Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears Shake Chicago

joelewisOn Saturday night, Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears unleashed their ultra-groovy sound on a largely unsuspecting Chicago crowd. It took all of about 30 seconds for that crowd to stop staring and start dancing. Suddenly, the North Side of Chicago was awash in a new blues, with some funk tossed in for good measure.

“Chicago’s always good man,” Lewis told us after the show. “Out of all the three major cities, Chicago is number one.” There’s little doubt that Chicago doesn’t feel the same way about Lewis and The Honeybears after an inspired performance.

Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears are a relatively “new” band, but their music comes from a place of old souls. Lewis evokes the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown; one of his influences, along with Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Eazy-E. While purists might scoff at those comparisons (likely they haven’t seen him live yet) consider this: James Brown scored his first R&B #1 hit “Try Me” when he was just 25 years old. Redding became a legend before his tragic death at age 26.

Another influence on Lewis is a man by the name of Little Joe Washington, whom Lewis talks about in our interview with him (see video below). Essentially, Washington is a street musician with paying gigs from time to time. And it’s that street-wise sensibility, improvisational flair and live-in-the-moment attitude that permeates Lewis’ music and lyrics.

Back in the day (just a few years ago) Lewis was working in a pawn shop. After seeing a number of hocked guitars come over the counter, he finally picked one up. “I got the guitar and just tried to learn it,” says Lewis. “My neighbors had a band. They didn’t have to work, all they had to do was play music. I thought; dude I gotta get in on that! I just tried to learn as much as I could. That’s how I really started performing … I hated my day job.”

Thank goodness for bad day jobs.

Below is a video from Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears’ performance at Chicago’s Folk and Roots Festival, including a few different songs and interview footage of both Joe Lewis and keyboardist Ian Varley. Tour dates are below the video – go see them.


Jul 17 2009 6:00P Latitude Festival Southwold, Suffolk, London
Jul 18 2009 8:00P Lovebox Festival London
Jul 21 2009 8:00P Jazz Cafe London, London and South East
Jul 23 2009 8:00P Valkhof Affaire Nijmegen, Gelderland
Jul 24 2009 8:00P Sala Heineken Madrid, Spain
Jul 25 2009 8:00P San Sebastian Jazz Festival San Sebastian, Guip├║zcoa
Aug 7 2009 4:00P Lollapalooza, Vitamin Water Stage Chicago, Illinois
Aug 8 2009 2:00P San Jose Jazz Festival, Main Stage San Jose, California
Aug 8 2009 7:00P San Jose Jazz Festival, Blues Stage San Jose, California
Aug 22 2009 4:00P CD101 Summerfest, LC Pavilion Columbus, Ohio
Aug 26 2009 8:00P Bluebird Theater Denver, Colorado
Aug 27 2009 7:00P Salt Lake City Arts, Twilight Series Salt Lake City, Utah
Aug 29 2009 8:00P Street Scene San Diego, California
Aug 31 2009 8:00P Troubadour Los Angeles, California
Sep 3 2009 10:00A The Depot Humboldt State Univ. Arcata, California
Sep 4 2009 8:00P Mississippi Studios Portland, Oregon
Sep 6 2009 8:00P Media Club Vancouver, British Columbia
Sep 7 2009 8:00P Bumbershoot – Mural Seattle, Washington
Oct 14 2009 8:00P ACL Festival Austin, Texas

Alexi Murdoch Talks Music with Sound Citizen

A little while back, Alexi Murdoch (one of Rolling Stone’s top 10 musicians to watch) played the Empty Bottle in Chicago. At that show, I saw something extremely rare in live music. As soon as the first chord was struck, the room snapped into utter silence.

murdochsoloThat’s because Murdoch is one of those musicians who pulls you into his music, coaxing you to explore your own thoughts and deepest feelings. But it’s not a dark place. It’s comforting. Murdoch’s message is powerful, but his voice and his music can be transcending.

The show was eye-opening. We had some great footage – unfortunately our equipment didn’t cooperate. However, Murdoch was gracious enough to sit down with us afterward, and share a few thoughts on Chicago, his music, his influences (or lack thereof) and more. Below the interview is some video from a previous show.

