Joe Lewis's musical career was born out of boredom. After dropping out of high school outside of Austin, he began working at a pawnshop.
"It was me and this other guy, and we didn't really like each other that much," Lewis says. "It would be slow, so I . . .started messing around with guitars, and I started getting into music more."
A year later, he was performing.
"I kind of started playing without knowing that much, so the shows weren't super great," he says. "So I would make up for it by being stupid. . . . I'd start screwing up and start yelling at people."
Lewis, 29, may have been offensive, but audiences kept coming back. And today he is a full-time musician playing at least twice a month with his seven-piece funk band, the Honeybears, and touring internationally.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears just released their second full-length album, "Scandalous." Their highly energetic if derivative tunes borrow from such greats as James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Bar-Kays. Piercing horns and vocals punch rather than sing. At other times, the music recalls '60s garage rock with its jangly guitar and fuzzy drums.
The band has ascended quickly since forming about three years ago. Only a month after it had begun performing, Spoon's Britt Daniel spotted the band at a dive Austin bar and asked it to open for his band. "We kind of got lucky," Lewis says. They toured together, and Spoon's Jim Eno became the Honeybears producer.
"Everything took off from there," Lewis says. "I guess a lot of it is just luck. There are like a billion great bands in Austin that might never get noticed."
Lewis grew up listening to hip-hop and getting into trouble. After he quit high school, he was kicked out of a job-training program for disadvantaged youth. He says his father wasn't around much and his mother just wanted him to get a job.
Now, Lewis says, he is "making more money doing this than I have anything else in my life. This is the only thing I got really going for me. If I didn't have this band, I'd be working at a [expletive] restaurant or in jail or something."
These days, Lewis is a little more controlled onstage.
"I still curse and drink," he says. "I'm not as crazy, but . . . it's a party, you know? It can be unpredictable. . . . I try to make it a show that they're not going to forget."
--Moira E. McLaughlin, March 2011