Q&A With Black Joe Lewis, Opening for the New York Dolls Tonight

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Yesterday I posted an introduction to Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and a link to a free Amazon download of the band's excellent song "Sugarfoot." Forgive me for waxing ecstatic, but this is one of my favorite new acts to come along in a while. In the music there's no irony, no hand-wringing over any particular "scene," no arch cleverness -- just raw power and serious rock-and-soul vocals. (The band reminds me a lot, actually, of King Khan and the Shrines, but without of that purposeful weirdness.)

Here's the full Q&A with Lewis. He and his band open for the New York Dolls tonight at Culture Room. That should be one hell of a rock show. Click here for that free download link.

New Times: So, it seems there is already a minor legend around your band's origins. Word is, you got into playing guitar relatively late, while you were working at a pawn shop.

Lewis: Well, I started playing mainly because my neighbors had a band, and they never had to work, they just got to go on tour. I thought, Man, I don't wanna fucking work, I hate going to my job. So I was like, I wanna try to do that. And now I find out that being a touring band is almost -- well, it's a lot of work, but it's not anything to going to an office job, or shucking, or whatever I was doing. But that was the main reason I picked up the guitar. I was like 19 or 20, maybe.

So what about the pawn shop part? Is that where you finally bought a guitar?

I was working at the Action Pawn in Cedar Park, and I'd just kind of walk around screwing with shit, and I finally bought one, one day.

How did you start teaching yourself to play?

I just kind of tried to play by ear, even though I wasn't good at it back then, and going around other people I knew that played music, and learning by watching them. And then just kind of in time, I started going to open mikes right away, and then I'd do some of my friends' happy hour slots, for people who would let me play. It was fucking horrible, because I was pretty much learning onstage. When I first started, it was pretty bad, but they let me keep coming back.

It couldn't have been that horrible then.

I guess not. You always criticize yourself more.

When you first started writing music, did you have this sound in mind?

Pretty much, I play what I listen to. I listen to

So who were your biggest influences at the beginning, especially as a vocalist?
 

I like James Brown, of course, Lightning Hopkins, Ellmore James. I like the Stooges a lot.... Now I wouldn't say I'm taking it in a new direction, but there is new stuff I want to try.

And your band now is huge. Did you originally envision playing with such a big outfit?

Back then I didn't.... This band, we decided to do that, because my last band was more like a three-piece blues thing. This time I wanted to add horns to it, so when I started this band I said I wanted a horn section, like an old Stax section. We planned on it. And we've been having success, and nobody planned on that.

What was that first band like?

It was called the Cool Breeze; we would play like Sunday nights for a couple years. It was this beginner's slot, and for a couple years I held that down, and that's really how I learned how to play good and stuff. I had that band for about two or three years, and it was fun, you know. But I kind of just quit that band because it wasn't really going anywhere, the way we practiced, that kind of shit. The people I have now are all serious about it, so it's not that hard.

Is there much back-and-forth in the songwriting with all the people you play with now, or do you do most of the writing?
 
I guess I wrote most of it. Some people come up with some stuff. It's all kind of spontaneous, it all starts on a riff or something. It's a little bit of both.

And you recorded most of your album live. Was that difficult with so many different instruments?

I think it was easier for us. It was definitely easier for me to do it live -- it's more natural for me. Overdub is kind of harder for me, I don't know why. This band, you kind of get more of a live show feel on the record. I mean, some of it, we did overdubs, but very little. But the record was done really fast, just because that's what we did.

It seems like there are several bands revisiting an older soul sound right now. How aware are you of any of them? Do you feel like there are any bands doing something similar to you?

I guess, you know. I don't know who, but I'm sure there's somebody, somewhere. I don't think we're like a straight-up soul band. People try to peg us with the Dap Kings and stuff, but I don't think we're anything like that. We're kind of like a punk rock band with horns, or a blues band. I think we're pretty unique. I don't ever want to be lumped into a genre. I try to keep that in mind.

How did you get on the New York Dolls tour? Did you have any contact with them before?

I don't know, I have no idea. My manager was like, Y'all wanna do this tour? I don't know if they requested us, or if it was some industry thing they pull with agents around the country. I think it'll go good because I'm a big fan of the 1970s punk rock stuff, like the Dead Boys, and the Stooges, Radio Birdman, that kind of shit. I love that music. A lot of my guitar playing is based loosely on those styles.


Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. With the New York Dolls. Wednesday, June 10. Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Ft. Lauderdale. Doors open at 8 p.m., tickets cost $24.99. 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net

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