SC: Great show, Alexi, everyone really dug it.

Murdoch: That’s really cool. I know that the tour hasn’t been heavily promoted, so the fact that people were out was just a really pleasant surprise.

SC: Are you familiar with Chicago?

Murdoch: Not really. I’ve played here maybe three times. I bought an amazing drum today, at a great drum shop. I’ve got to give a shout out – Steve Maxwell, man. That guy has got the most amazing drums. And there’s an amazing guitar shop, Chicago Music Exchange, it’s always a thrill.

I don’t know that much else about Chicago, I’ve walked around, I like the city a lot. It hasn’t got that uppity feel. It seems the people are just into it, you know?

SC: The first time I heard you was a few years ago. And the first thing I heard was Nick Drake. Have you heard that before? Is that’s something you feel good about or are you trying to differentiate yourself in any way?

Murdoch: I don’t think I really need to. I think comparisons abound, you know, it’s sort of inevitable especially in this current marketplace where everything needs to be compared to something else, unfortunately. So, I understand it. Certainly, there are a lot worse people to be compared to. He was definitely a very talented man.

SC: Was he an influence of yours?

Murdoch: Not really, actually. Oddly enough I discovered the British folk movement late, only a few years ago. I was kind of embarrassed because somebody came to a gig and said, “You must be a huge John Martin and Nick Drake fan,” and I didn’t have any clue who they were.

Since then I’ve discovered all of that lot, and Richard Thompson. I had the honor and privilege to play with him one time. It’s kind of weird. I found them sort of by accident, and it was kind of uncanny to realize I was part of a tradition without knowing that tradition even existed. Which I guess speaks volumes about being shaped by your environment. I grew up in Scotland, and I guess maybe something about that landscape creates that sound. I’m sure that somewhere those people had the same influences musically as me. But I don’t know, I’m actually pretty ignorant when it comes to music history.

SC: Where do you draw from? You have some really passionate music that speaks to a lot of people.

Murdoch: I don’t know, man. That’s sort of a hard question. It’s so hard to answer that question without sounding like an ass – “Well, you know, I really sit down and strip away all my ego, and really try to get at the truth…” But I guess, that’s really what I try to do.

SC: I’ll narrow it down a little bit. When you’re writing your songs and thinking about your music, do you feel like you’re trying to tell people something about yourself, or are you trying to get people to explore themselves?

Murdoch: Yeah man, I think that’s a very astute observation. Hopefully, if I’m doing it right, it’s both. But you’re absolutely right. I’m glad you said it and I didn’t. Because I would have sounded like a guy sitting on a very high horse.

SC: What are your plans going forward?

I’m excited about a lot of new music. I’m touring with this new band. They get better every night, I think we’ve played nine gigs together now. I’m hoping to cultivate that conversation with them musically. And maybe before the end of the year sometime or early next year, get in and make a new record. Also I’ve done some stuff for a film that’s coming out in a couple of months.

SC: What film is that?

Murdoch: It’s a small, kind of independent film directed by Sam Mendes. It’s a really sweet film, so I’m happy to be a part of that.*

SC: You definitely have a style – for lack of a better term, it’s mellow. Do you feel that limits you in any way, as far as getting to a broader audience?

Murdoch: I think that any limitations that may exist – maybe I’m a little too confident in the music – but I feel like the limitations wouldn’t be on the part of the music, but on the part of the audience; it’s not really the audience, actually, that’s short on attention – I think it’s just that the environment we’re in right now has been so saturated with a sort of commercial product that its kind of tuned people’s ears different. So no, I don’t think the music is limiting at all.

For me, I play the kind of music I like. I’m always surprised by how many seem to connect to it. I got an e-mail from a guy telling me, “I’ve only ever liked hard rock, but I heard your show and now I’m super into it!” So it seems that if you can reach people who normally wouldn’t like this kind of music – I guess maybe I have a crazy kind of faith in that.

SC: Thanks, I appreciate it.

Murdoch: Thanks man, no worries. Thanks for coming by.

*The film turned out to be the smash indie hit, Away We Go. Murdoch is featured throughout the Away We Go soundtrack