Black Joe Lewis is a byproduct of his scattered influences. Listening to and loving late greats like Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor, or even The Dead Boys (still very much alive) causes him to look and sound and play the way he does. He and his band of Honeybears are a mean package of grit, soul, organ and horns. He’s Otis Redding with extra scratches and tarnish. He’s a foul-mouthed, spastic Jackie Wilson. He might even be, at least to these discerning ears, a more intelligible take on James Brown.
Or, in his own summation, he’s the more retarded version of the Godfather of Soul.
“You know, ’cause he’s way better than me,” he says, speaking from his home in Austin, Texas.
Too harsh? Being compared to James Brown isn’t the easiest way to go, after all. Prior to his major label debut (the absolutely stellar Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!), Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears have played, among many other places, the rodeo in Houston (“It really wasn’t our scene—they wanted Tim McGraw”) and some indie rock festivals (“Everybody throws stuff, not ’cause they don’t like us, just ’cause that’s just what they do”). Now, he’s just excited to be able to sing songs with curse words in them in the Beehive State.
You can’t blame a guy who claims to make up most of his songs on the spot for dropping a four-letter word or two. Lewis’ back story isn’t as grandiose and mystical as composing an entire album of raw, emotional love songs in the woods! But, getting away with recording about 75 percent of his songs live—in single takes—just doesn’t happen enough, anymore.
What’s on Lewis’ mind is mostly those ins-and-outs of love and the flip-flop that accompanies infidelity—juicy women and not having a dime. You know, the usual. But, should you want to delve a little deeper into what he has to offer, then let’s hope you’re one to prefer the emotion to the lyrics of the Black Joe Lewis equation. While he’s a fine lyricist, there are moments on his record that play out well in a car, ones that turn the casual driver into a wide-eyed, steering wheel-pounding, head-bouncing, lead foot, screaming-along type.
“Sugarfoot,” likely the hit single in the group of 10 songs, has Lewis matching intensity with the able horns in his troupe over and over again, scream-singing along with the rhythm section. “I’m Broke” features him pleading his economic status repeatedly, though you end up paying more attention to the bass line tying things together. And “Boogie” moves so fast, it’s likely to cause at least one heart attack a night, either in the band or in the audience watching.
A while back, someone sparked a rumor that Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings were trying hard to be on the Twilight Concert bill this summer, which, of course, turned out to be false. Can we consider Black Joe Lewis and his Honeybears our consolation prize? Or, better yet, a prize of equal value? They’ve been compared time and again to her and her cohorts, after all. So, it is written. On behalf of Salt Lake City, you’re welcome.
BLACK JOE LEWIS & THE HONEY BEARS
w/ Robert Randolph & The Family Band
239 S. Main
Thursday, Aug. 27