Let's go through the list of bands that wholeheartedly wear their influences on their sleeves, yet create something, if not totally original, then far greater than the sum of their parts.
You could start with Zeppelin. Sure, they aped the Chicago (and further back) blues masters shamelessly, but they never pretended to be the backing band at a Southside juke joint. It was tangibly different. A similar argument could be made for the funk-punk-metal of Fishbone or the Springsteen-meets-Adolescents sound of the Hold Steady.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears fits right in there with the heavy elements of James Brown or the late, great Magic Sam, a closed fistful of MC5 or early Stooges and more than a little straight up Lizzy-styled rock 'n' roll.
The supposition that a band that so effortlessly melds these styles could only have sprung from a music melting pot like Austin, TX (Lewis' hometown), is laid flat by Lewis himself. "Austin has a lot of bands, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all of them are great," he says over a static-y phone line from Memphis. "It just means you have to try a bit harder to break out there.
"I think the best music comes from little shithole towns where there's nothing else to do and you've got some angry kids. I mean there are a lot of small towns you've never heard of that have really awesome bands you've never heard of either."
People are hearing about Black Joe Lewis, though. And fast. Since the release of their 2009 debut, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!, Lewis and his crack backing band have slapped out two additional full-lengths (including the brand-new Electric Slave) and toured incessantly with the likes of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, Boston indie-poppers Passion Pit and a revamped and retooled New York Dolls.
The first and third bands on that list seem like a natural fit, between the Dap-Kings' soulful heat or the Dolls' punch and swagger. The Passion Pit tour, though, may not have been as fruitful. "It seemed like all the college kids really hated us, so that was...interesting," he says. Now, I'm long out of college, but I'd expect a sweat-sheened blast of sex, booze and debauchery to be ripe for the post-secondary crowd.
"I never went to college," Lewis muses. "So maybe my idea of college kids isn't accurate. They were just really young and really ditzy. It was still fine. I just told 'em all to fuck off and threw stuff at them."
And while most musicians can pinpoint their genesis to junior high band classes or their terrible Chili Peppers cover band in high school, Lewis waited until a post-adolescent day job at a pawn shop before a combination of boredom and curiosity led him to start taking guitars off the walls and teaching himself to play.
"Yeah, I started late," he admits. "Busking on the street, doing happy-hour gigs, playing for free---but I think I took the short route because I only started playing when I was in my early 20s and I was touring by the time I was 27 or 28."
And what was the alternative?
"Fuck all. Just work shitty jobs for the rest of my life. That's one of the reasons I started doing it---I'd dropped out of high school, wasn't going to college, so why not try this out? And hey, shit just worked out for me."
For a denizen of a state known for its hyperbole, that could qualify as the understatement of the year.
Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Bears w/Outtacontroller
Sunday, September 15, 9pm, $14/$16
Seahorse Tavern, 1665 Argyle Street