Black Joe Lewis: Close to the Bone
The Atlantic Records-style vinyl single Walter Daniels is so crazy over features Black Joe Lewis & Cool Breeze. Lewis is a 24-year-old singer-guitarist who's been in Austin four years his second time to live here and prefers 90-degree nights to the cool November afternoon on the Drag. He's tall and lanky, handsome and personable, and refreshing to talk with as he cites a love for James Brown and Lightnin' Hopkins. Most musicians his age would pepper their influences with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, but like Daniels, Lewis cuts close to the bone.
"Blues is like something that's gonna catch on fire and blow up." says Lewis. "It's true, blues seems so dead, but if the audiences just hear this music. ... Like at the shows, we get a lot of punk rockers, but I played at TC's Lounge and they warmed up to it, too. And that's not a young crowd there."
A stylistic gulf exists between the Southern gospel funk of Brown and Hopkins' earthy Texas blues, but Lewis finds it easy to bridge using the Weary Boys. That's right, the Weary Boys, local heirs to rootsy bluegrass, three of whom played with Daniels on Lewis' record. Its four tracks jump from the shadows and confront the listener with the past in the present. Daniels praises Lewis' "talking blues," a distinctive honk and shout that definitely owes to the Godfather of Soul.
"I'll listen to Buddy Guy, but with others, I get tired of it real quick," points out Daniels. "With Joe, it was his spontaneity and energy. Real drive. He's a great singer. And I can get down and blow, and play some sax, too."
As one of the godchildren to perpetuate that vocal style without hip-hop or rap frills, Lewis is fully aware of his position. "At first, I wanted to be more of a guitar player, but I got better at singing the blues. I like playing guitar, but I'm not the best. One of my strongest points is making stuff up."
He's also trying his hand with songwriting, penning two of the four songs on the record. "I want to keep the blues more like Hubert Sumlin and Hound Dog Taylor. I like to keep it raw and loud."
Yet as Daniels framed the record art in a historical context, it's clear both men understand what vinyl represents. For Lewis, the meaning is especially significant.
"I was surprised we went with vinyl, but I like it. People say there's not a lot of interest in vinyl records anymore, but everyone I know has them. I didn't have the money to make anything that good on a CD so that's awesome they did it on vinyl. It just sounds better. And it looks way cool. I couldn't put something like that out on CD."