America has embraced many bands and musicians over the years, but only a
few dozen have wrapped themselves into the fabric of the country’s pop
culture like Huey Lewis and the News.
A massive presence in the formative days of MTV, the blues-influenced pop rockers unleashed a string of feel-good, smash-hit singles, including “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” “Hip to Be Square,” “I Want a New Drug,” “Stuck with You” and “The Power of Love.” Written for the film Back to the Future, the latter earned its leader an Oscar nomination.
No band is more quintessentially ’80s, and Lewis contributes it all to never trying to be something he wasn’t.
“I like to think that we’re honest about it: Rock has got to be true. Whether it’s life-changing or not, it’s got to be true,” he said. “I like to think that holds with our songs. They aren’t always about earth-shaking things, but they ring true.”
The 30 million records and pair of Grammy wins seem to support that conjecture. The group currently is co-headlining a tour with Joe Cocker — whom Lewis promises to collaborate with onstage each night, including Thursday’s at Zoo Amphitheatre — keeping the dream rolling on.
“That’s ultimately what it’s really about,” he said of the News’ well-attended tours. “When you start off in this game, it’s for other reasons. It’s about being a star, making a hit record, making lots of money, but playing to people who want to hear you is all that really ever matters. To have a career doing that … knock on wood, thank you very much, knock on wood.”
Even with the group’s heyday well behind it, regular touring and collaborations with musicians like Garth Brooks and Umphrey’s McGee have helped Lewis and the News maintain a presence on the cultural landscape, even popping up in the occasional movie. Comedy heavyweights (and self-proclaimed fans) Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen approached the band about penning the theme song to what became their 2008 hit, Pineapple Express.
“They said they wanted me to do the song and that the title would have to be the name of the film,” Lewis said. “At first, I thought it wouldn’t work, but then they told me the name was Pineapple Express, and that it was about this bad, super-duper pot, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’” The resulting tune was one of the act’s first original numbers since 2001’s Plan B (2010’s Soulsville, being a tribute album to the R&B label Stax Records, doesn’t count). Lewis long has been weary of writing new original material — mainly because he’s worried how to sell it.
It’s a different world out there compared to 1983, when the News’ Sports album went seven times platinum. Today’s musical landscape is one that Lewis praises for allowing artists more freedom, yet laments for a litany of reasons.
“In my day, there was no Internet, and the radio was preprogrammed with Top 40. If you didn’t have a hit, you weren’t allowed to make records anymore,” he said. “Today, music society is segregated. There’s rap over here and country over there. It’s kind of a shame. The thing about music back then is we were all competing for the same thing, and if you wanted to hear Huey Lewis on the radio, you were going to listen to the Commodores and George Strait, too.”
Although they are no longer concerned with competing for radio plays, Lewis said he and his bandmates plan on challenging themselves after touring wraps in the fall: They’re curious as to whether they might have another “If This Is It” in them or not.
“I think we’re going to try and write a little,” he said. “Only for ourselves, of course, and who knows what will come of it, but why not?”