By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The local music community is mourning after a well-known Twin Cities guitarist, Billy Franze of Dr. Mambo’s Combo, died unexpectedly.

From guitar, to bass, to vocals, Franze was known throughout the industry as an incredible performer, mentor, and friend.

For more than 33 years, Franze graced the stage at Bunker’s Music Bar and Grill as part of Dr. Mambo’s Combo.

He played with greats like John Mayer, Mavis Staples, and Johnny Lang. Artists like Prince, Andre Simone, and JellyBean Johnson would go to Bunkers to hear and play with the musical giant.

“He’s one in like ten billion,” said Julius Collins, a friend and fellow bandmate. “He’s just an original individual, he’s measured in his kindness and he’s generous with it.”

Collins met and started playing with Franze in 1991.

“Playing music with him for me was the ultimate, because he played for love,” he said. “When Billy played music, he had a way of like looking at you and ministering to you and he was making sure he was making a connection.”

Thus Franze was nicknamed “The Reverend.”

Franze retired right before the pandemic hit, but the music was calling him back to the stage.

“I was thrilled when there were a couple of shows on the docket, and he was the guy who was saying let’s do them and I was like all right, let’s get it Reverend. And in the blink of an eye, it just becomes the worst kind of sadness,” said Collins.

Franze always said the music doesn’t die, it lives on forever. He left a legacy that will never go away.

Dr. Mambo’s Combo will perform again on June 13 at the Hook and Ladder Under the Canopy Series. His wife Lisa says it’s what Franze would have wanted.

Reg Chapman