If there is anyone in the music industry who deserves a congratulatory pat on the back of his freshly-pressed “Jack Of All Trades” T-shirt, it’s Joe Lester.
Joe who, you ask?
Well, put it this way, James Brown hasn’t got a thing on this guy. You want hard working? Try being a bartender, a professional photographer, the bassist in the world’s greatest nationally touring Van Halen tribute band (Atomic Punks), a tour manager for L.A.-based hard rock party band Steel Panther, a guitar tech for the aforementioned kingpins of glam and debauchery, and, oh yeah, their fill-in bassist as well.
That’s Joe Lester.
His latest role involved him filling in onstage for regular Steel Panther bassist Lexxi Foxx, who was unable to perform with the band for two weeks after checking himself into a sex addiction clinic in an attempt to get his penile proclivities under control. Lester, as the band’s acting tour manager, guitar tech, and a bassist himself, already knew the material front to back. The writing, as Faster Pussycat once said, was on the bathroom wall. So, in his best version of Clark Kent, Lester stepped into the band’s tour bus and seconds later emerged as “Spyder,” Foxx’s replacement. The rest is rock n’ roll history.
ListenIowa caught up with Lester recently to talk about his many roles in the world of Steel Panther.
ListenIowa: You’ve been working for Steel Panther, first as their guitar tech, then as their tour manager. How did you land those gigs?
Joe Lester: I’ve known these guys for about 25 years, so we go way back. I actually started out shooting photos of them and going out on a few of their tours as their tour photographer. There was a couple times on the tours where they mentioned me being their tour manager and that they thought it would be something that I would be very good at. I had never even considered something like that, but took a shot at it. Now I’ve been tour managing them for over two years. About a year ago, I started running all of their touring logistics, too, so it’s been a crazy ride. The guitar teching came up about 9 months after I started tour managing them. We decided to not have a guitar tech on the month-long tour we did with Stone Sour in 2018. So, I was tour manager and guitar tech at the same time. It went flawlesssly, and I’ve been doing double-duty ever since.
LI: And then you actually performed with the band when Lexxi went into sex rehab.
JL: We were geared up for the band’s annual two-week Christmas show run in the midwest, and about 11 days before the tour, I got a call from the band telling me that Lexxi can’t do the tour, and asking if I could be the tour manager and play bass, too. Of course I said “yes,” and started running through the songs immediately. Crazy thing is, I had filled in for Lexxi numerous times when Panther only was playing covers. But I hadn’t filled since they started making their own albums. I had never played the songs, but luckily I knew them so well it made it easier to chart out the arrangements, and it definitely sped up the learning process.
LI: Did they try out any other bass players, or were you the guy from Day 1?
JL: There were no tryouts. I was the logical choice, I guess.
LI: When it was set in stone that you were the guy, what happened next?
JL: We didn’t rehearse at all except for one long run-through at soundcheck at the Chicago House of Blues on the afternoon of the first show. It was crazy and super cool that they had that kind of confidence in me to fill in for such big shoes. I did all of the work at home, playing along with the music. Fortunately, we had recorded a bunch of shows on previous tours, so I was able to play along with the “live” shows. I’d just mute Lexxi’s bass track and have mine in there instead, and just play to the band. Technology is amazing.
LI: Did you have any jitters before the first show, or are you fairly immune to that by now?
JL: Yeah, there were a few jitters, mostly about how the fans were going to react. That’s a huge character in the show that wasn’t going to be there. Then you have me dressed up like Nikki Sixx, about as opposite from Lexxi’s look as you can get. I’m sure it was a shock to the fans.
LI: I saw a video from a gig in which Satchel joked that your stage character, Spyder, resembled a version of “Nikki Sixx that had eaten Lexxi Foxx.” Ouch.
JL: It is what it is, and I am who I am. I’ll never be a skinny musician no matter what I do. If Satchel can give Michael Starr shit about eating too much pizza, then I’m definitely going to have to take my lumps. It was actually pretty funny, and we played it off great in the show.
LI: The onstage banter between band members is always hilarious. Did they want you to contribute, or was it a case of sitting back because keeping up with those guys would be impossible?
JL: Yeah, there was no reason for me to get involved in the banter. They had it all down. There’s so much improv in their shows that you just have to run with it. All I did in the show was introduce Satchel for his guitar solo. In between songs, I stayed back next to Stix and just complained to him whenever Satchel and Michael Starr would rail on me. (laughs)
LI: So what were the audiences’ reactions to Spyder? Accepting, or did you catch some heat at places?
JL: It was my favorite part of the tour! Getting to watch the audience go from, “Who the hell is this playing bass, and where is Lexxi?” to “You freakin’ rock, dude!” It would take about four or five songs, and then the crowd was totally in to it. But, big kudos to the band. As much as they bagged on me at the start of the show, they also turned it around and made me the hero of the tour for filling in so they didn’t have to cancel it. That helped a lot. And huge thanks to the fans for being so accepting. I know for a lot of them (myself included), Lexxi is their favorite guy in the band. So it was really important to me to put on the best show possible and hope that they still really enjoyed the night.
LI: How did the concept of Spyder come about anyway?
JL: The funny thing about that is, back when I used to fill in with them doing covers only, my Steel Panther stage clothes were kind of a Nikki Sixx style. And, this was way before my band had started Motley Inc., our Motley Crue tribute band. So, the logical thing for me to do for this tour was to just dress in my Nikki Sixx gear for the shows. It worked so well with the Steel Panther vibe, too. So, instead of calling me 6XXX, which is my Motley Inc. name, they called me by my old name from way back when — Spyder. And now I’m going to continue with that with my Motley band. Makes sense — Spyder Sixx. (laughs)
LI: Let’s talk about what went on backstage. (laughs)
JL: Oh gosh, you know we can’t talk about the backstage stuff. (laughs)
LI: OK. How about memorable gigs, then?
JL: The final show of the tour in Kansas City was pretty awesome. Close to 3,000 people, sold out in a killer, three-level theater. But, really, I had a blast on the whole run. Stress and all, every show with them is a total blast.
LI: Do you have a new appreciation for what it takes to BE Steel Panther now?
JL: Yeah, you see it from the stage. They work so hard, and the show is so, so good. But you don’t realize how much physical energy they exert during the show. And then there’s the mental energy it takes to be on top of all of the improv comedy going on, and you have to really be on your toes and paying attention the whole 90 minutes. If you mess up, then you are part of the show and they are going to bag on you big-time. (laughs). But it’s so much fun. There’s no other band or show like it.
LI: Let’s suppose you want to do this again. What would your move be to get Lexxi out of the way so it could happen?
JL: I’d have the tour bus stop at a petting zoo. When Lexxi is distracted, I’d get everyone but him back on the bus and off to the next stop. I’d tell the band that Lexxi quit to work in the petting zoo and the gig was now mine. Now that’s a great idea!
For more on Joe Lester and Steel Panther, visit: