For the past eight hours, Black Joe Lewis has been driving a van around Austin, Texas, delivering fish for $9 an hour — and he could really use a beer. Seafood delivery is better than most of the crap jobs he’s had, beginning with a stint at the pawnshop where he picked up his first guitar. “If I didn’t have this band,” Lewis says, “I’dprobably be in jail.”
As he surveys the scene at local dive Hole in the Wall, Lewis, 27, seems more reserved than might be expected of the performer who got his start here, hootin’ and hollerin’ his way through playfully profane dirty-blues romps like “Bitch, I Love You” and “Big Booty Woman.” Lewis figures his onstage antics — leaping off drum risers David Lee Roth style or wailing on his knees like Jimi Hendrix — were the only reasons clubs asked him back. “I sucked so bad,” he says. “I’m a fan of raw music — just plug your shit in, turn it up, and play.”
But his sound resonated with University of Texas student Zach Ernst, who booked Lewis to open a campus show for Little Richard in 2007. Lewis’ touring band was on the road, playing without him, so Ernst put together a seven-piece group — with himself on guitar — that Lewis dubbed the Honeybears. Though it was meant to be a one-time deal, the lineup stayed intact.
They had only been playing a few months when Spoon frontman Britt Daniel caught one of their sets and asked them to join his band’s 2007 West Coast tour. Though Lewis considered it an odd pairing, he wasn’t about to say no. “We’d go out with the Jonas Brothers if we could,” quips Ernst, 23. The bill proved quite fruitful: Spoon drummer Jim Eno ended up producing the Honeybears’ new album, Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! (Lost Highway), a rowdy collection of garage-soul stingers that Ernst says are about “meeting girls and getting laid, or being broke and having shitty jobs.”
With that, Lewis grins. “I just want to keep it real,” he says. “I don’t want to sit back when I’m 40, working at fucking Sonic, and be like, ‘Damn, I should’ve paid attention in class.’ “