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Friday, February 1, 2019

The Music Didn't Die

I heard that it had, back in the 60's when Buddy Holly and his mates died in a plane crash in a storm. But it was found alive and well a decade or two later in Cleveland, Ohio. Like many 'older' folk I had an appreciation of 'yoof' music way back when, and despair of ever having what passes for today's efforts moving my heart, head or soul. The relatively sound people of an era long gone, with songs and tunes that actually said something to young people, were replaced with crass, screeching divas and  filthy-mouthed rappers.  But one chap and his mates stand out. And it was in Cleveland that he found his metier.

Hugh Anthony Cregg III, born in that era on July 5, 1950 and known professionally as Huey Lewis, is an American singer, songwriter, and actor.


Lewis sings lead and plays harmonica for his band, Huey Lewis and the News, in addition to writing or co-writing many of the band's songs. The band is known for their third, and best-selling, album Sports, and their contribution to the soundtrack of the 1985 feature film Back to the Future. Lewis previously played with the band Clover from 1972 to 1979. In 1985, Lewis sued Ray Parker, Jr. over similarities between Parker's theme for the 1984 movie Ghostbusters and Lewis' "I Want a New Drug". It was, to all intents, the same tune; the same  beat.
Huey and his lads, all pretty old now, are currently bringing the music back from the dead and rehearsing for a gig in the Tavern's Music Rooms, which spill out onto the patio and lawns.

Huey Lewis was born in New York City. His father, Hugh Anthony Cregg Jr., was an Irish-American from Boston, Massachusetts, and his mother, Maria Magdalena Barcinski, was Polish, from Warsaw.

Lewis was raised in Marin County, California, living in Tam Valley and Strawberry, and attending Strawberry Point Elementary School (where he skipped second grade) and Edna Maguire Junior High School in Mill Valley. When he was 13, his parents divorced. It presaged big changes in his life.

He attended and graduated from the Lawrenceville School, an all-male prep school in New Jersey, in 1967, and he achieved a perfect score of 800 on the math portion of the SAT.

Young Gregg was a nice young man who grew to be a fine man. His later fame did not drag him down.

He was also an all-state baseball player. Lewis attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His mother had an extramarital affair with Beat Generation poet Lew Welch who became his step father. Lewis' credits Welch with inspiring him in his early teenage years.

In an interview with David Letterman, Lewis talked about hitchhiking across the country back to New York City and how he learned to play the harmonica while waiting for rides. He talked about hanging out at the airport for three days until he stowed away on a plane to Europe. In later interviews, Lewis would reveal other encounters he had traveling around Europe. (See video at the end).

While visiting Aberdeen, Scotland, with no money and nowhere to sleep, he claimed that the locals were very hospitable by offering him somewhere to stay. In Madrid, Spain, he became an accomplished blues player as he hitchhiked and supported himself by busking with his harmonica. He gave his first concerts in Madrid, earning enough money to buy a plane ticket back to the US.

Upon his return, Lewis entered the engineering program at Cornell University. While there he made friends with Lance and Larry Hoppen who later played with Orleans and Eddie Tuleja of King Harvest. Initially an active student and a member of the fraternity Eta Lambda Nu, Lewis soon lost interest in college. He signed up with a band called Slippery Elm, and in December 1969 during his junior year, he dropped out of Cornell and moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area. His aim was to continue playing music, though along the way he also tried other fields of work including landscaping, carpentry, wedding, and event planning, as well as delivering and selling natural foods.

In 1971 Lewis joined the Bay Area band Clover. Around this time he took the stage name "Hughie Louis", the spelling of which he would tinker with for some years after. Other members of the band (at various points) included John McFee, Alex Call. Lewis played harmonica and sang lead vocals on a few tunes.

Let me digress from the timeline a little. Huey's sensitivity to the 'ordinary' man included the main movements of his day, especially the Vietnam War. 

"Walking on a Thin Line" was recorded by Huey Lewis and the News and is the fifth song on their 1984 release...Sports. The song is about both Vietnam soldiers and veterans...how the war weighed on their mind during combat...and the demons they would unknowingly confront upon their return home to the United States. Vietnam soldiers were treated with such disrespect and not awarded the honour they should have been given for participating in a war that a majority of America objected to. Examples of this outcasting can be seen in the lines "Don't you know me I'm the boy next door...The one you find so easy to ignore" as well as "Straight off the front line...Labeled as freaks loose on the streets of the city". 

In reality, these were just boys who simply enlisted in the armed services or were called to duty as part of the Draft Lottery of 1969. For the most part, they "Taught me how to shoot to kill" and became "A specialist with a deadly skill"...and all along this was merely "A skill I needed to have to be a survivor". These guys didn't start or ask to be in a war the public would never accept...and never deserved to be treated as criminals come the wars end.

"Walking on a Thin Line" peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 100 of 1984 (the only single from the album not to reach the top ten) and was received with mixed thoughts by the public...drawing a strong parallel to the war in which it is about.
To this old Warrior Tavern Keeper, 
it was one of his best and most poignant.

