VAIL — Black Joe Lewis is notorious for vocals that sound as if they come from the Godfather of soul himself. Adopting a voice similar to influential Motown and funk legends James Brown and Wilson Pickett, Lewis doesn’t just sing, he shouts.
Never heard of him? It doesn’t matter. That shouldn’t stop you from showing up at Checkpoint Charlie in Vail tonight for this Austin-based band’s show. Although Lewis has been to Aspen a few times, he’s never been to Vail.
Fusing a vintage blues, soul and R&B sound with his more contemporary lyrics about politics and heartbreak, Lewis and his bandmates take the stage ready to deliver.
Lewis, 31, joined the music scene a bit late, at the age of 21, when he purchased his first guitar at a pawn shop.
“It took me a minute to get my shit together,” Lewis said during a recent phone interview. “I was tired of working on assembly lines, or at Subway, or in construction, which I did for a little while. I wanted to make a living.”
Making friends with other musicians around his hometown of Austin, Texas, he started playing at local happy hours and house parties. But it took him awhile to find his style.
“I learned to find my voice through trial and error,” he said. “I started pretty quiet, (then) started screaming, and thought it sounded pretty good.”
Doin’ big things
After his first album in 2009, the successful “Tell ’Em What Your Name Is,” Lewis became no stranger to big stages as he landed gigs at giant music fests including Bonnaroo, Coachella, Wakarusa and more.
Sharing the same lineup with big names such as the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest and The Strokes has been a huge compliment to the group.
“It’s helped our band develop; just being around other musicians makes for great practice,” Lewis said.
The record was produced by fellow Austin resident Jim Eno, the drummer for Spoon.
“Joe’s a really special, really natural performer,” Eno said. “We were able to do about 75-percent of (‘Tell ’Em What Your Name Is’) live, and that’s something you very, very rarely do.”
The band toured relentlessly during the next year before it reconvened at Austin’s Public Hi-Fi studio with Eno to record the even grittier follow-up, “Scandalous.”
“Before these larger performances, and even still, some people have never heard of us,” Lewis said.
Originally the band’s name was Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, a somewhat silly name that “just stuck.” Now the band is slowly trying to phase the Honeybears part out. But that doesn’t mean Lewis will be on stage alone. Far from it. His bandmates include Zach Ernst on guitar, David McKnight on tenor sax, Eduardo Ramirez on baritone sax, Darren Sluyter on trumpet, Bill Stevenson on bass, Matt Strmiska on drums and Ian Varley on keyboard. Lewis’ voice combined with the brass-heavy lineup makes for a fun — and funky — sound.
Diane Moody, of Resort Entertainment, booked the show.
“I’ve seen them and they kill it,” she said. “The energy is great — nonstop.”
Allyson Litt is an intern at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.