Anthony “Packrat” Thompson and Robert “Lightning Boy”Thomas(aka Top), are
founding members of the 4 piece swamp blues band Smokehouse which formed in 1989 in New
Smyrna Beach, Fl. Specializing in Florida Swamp Blues, they are powered by the songwriting,
storytelling, lead vocals, harmonica, guitar and percussion of leader, “ Packrat”. Born in Lake
Helen, Florida and raised in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, “Packrat’s” exposure to the blues
came at an early age due to his mother Willie B. Spellars interest in the blues greats. Listening
to the records of John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf and hitting the juke joints and
roadhouses in South Florida which featured live blues entertainment, made this music just part
of everyday life. But the music of Sonny Boy Williamson is what influenced “Packrat” the most
as a young man and sent him in the direction of being a musician.
“Packrat” began his professional career as a drummer in the south Florida area in the
70’s where he and Robert Thomas met as members of a local soul band. But “Packrat” soon
gave up the drums in favor of the harmonica and years later it was a common interest in roots
blues music that brought he and Robert together again when Smokehouse was originally
formed in the fall of 1989. Then in ‘95 the name changed to “Packrat’s Smokehouse” and to
this day the group is known across the world for its music- Florida Swamp Blues(by Men of the
Robert Thomas-vocals and guitar. A native of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, Robert has
played the Florida club circuit since 1973. As guitarist-vocalist for the popular Central Florida
band, “The Payne Brothers Band”, his first musical efforts were in the southern rock tradition. A
collector of vintage blues records, his interest in traditional South-Eastern blues grew along with
his desire to play in this style. In the spring of 1987 he formed “Town Crier” and recorded
several sides for King Snake Records featuring performances by Kenny Neal and Lucky
Peterson of Alligator Records. His association with King Snake Records led to an introduction
to legendary Lazy Lester and participation in Lester’s 1988 tour as his guitarist and opening act.
Robert can be heard on the Alligator release of Lazy Lester’s “Harp and Soul”. In 1989, Robert
toured the East Coast blues club circuit with the Florida blues quartet “Blue House”, which
frequently featured the legendary Noble “Thin Man” Watts on saxophone. Now with Packrat’s
Smokehouse, he continues to serve up Florida Swamp Blues.
Aaron “Pop” Watson- drums, vocals. Aaron, known to most as “Ba-Bro”, began
playing playing drums as a youngster in his hometown, Daytona Beach, Florida and joined
SMOKEHOUSE in 1993. At the age of 15 he began playing the nightclub circuit with his band
director, Gideon Pettway. As a teenager, he also played in bands for high school proms both in
and out of town. Deemed the best drummer in the area and the teacher of many locals,
including John Livingston, Lorenzo Laws, Leroy “Bo Pete” Robinson, Robert Popwell, The
Johnson Brothers of Deland, Florida and son Aaron L. Aaron’s professional career can be
traced playing in the officer’s club while in the Army to “drumming” for recording greats, Rufus
Thomas, Joe Simon, Joe Davis’ revival group, Wilbur Harrison, The Drifters, Betty Swann,
Arthur Conley, Bill Stewart, Ollie Woodson(The Temptations) and others. Having been a
member of The American Federation of Musicians, Aaron has made stage appearances with
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and Martha and the Vandellas to name a few. On the
homefront, Aaron played beachside for many years with The Duke Gainous Quartet, Lawrence
“Bird” Burdine, Lindsay Morris and The Universals and several other local jazz and pop bands.
Kenny “The Wizard” Sly-bass guitar and vocals. Born in New York City, NY in 1961.
Kenny began playing guitar at the age of 9 but switched to trumpet after his older brother broke
his electric guitar. Soon, Kenny started playing trumpet in middle and high school band but saw
a Live Funk group playing which caused him to pick up the bass in 1976. His influences range
from the blues to funk heavy metal and even Latin and reggae. Kenny got his professional start
with music playing with bands on military bases on the island of Puerto Rico. After years of
playing in the Daytona area, in 1995 he joined SMOKEHOUSE as the newest member and
has been with the band ever since.
Kings of the Florida Swamp Blues...That’s the music of Packrat’s Smokehouse!
Packrat’s Smokehouse is a national recording artist Florida Swamp Blues band out of New
Smyrna Beach, Florida. The band was created by Anthony “Packrat” Thompson in 1989. The
four members all knew each other from other bands and being natives(except Kenny moved to
this area in the late 80s). The band had a song on the Aaron Spelling TV production
“Savannah” on WB network in ‘96 and their music was included in the soundtrack for the
feature film, “The Road to Canyon Lake” (‘04). Anthony “Packrat” Thompson is a raw, greasy
harmonica player, evoking the swamp sounds of Baton Rouge that has spread and taken root in
the steamy Florida lowlands. His voice is reminiscent of Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf. The
lowdown guitar of Robert Thomas, who is equally impressive, can spit out fiery solos and
muscular riffs reworking deep, swampy grooves of New Orleans and Delta blues, making you
think of the pine flatwoods and cypress bottoms of Central Florida.
“Packrat” and Robert were both raised in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Although they have
shared bandstands since the 70s, it was until 1988 that they began to explore their common
roots and their love of the Blues. Smokehouse recorded four groundbreaking CDs in the 90s
that defined the genre of Florida Swamp Blues. Living Blues magazine said of their third
release, Cadillac in the Swamp: ”The year 1995 was a great one for blues recording, but this
irrepressible set of updated swamp blues earns this reviewer’s vote as the best of the lot”.
Countless other stellar reviews of the band’s recordings and live performances have been
published. After notching thousands of performances together in 35 states, the band shows no
signs of slowing down. They are currently working on their much anticipated fifth release
titled-”The Men of The Swamp” and continue to maintain a schedule of nightclub and festival
engagements including an appearance in spring 2018 at The Lillehammer(Norway) Blues
Festival. They have opened for acts such as: “Third Eye Blind”, “Jim Belushi Blues Brothers
Revue”, “Carrot Top”, “The Del Vikings”, “The Fabulous Thunderbirds”, “Canned Heat”, “Elvin
Bishop”, “Grinderswitch”, Koko Taylor among many others. Most importantly, the band
members love what they are doing and have grown to be true brothers in the Blues, which
shows in their sound, style and presence.
website-www.packratssmokehouse.com(high resolution photos), other website(high resolution