There would be no Black Joe Lewis and The Honey Bears without guitarist Zach Ernst. Joe was frustrated, ready to quit music and even thinking about moving to another city. Zach was a huge fan of Joe’s and told him that he could put a band together if he was willing to give it another try. And, the rest is history.
I recently caught up with Zach on the phone in Pittsburgh while the band was touring with Okkervil River.
RG: When did you first meet Joe?
Zach: I was booking the 40 Acres Fest with Little Richard at UT [University of Texas] and we needed an opening act. I had heard his record and read about him, so I tracked him down and got him to do the show for us. There were probably four thousand people there.
RG: What was the name of Joe’s band at that time?
Zach: His band was named Cool Breeze. It was sort of a rotating cast of characters. It was never really a set band. It was just Joe and then whoever else was playing with him that week. He got started doing weekly gigs at the Hole in the Wall, but I never got to see him there because I was too young to get in. You had to be 21. But, Bill, our bass player, would go to the Hole in the Wall and watch Joe play from the outside – there was a window where you could see what was going on onstage from the street.
RG: When did you change the name of the band to Black Joe Lewis and The Honey Bears?
Zach: The first gig we played together we were still the Cool Breeze Band. Between the time Joe did the Little Richard show with his other group and we did our first gig about a month passed, and Joe was gigging with the Weary Boys – they were a bluegrass band from Austin serving as Cool Breeze. Joe was offered a gig at the Parish, which is a club down there. He didn’t really have a band because he wasn’t playing with the same group of guys all the time. I think he was considering hanging up the music thing. So I said to Joe, “Well, hey, I know these guys, I’ll get a horn section together, I can get a new rhythm section together and we’ll just learn your first record.”
RG: How’s the tour going so far?
Zach: It’s going pretty good, man. We’re actually in Pittsburgh and we have the day off today. We did a fly-out to do a wedding in Santa Barbara, then played in Pittsburgh Thursday, and we’re driving to Chicago tonight. We did the first leg of the tour with Okkervil River. We’ve been doing some big shows. We’re doing a couple more weeks of our own shows and playing CMJ. The reception’s been pretty good, man. This is the first tour we’ve done that’s more than a couple of weeks, so it’s a big step.
RG: Describe the band’s sound?
Zach: Well, Joe came up with “garage soul” and we all liked that. We draw from influences like James Brown and Howlin’ Wolf, and also from ‘70s punk rock, garage rock, the Sonics and the Monks. We’re definitely influenced by all the great, older blues and rock-and-roll artists. Joe plays a really unique style of guitar, like an aggressive lead guitar. Having two loud guitars in the band isn’t really something that any of those soul bands we love so much really ever did. We’re still young, and I can definitely tell that the longer we stay out the more we’re developing and getting better at playing with each other.
Black Joe Lewis and The Honey Bears Tour Dates (Click Here)