August 31st, 2009 | Interviews

amy hagemeier

Stream: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears “I’m Broke”


(from Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is out now on Lost Highway)

Black Joe Lewis is a Texas soul shouter who would have been at home on Sue in 1966 but finds himself instead on Lost Horizon with his band the Honeybears. He’s opened for Little Richard but his favorite rock ‘n’ roll band is Rocket From The Tombs and he loved Star Trek right up to the point J.J. Abrams got hold of it. He speaks now from a parking lot in Tennessee. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

What was the number one pawned item you saw when you worked at the pawn shop?
Black Joe Lewis (vocals): Probably guns or tools. It was an interesting job. I kinda walked out on my boss at the one that I worked at most of the time. He was—do you watch The Simpsons? The guy who made up the Simpsons characters saw him and made up the comic book store character.
You worked for the actual Comic Book Guy?
I swear to God, dude. Red pony tail, bald on top, beard—his butt crack always stuck out. He was a total asshole but he wasn’t a comic book nerd—he was a gun freak. He was like in his forties and he lived with his parents still because he was in debt because he had so many guns. I was like, ‘How many guns do you have?’ ‘Last time I checked, over 80.’
Did he have a special gun that he was uncomfortably in love with?
Yeah—he had this old Smith and Wesson revolver. Like a fucking Old Western six shooter. And he did this thing every weekend where he dressed up—like a Renaissance fair—dressed up like Civil War and cowboy characters and they’d go and show off their shooting skills. He was a fucking dork—such an asshole. We hated each other. It was just me and him and we worked there all day long together. It was at the same time as the first Bush and Gore election was going on. I was like 18 and it was the first time I was going to be able to vote. And he was a hardcore Republican and I wasn’t and we’d sit there and argue all fucking day. We just didn’t like each other—he was so conservative, man. He would sit there and argue about every little thing—like race, politics, everything. He was a dick.
Did he have a single redeeming characteristic?
He was kind to small animals?
Nah, he got shot in his hand. That was kinda stupid too. He was a dick, dude—a total Texan Republican. I walked out on him one day. I just couldn’t stand him and I told him I was gonna put gas in my car and I got in my car and never went back.
Is that what led to the song ‘I’m Broke’?
No. ‘I’m Broke’ is just about your average person who is having a tough time.
I noticed in that picture where the band is in Star Trek uniforms, you’re wearing the blue of the science-medical officer. Why not gold or red?
Why I went to blue? In the last picture? The last one is because we lost all the shirts. I had the original yellow and I’m just a big Star Trek fan from childhood.
What’s your favorite episode of the original series?
Probably the ones with Khan. He was insane. The guy that played him, Ricardo Montalban—I just thought he was a really good actor. Him and Shatner together—Shatner would just drive him nuts, like in the movie too.
Do you think that you have to have a nemesis in your life to really attain your full potential as a creative person?
It’s hard to say because I’ve had people that I couldn’t stand and I tried to catch them. But now I don’t really try to hate on people too much. Well—since you’re talking about the Star Trek thing, my ultimate nemesis is J.J. Abrams. He straight up ruined the story of Star Trek. I wanted to throw my drink at the screen. I was pissed. There’s never gonna be a continuation of what it should be—Star Trek’s dead, man. When I saw previews for the movie, I was really excited. I was thinking it was gonna be awesome and everybody was saying J.J. Abrams wrote Lost. I went in there and I was fucking pumped and then it was like Melrose Place—a bunch of teenagers.
What is the essential thing about Star Trek that he missed?
The biggest thing is he blew up the planet Vulcan. You can’t have Star Trek without Vulcan. And Spock and Uhura were hooking up—that would never happen. In the older series, the characters were so much more professional—like military. Like hardcore guys. In this one they’re making jokes and running around.
Do you run the Honeybears with that Starfleet discipline?
Not really. I tried.
It seems like every chance you get you wanna say something about 8-Ball and MJG. Per their album Comin Out Hard, what’s the hardest you ever came out?
We did this thing at our last show in Austin where the bass player played in a wheelchair the whole time. And at the end of the show, I healed him—like the dudes on the Christian channel. The preachers. And he jumped up and spun around—everybody loved it. And then this guy back home—one of the writers—he didn’t want to write about it and so he wrote about every band but us. I was like, ‘Man, you couldn’t write about the wheelchair thing?’
But you got Barack Obama talking about you.
Exactly. I want to try to meet him one day. Isn’t he a Bob Dylan fan? I didn’t catch all the bands he liked—I remember they were talking about the iPods.
If you guys covered a Rocket From the Tombs song, which would it be?
In my old band, we did ‘(I Want You To Know) What Love Is.’ We never really started doing that in this band—I don’t know why. I love that band a lot. It’d probably be that one again because I already know it and then—‘Ain’t It Fun’ is always good.
So you’re a Peter Laughner fan?
Oh yeah. Rocket From the Tombs and the Dead Boys is my favorite rock ‘n’ roll ever. The greatest rock ‘n’ roll.
What screamers are closest to your heart?
Definitely James Brown. Bunker Hill—he’s bad ass. I guess you’ve got Little Richard, too.
Did you meet him when you played with him?
No, he was in a really, really bad mood. I didn’t get anywhere near him. He was complaining about everything on the stage. It was almost like a comedy show. He started bitching about Pat Boone stuff from the fifties.
The great ‘Tutti Frutti betrayal?
He made everybody but their camera’s away in the crowd and then he kept saying how Asian people have pretty skin. And he was like, ‘Y’all like my boots?’ I wanted him to play ‘Rip It Up’ but he never did.
What’s the nastiest thing you can say in a foreign language if you have to?
When I was in Holland they taught me how to say, ‘Bitch, I love you.’
What’s the dirtiest record in your collection?
The dirtiest record I’ve got is probably one of Eazy E’s.
How soon do you think you’ll get around to naming that record after Nat Turner?
Hopefully next one.
Any other revolutionaries you’d like to mention?
Karl Marx is always cool. Che Guevara. I’ve been reading a lot of that Howard Zinn book—I’ve been learning about it a lot. They were all like the guys who were early in the movement before it had corruption. Like Karl Marx wrote it from his prison cell or whatever. Later on when people got power, they start getting crazy.
What kind of song would you write if you found out you only had a year to live?
I would write a song about Canada. No one cares about Canada.
You once said you wanna be the black Elvis—are you still working on that?
Yeah, I’m still working.
How close are you? Are you the black Carl Perkins?
No—I don’t have any money yet!
If you end up coming into a million dollars, what shape do you want your swimming pool to be?
The shape of a butt.