar), Willie Schoellkopf (vocals), Doug Yeomans (lead guitar), Randy Bolam (foreground, drums), Jim Sweet (bass), Dwane Hall (producer). (Photo by Peter Sloane)

The song list also includes emotional country oldies like "Streets of Baltimore" and "She Thinks I Still Care."

"These are songs I have loved for years, that old school country stuff," Franczyk, 59, said in a recent interview. "A lot of these songs were hits when they first came out, but they have flown under the radar for a long time since. My mother, Alina, was a very good singer, and she loved these songs, too.

"When I first told Dwane last year what I wanted to do, his eyes lit up and he said, 'Let's do this!' We pretty much put the album together over nine months of Monday nights at the Sportsmens' recording studio."

The Twang Gang includes two members of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame -- lead guitarist Doug Yeomans and harmony singer Willie Schoellkopf. Jack Freedenberg, a longtime musical collaborator of the singing judge, plays piano. Kenny Peterson, Randy Bolam and Jim Sweet play steel guitar, drums and bass, respectively.

As a judge, Franczyk has been known for his cool handling of some notorious criminal cases, including the 2011 trial of Muzzammil Hassan, the Orchard Park cable television executive who was convicted of beheading his estranged wife.

Before becoming a judge, he was known as a tough prosecutor with the Erie County District Attorney's office who sent mob killers and other criminals to jail.

But people who frequent the Sportsmens and other local music venues also know him as a talented, expressive singer with the Kensingtons and other eclectic bands. They also know him for his funny musical parodies of politics and life in the court system.

Sportsmen's is a small venue with big dreams

Franczyk said he has wanted to be a musician since he watched the Beatles for the first time.

Judge Thomas P. "Tim" Franczyk in more familiar surroundings and attire. (News file photo)

"It was 1964 when I saw them on TV the first time. I was 7," Franczyk said. "I immediately called my friends and said. 'We have to start a band!' I started learning guitar soon after that."

As a teenager, he played in a local band called Cold Duck, and he's enjoyed singing and playing guitar over the decades. Franczyk's favorite musicians include the Beatles, the Eagles, J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne, George Jones and the Electric Light Orchestra. He's also a big fan of the late Roy Orbison, and Franczyk's version of Orbison's "Only The Lonely" always gets a big audience reaction when the Kensingtons play at the Sportsmens.

As a vocalist, Franczyk emulates Vince Gill, Orbison and Chris Isaak. The judge said he was thrilled to work with musicians who often play at the Sportsmens, which Franczyk describes as the epicenter of musical expression in Western New York. The CD was issued on the Sportsmens Studio label.

Franczyk said his wife, Michele, and twin daughters, Claire and Natalie, have been "totally supportive and amused" by his musical efforts.

When his term ends at the close of this year, Franczyk will be retiring as a judge. He also teaches at University at Buffalo Law School. Would he ever consider pursuing the life of a full-time country rocker?

"I can never envision myself leaving the legal field altogether, but I would like to do more things with music, more things with this band," Franczyk said. "I get a kick out of it. But I look out there and I see a million other musicians, way more talented than me, and a lot of them are struggling to make a living. It's a tough life."



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