|Black Joe Lewis|
Zach Ernst has been a Honeybear since the beginning.
That would be almost five years ago when the band coalesced in Austin, Texas, to back-up a raw young
blues singer named Joe Lewis.
Now Austin is known for its vibrant music scene, but when Ernst heard Lewis’ first recording it stood
“He was just sort of unique being this young guy playing the blues,” Ernst said in a recent telephone
interview. “I thought Joe was more a throwback to the rock ‘n’ roll wildman.”
So Ernst and some fellow students at the University of Texas brought him to campus to do a show. They
struck up a friendship. When Lewis found himself without a backing band for a gig, he called on Ernst, a
guitarist, to line up some guys to play with him.
The Honeybears were born.
This was, Ernst noted, his first band. And the guys he called were the only drummer and bass player he
“It was a lot of fun,” Ernst said. The band’s chemistry was evident from the start. The good times, and
hard traveling times, were just getting started.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears will close the Saturday show at the Black Swamp Arts Festival with a
9:50 p.m. set on Sept. 10.
Lewis grew up in the Austin area absorbing the musical influences that wafted from the ground like summer
While Lewis taking in soul, blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues and funk he was making a living doing factory work.
Seeing his neighbors who were in a country band driving off on tour, prompted him to give music a try.
So armed with a powerful voice, an instinct for funky blues and his guitar he hit the Austin music scene.
“Back then none of us knew what we were doing, so we came up with it all by ear,” Ernst said. “We pretty
much learned on stage.”
Lewis usually comes up with the lyrics and then works with the band to develop the grooves.
The music mashes together the flash of funk with the unschooled energy of punk shot through with the
emotional urgency of the blues.
Early on the Honeybears added a horn section which adds a brassy edge to the sound and a dash of glitz to
the band’s stage presence.
“At the time being a big horn band was a unique thing. It set us apart from the pack,” Ernst said.
In the past couple years the band has traveled relentlessly, never taking more than a few weeks off. That
travel, Ernst said, has helped the band polish its act.
They’ve also picked up lessons from touring mates including the New York Dolls, Cedric Burnside and
Lightning Malcolm, and Spoon.
Some of the adventures of the road are captured on “Mustang Ranch,” a ribald telling of the band’s
impromptu stop over at the Nevada house of prostitution. The song, included in the band’s recent CD
“Scandalous,” captures both the band’s rhythm as well as its quirky sense of humor.
The CD is full of the band’s hammering, raucous groove overlaid with brassy fireworks.
Asked what the festival audience could expect, Ernst said, “an exciting rock ‘n’ roll show with a bunch
of young guys jumping around and making a lot of noise.”