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Huey Lewis & The News

Heart of rock 'n roll

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By Gary Graff  

If you haven't heard the News, as in Huey Lewis & the News, now is an opportune time. The group's latest projects are retrospective in nature, including a Greatest Hits CD and Greatest Hits and Videos CD/DVD package that spans twenty-seven years in the history of the bar band that stormed out of San Francisco only to keep the heart of rock 'n' roll beating consistently ever since. Lewis, meanwhile, has also carved out a niche in the acting world, in film (Spare Parts, Duets), on TV (One Tree Hill) and on Broadway (Chicago).

Q: What's your perspective on the band from 1979 until now?

Huey Lewis: The reinvention, for us, from a pop band to a whatever the hell we are is complete now. We are an R&B group, I think, a three-piece horn section and the works. We make music the old-fashioned way -- we play it. Our drummer gets tired.

Q: What was it in the mid-'80s, starting with Sports, that clicked so well?

Lewis: I hear it in terms of the production. Our idea, my little concept, was the old and new at once, use the machines and play. We didn't know what a drum machine was. We heard Roger Linn had captured Jeff Porcaro's drum sound in a box -- "There's a chip? What's a chip?" I remember we were recording at the Record Plant and Peter Wolf, the producer, was working with Starship. So he came into our studio as a favor and programmed a Linn drum and sequenced our bass on "I Want a New Drug," then we overdubbed crashes and tom-toms. We humanized it. The icing on the cake might be human, but the cake in a lot of cases was pretty techno.

Q: Now, however, you're pursuing a much more organic approach.

Lewis: Yeah, it actually sounds older-fashioned as you go along. We've recently taken that to the max and let the ambience roar. I don't now if that's a good thing or a bad thing. We just fell in love with that stuff, finally, and pursued it into the Four Chords... and Plan B albums and, now, into our new stuff. Maybe it's time to turn techno again. (laughs) Maybe they have a program where you can take a lot of rock 'n' roll words and throw 'em together -- yo!, baby, king, strawberry wine, "in the Chevy," "I got my leather jacket on," "running into the night against the wind," stuff like that.

Q: Does songwriting get easier or harder as time goes on?

Lewis: Frankly it gets harder and harder. First of all, you've covered a lot of ground in your life already. You've told certain stories kind of as good as you can tell 'em. You can't write about California anymore if you're the Eagles. You've done that. But it's still a big subject for you, where you live and work. Once you've done it real well, what are you going to write about? And your writing is informed by your audience. It's tougher when you don't know who the audience is, in a way, which happens to a lot of us as our careers go along.

Q: Are you enjoying the Chicago experience on Broadway?

Lewis: I really love doing it, man. The talent to humility ratio is huge, which is refreshing coming from rock 'n' roll. And it's just a great part, a really creative thing for me to do right now. This guy Billy Flynn, it's just a great part. It speaks to me.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.