- Posted on Mar 7th 2011 5:30PM by Eric R. Danton
Black Joe Lewis
He bought a guitar, learned a few chords and evolved into the frontman for Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, a blues-soaked soul band steeped in the sounds of James Brown and Howlin' Wolf.
With a new album, 'Scandalous,' due March 15 and a return trip (more or less up the street) to SXSW on the horizon, Lewis talked with Spinner about his shambolic early gigs, why he doesn't mind not having started when he was younger and where hip-hop fits into his musical influences.
When did you first start playing?
I started playing when I was 20, maybe 19. I bought my first guitar where I used to work. I used to work at a pawn shop, and I bought one of the guitars out of there on discount. I'd go hang out with friends and jam and try to learn things, you know?
What got you into it?
I guess I was interested from listening to music, and I got the idea to start playing live from my neighbors. They had a band, and they didn't have to go to work and all that s---, and they got to travel, so I thought, I've got to get on that, man. I learned three chords and went out and started trying to get shows.
You came to it a little later than most. Is that a good thing or bad?
I feel like if I'd started when I was younger, I'd be 10 times better, you know? Who knows where I'd be if I started playing when I was 10 years old, like a lot of guys. But most musicians are kind of d---heads; they think they're just it, you know? Coming into this later on in my life, being older, I've got a better head on my shoulders. I don't really have that attitude.
What were your early gigs like?
I could maybe play 30 minutes, and I'd forget all the words. I was pretty much learning on stage, but I would make up for it by acting crazy. I'd get all drunk and start cussing at people, and everybody got a kick out of it. Luckily, the club owners would let me keep coming back. I would play solo and have friends come out and sit in with me.
When did you realize you could sing?
When I first started, it took me a while to find my voice. At first, I'd sing kind of meekly, and that turned into just screaming the whole time, and then it turned in to something in between, and that's where I'm at now. It takes time to figure out how you sound good.
What did you listen to growing up?
I listened to a lot of hip-hop, like Eightball and MJG. I think Jimi Hendrix might have been my first rock 'n' roll album. I got that probably in my junior or senior year of high school, and that's where my music in interest developed, as far as actually playing it.
Does that hip-hop influence show up in your songs?
It does, because some of my songs are sometimes written about the same topics. I've never been a good rapper, but I take influence from all the music that I like.
Who do you count as musical influences now?
Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Hound Dog Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, the Stooges, Dead Boys, Rocket from the Tombs. Eightball and MJG. Tupac and Biggie, everybody loves them. There's so many.
Do you have a signature song?
I don't think so. We kind of do all kinds of different genres. We pride ourselves on that. We stick to roots music and rock 'n' roll. I wouldn't say we have a signature song because they're all different types of music, and I like that about this band. I wouldn't want to have just one song represent us.
Catch Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears' SXSW Sets on Friday, March 18 at Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center (500 E Cesar Chavez St Exhibit Hall D) 1PM, and at Moody Theater (310 W 2nd St.) 8:05PM.
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