The Heart of Rock and Roll Is Still Beating For Huey Lewis & The News

In the mid to late 1980s, it was hard to escape Huey Lewis & The News.

The blue-collar group had back-to-back blockbuster hit records (1983’s Sports and 1986’s Fore ) thanks to singles including ‘The Heart of Rock & Roll,’ ‘I Want A New Drug,’ ‘Stuck With You’ and ‘Hip To Be Square.’ Because Huey Lewis & The News is a band that made its name from playing live, it should be no surprise that the group maintains an active tour schedule some 32 years after their formation.

Huey Lewis & The News perform at Moncton’s Casino New Brunswick on Sunday night in one of only two Atlantic Canadian stops for the group. Speaking with the Times & Transcript last week, Lewis passed the first test of coolness when he vividly recalled the group playing Metro Moncton to a sell-out crowd at the Coliseum in the mid-1980s.

‘I recall Moncton rather well actually,’ a friendly and chatty Huey said.

‘I recall being downtown and going to see the Tidal Bore,’ he recalls without missing a beat. ‘We all thought that was a pretty cool thing.

‘It’s funny because in our song ‘The Heart of Rock & Roll,’ we mention all these big cities that people perceive to be the heart of rock and roll – Cleveland, Detroit, et cetera. But man, when we visited these places like Halifax and Moncton, the cities turn out to be the greatest little towns in the world. You guys have great music towns there on the Atlantic coast. In fact, we just played Las Vegas last weekend and we bumped into someone that said they’d be seeing us in their hometown of Moncton. Small world indeed!’

Although many millions all over the globe became familiar with Huey Lewis & The News in the ’80s, the seeds of the band actually run much deeper.

Prior to embarking on multi-platinum success in their own band, Lewis and keyboardist Sean Hopper were members of the band Clover in the ’70s. By the time that Lewis and Hopper joined the group, it already had twoalbums to its credit.

The group found almost instant fans in the group Brinsley Schwarz, a group that featured renowned singer-songwriter Nick Lowe. Lewis notes that Brinsley Schwarz was so fond of Clover, it even name-checked the group in one of their songs and ultimately convinced the group to relocate to England.

Alas, fate had different plans for Clover. With the rise of punk bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash, Clover had a difficult time finding success as a country-pub rock band.

Through a combination of studio work (the group, minus Lewis, was the backing band on Elvis Costello’s debut record My Aim Is True) and live shows, the group kept busy before members went their separate ways.

‘We ended up staying in England for approximately two years,’ Huey said. ‘It was a terrible case of bad timing. It was a brilliant experience for us as a band though. When the punk scene started to gather steam, I couldn’t stand the music but their stance was so excellent. They were doing their own thing, paying no attention to what the industry was telling them they could do. I vowed to myself that if Clover ever broke up, I was going to go find myself a regular club gig and write and sing songs for myself.’

Huey Lewis & The News released its self-titled debut record in 1980, following it up with Picture This in 1982 with the latter record spawning the hit ‘Do You Believe In Love.’ Looking back on the group’s earliest days, Huey recalls the group selling somewhere in the vicinity of 25,000 units of their debut while Picture This sold more than 14 times that amount. Nothing could prepare the group for the juggernaut that would beSports however, with more than 10 million copies sold. The group’s place in pop history was solidified.

‘Back in those days, bands got three records to prove themselves. It was nothing like it is today where bands and artists are given sometimes one chance. We were fortunate because we were signed to a small British label that was often pre-occupied with other matters. We were left to our own devices, produced our records ourselves. It was great,’ Huey said, laughing.

The latest record from Huey Lewis & The News, 2010’s Soulsville sees the group explore their love of the Stax catalogue. Rather than choosing to cover the hits from the Stax era, Lewis and his bandmates deliberately chose to cover lesser known songs such as Otis Redding’s ‘Just One More Day’ and Solomon Burke’s ‘Got To Get You Off My Mind.’ To help add to the ‘live’ feeling of the record, Lewis said that the group recorded everything, save the backing vocals live off the floor.

‘Looking back upon Sports , that record was assembled rather well but with Soulsville, the record was captured completely live off the floor. It is not there there is a right or a wrong way to make a record, I just happen to love hearing the band play to one another.’

To help translate the Soulsville material live, Huey Lewis & The News boasts an 11-member band on stage, including a three-piece horn section and backup singers. With the 30th anniversary of Sports coming up next year, Lewis expects to maintain the group’s 70 to 85 shows per year with relative ease.

‘I think the band is sounding better than we have ever sounded these days.’

Article published in the October 25, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript