Black Joe Lewis headed to Chelsea’s Cafe on Friday
Unlike the previous two albums from Black Joe Lewis, the new “Electric Slave” is actually the record that frontman Joe Lewis wanted to make. Featuring garage rock, funk grooves and a soul-fired horn section, it’s a studio breakthrough for the Austin-based band.
Following the 2011 release of “Scandalous” and 2009 release of “Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!,” two members of the band left the group.
“They just had a different idea of what they wanted to do,” Lewis said. “And the producer, I don’t think he really understood what we were doing. So it was a constant battle every day to get what I wanted.”
For “Electric Slave,” Lewis turned to Austin-based Grammy winner Stuart Sikes (the White Stripes, Cat Power and Modest Mouse).
“Finally, all those road blocks were gone,” Lewis said of the new collaboration. “We got to go in there and did what we wanted. That probably was my best studio experience. It was awesome to work with Stuart.”
The album’s perhaps eyebrow-raising title, “Electric Slave,” has nothing to do with slavery of the kind covered in American history books. The title refers to modern-day people’s addiction to mobile devices.
“It’s my slam against the way we socialize now,” Lewis said. “People can’t sit down and do nothing anymore. Everybody’s caught up in their laptop and their smartphone, all that junk.
“And whenever I go to a show, there’s like 20 people in front with their giant screen-phones. It’s like turning the lights on in a movie theater. Guys watch the whole show like that.”
Anyone who pays for admittance to a Black Joe Lewis show but is then too distracted by a mobile to experience the performance is missing the boat.
The current Black Joe Lewis band is almost the same as the band’s previous incarnation. The group has one fewer guitarist, a new drummer and it no longer calls itself the Honey Bears.
“We never really dug that name, the Honey Bears, in the first place,” Lewis said. “It just wasn’t worth my effort to tell everybody not to call us that.”
Of course, the group’s signature horn section remains.
“Usually, bands have to wait to do a horn section,” Lewis said. “We started off with horns. I guess when you make them part of the project, it makes them more members than hired guys. It’s always better to have members than guns.”
A collection of influences led to Lewis’ current place in music. A major early step happened when his rock music-appreciating dad steered him away from the hip-hop he listened to as kid.
“Dad always hated hip-hop,” Lewis said. “He thought it was stupid. He thought it was a conspiracy to get young black kids to kill each other. And then as I got a little bit older, my dad was like, ‘Man, you should check out this band, Nirvana. These white boys jam.’ I was like, ‘All right, it’s cool.’ And that got me listening to rock ’n’ roll. I got into Iggy Pop and stuff like that.”
Working at a pawn shop at 19, Lewis bought one of the shop’s guitars.
“I started getting into blues and country and more roots music when I bought the guitar,” he said.
Lewis didn’t discover blues so much as rediscover it. His dad’s family came from east Texas, where his uncles were blues fans. He’s also a fan of New Orleans music, especially the Hot 8 Brass Band and piano maestro Professor Longhair.
Lewis furthermore sees more musical authenticity in New Orleans than in Austin, his hometown.
“They should call Austin Hollywood for musicians,” he said. “Everybody moves here from the suburbs around Dallas, Houston. They pretend they’re broke. All of a sudden they’re punk rockers.”