In 1976, after playing in the Bay Area with limited success, Clover went to Los Angeles. They had their big break in a club there when their act was caught by Nick Lowe who convinced Clover to travel to Great Britain with him. However, Clover arrived in Britain just as their folk-rock sound, known as pub rock in Britain, was being replaced by punk rock.
The two Clover albums produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange for Phonogram were not successful. By this point the spelling of Cregg's stage name had changed to "Huey Louis"; it is under this spelling that he is billed on both of Clover's albums for Phonogram, although for songwriting credits he is billed as "H. Cregg". In 1978 the band returned to California, McFee joined the Doobie Brothers, and Clover disbanded.

Under the name "Bluesy Huey Lewis", Lewis played harmonica on Thin Lizzy's 1978 landmark album Live and Dangerous. That same year, he was playing at Uncle Charlie's, a club in Corte Madera, California, doing the "Monday Night Live" spot along with future members of the News. At this point, he had adopted the "Huey Lewis" spelling, and the band was billed as Huey Lewis and the American Express. After recording the song "Exodisco" (a disco version of the theme from the film Exodus) simply as American Express, Lewis landed a singles contract from Phonogram and Bob Brown became his manager.

The band played a few gigs (including an opening for Van Morrison), before adding new guitarist Chris Hayes to the line-up. On Brown's advice, they changed their name again to Huey Lewis and The News. After a failed self-titled debut in 1980, the band finally broke through to Top 40 success with the gold album Picture This (1982). It rose to No. 13 on the albums chart thanks to the Mutt Lange-penned "Do You Believe in Love", the band's first hit.

It was around this time, travelling to small-town gigs, to even smaller crowds that he found an unexpected welcome in Cleveland. That initiated a song.


The band's third LP, Sports (1983), is one of the best-selling pop releases of all time. It became a No. 1 hit in 1984 and had multi-platinum success in 1985. Four singles from the album reached the top-10 of the Billboard Hot 100: "Heart and Soul" reached No. 8, while "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll," and "If This Is It" all reached No. 6.

Lewis knew Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds from having played harmonica on their 1979 albums ("Labour of Lust" and "Repeat When Necessary") and produced Lowe's 1985 version of "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)". He later produced several songs (including one where he sang backup and played harmonica) on Bruce Hornsby & The Range's debut album, The Way It Is. Hornsby thanked him by writing the song "Jacob's Ladder", a No. 1 single from the News' next album.

His song "The Power of Love" was a No. 1 U.S. hit and was featured in the 1985 film Back to the Future, for which they also recorded the song, "Back in Time". 

Lewis has a cameo appearance in the film as a faculty member who rejects Marty McFly's band's audition for the school's "Battle of the Bands" contest. As an inside joke, the piece the band plays is an instrumental heavy metal version of "The Power of Love". (Lewis plays the audition committee leader, who, after glancing at the other, equally unimpressed fellow faculty members, picks up the megaphone and says, "Hold it, fellas ... I'm afraid you're just too darn loud".) A poster for the album Sports is hanging on Marty's wall when he awakes at the end of the movie. "The Power of Love" was nominated for an Academy Award.

Following the success of "The Power of Love" and Back to the Future, Huey Lewis and the News released their fourth studio album, Fore! in 1986. Fore! followed the success of Sports and reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album spawned the No. 1 singles, "Stuck with You" and "Jacob's Ladder" as well as the mainstream rock hit "Hip to Be Square". In all, the album had five top-10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified triple platinum.

The remainder of the 1980s and early 1990s were mostly spent touring and recording fourteen top-20 Billboard Hot 100 hits and releasing two more hit albums: Small World (1988) No. 11 and Hard at Play (1991) No. 27. Lewis had a planned solo album titled Back in Blue that was canceled in the mid-90s due to living arrangement issues on the part of Lewis. One of the songs from that cancelled project, "100 Years From Now" was later used for the compilation album Time Flies... The Best Of.

Huey Lewis has sung with Umphrey's McGee at several shows beginning with the 2005 Jammy Awards and is featured on two tracks of their album Safety in Numbers.

On February 13, 2007, Lewis was interviewed on the podcast series Stuck in the '80s. During the interview, he revealed that the band has written several new songs that they planned to record in 2008. He also stated that, given how much the industry has changed since their last album, he was unsure how they would sell the new material.

During a show at the California State Fair on August 21, 2007, Lewis was named Sacramento's Musician of the Year by the fair's general manager and presented with a gold statue of the California state bear.

Lewis recorded a duet version of "Workin' for a Livin'" with Garth Brooks, which was included on Brooks' three-disc set The Ultimate Hits, in late 2007.

On July 4, 2008, the eve of his 58th birthday, Huey Lewis and the News were the opening act for the annual A Capitol Fourth celebration on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. More than a half million people attended and was broadcast live on PBS. The band performed "The Heart of Rock & Roll", "The Power of Love" and "Workin' for a Livin'".

On May 29, 2011, Lewis played the annual Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois, along with Chicago-based progressive jam band Umphrey's Mcgee. They were billed as Huey Lewis and The Rumors. Together they played covers as well as songs from both their respective catalogs.


On April 2, 2013, Lewis appeared on the ABC television series Dancing with the Stars, where he performed "The Heart of Rock & Roll" in celebration of the 30th anniversary release of Sports and a concert tour with the News.

Now, for those with time on their hands who would like a far more detailed and entertaining 'history', here is a sneak backstage.
I am not an old rocker. I am not a bit musical. My beloved son in whom I am well pleased is though. Not old, you understand, but musical.

It was he who introduced Huey.

Drinks for all involved. 

Rock to a good beat, and Pax.

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Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..