Headliners: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears at the Newport

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

"There were, like, three people there," Lewis said during a phone interview last week.

The night wasn't a total bust - "We just played a whole set, that was it, got kinda drunk, had some hot dogs" - but suffice it to say their appearance 10 months later at CD101 Summerfest was quite the upgrade.

The Austin blues and soul combo played in front of thousands that night at a packed LC Pavilion. Lewis fondly remembers the experience, particularly the exhibitionist performance by Columbus rapper Envelope.

"There was this rapper on before us, releasing doves," Lewis said. "It was a good time, man."

Now the Honeybears are set to bring their soul-searing stage show back to Columbus for a gig next Thursday at the Newport. Headlining the storied concert hall is the latest entry on Lewis' rapidly expanding resume, but despite appearances, he's no overnight success story.

Lewis got his start playing open-mice nights around Austin. Back then, his strutting soul persona had yet to take root.

"I used to do more straight blues," Lewis said. "I didn't have a horn section, and I played by myself. I'd do, like, Lightning Hopkins covers and stuff like that. I was trying to do a lot of stuff. I was just learning, so it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world."

After stints in a couple failed bands, Lewis met guitarist Zach Ernst. The two clicked musically, and in 2007 they assembled a towering soul combo that quickly turned heads around town. Within months, they had toured with Austin rock royalty Spoon and Okkervil River.

The next year they worked the summer festival circuit and recorded their debut "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!" with Spoon drummer Jim Eno. The 10-song collection recalls fiery stage stars like James Brown and Wilson Pickett in the context of raw, garage-ready rock 'n' roll.

The album positions Lewis in a grand tradition of blues and soul frontmen, so it's fitting that he adopted a saucy stage name like "Black Joe Lewis." The pseudonym, which Lewis took on as a joke, has unusual origins.

"Me and my family do comedy stuff, like recordings," Lewis explained. "That was one of the characters that we were messing around with. He was an old man. Talked a lot of s---, pretty much."

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 4

Where: Newport Music Hall, Campus

Web: blackjoelewis.com