Huey Lewis: "Phil Lynott Taught Me Most of What I Know"
At 62, Huey Lewis is happy to get by on the hits. His tour with Joe Cocker comes to the Meyerson tonight, so we asked about his band's popular ascension in the '70s, how he feels about singing with one of his idols and why he will never produce another album.
How did this tour with Joe Cocker come about?
I don't know. I think my agent had something to do with it. Nowadays, you've got to look for bundles.These are economic times. Everyone is bundling. We were a tough pair to bundle, but now it seems that we are a pretty good match.
Were you a big fan of Cocker growing up?
I am a big fan of Cocker. I was and I am. We all know his work, but he is also a lovely guy. I met him for the first time years ago. He is a lovely guy.
Will the two of you sing any duets?
We have no idea. I think so because we are going to do the Kimball show together. I think we are doing "Feeling Alright," but I am not sure. I am probably not supposed to divulge anything. It's his call, but I think we will sing together.
Did you really get a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT?
Yes, I got 800. Actually, 800 is not a perfect score. A lot of people get 800. Well, maybe not a lot, but quite a few. You can get a question wrong and still get an 800. I am smart, unbelievably smart.
You went on to study engineering at Cornell. If you didn't make it as a musician, would you be an engineer?
No, I don't think so. If I hadn't pursued music? That's one of those hypotheticals. It's hard to say. Who knows? From the age of 15 or 16, I was heavy into music. If it hadn't worked out for me as a singer, I would probably play harmonica in a blues band somewhere. I would be playing in some small band in a club somewhere.
A couple of years ago, you were quoted as saying that the world doesn't clamor for music from Huey Lewis. Have things changed?
No, I still stand by that statement. Pop music is in a different place now. There isn't a process anymore. When I started, it was all FM radio and it was the push-button radios. There was no Internet. With those push-button radios, the theory was for the stations to not play something that the listener didn't like. The playlists were small. They only played the top 40. That was our day. We had to have a hit. That was all there was to it. Now, the climate has changed so much. You have to ask yourself who you are writing for. There is no pop market out there. This is a different culture today.
Young people today probably get exposed to your music by their parents watching Back to the Future.
Then they have excellent musical tastes. Everyone involved in the film just met in New York for the 30th anniversary of the movie. Robert Zemeckis, Michael J. Fox and Christoper Lloyd were all there. Bob Gale was one of the writers and he was there. We did the rounds. Zemeckis had everyone over for dinner. We all got to share stories of how our bits came to be. Clearly, of all the films Zemeckis made, this was his crowning achievement. But people don't realize what a difficult process it was making that movie.
Around the time the first movie was released, Huey Lewis and the News released the album Sports. That record became one of the best-selling pop albums ever. When you were recording it, did it feel like it was an effort that would define the band?
That album was assembled in the studio. We put those songs together bit by bit. It wasn't a bar band record. It was actually pretty terribly put together. It was a pop record, of course. We did it ourselves, we produced it ourselves. I am very proud of that fact. I knew we had four or five tunes that were special. I felt like I had my finger on what most 30-year-olds were thinking. I knew the songs were strong. "Heart and Soul" was the first single. I just knew it was going to be big.
At the time, bands like Queen, Journey and Rush were big on the radio. Did you feel like your music was more approachable?
We were anachronistic even then. We were different from all that by design. I didn't have that kind of voice. We were a rhythm and blues band. We couldn't come out there looking like rock stars.
You've produced an album for Nick Lowe. Would you be open to producing more in the future?
Well, I used to really love it when it was actually capturing performances. Now, it is more creating performances in a studio digitally. It's all programming and computers and all of that stuff. It's not about rehearsing, getting in there and playing it live and capturing it. It doesn't interest me today.
I just recently found out that you played harmonica on a live effort from Thin Lizzy. How did that happen?
I was in a band called Clover and we toured with them. Philip [Lynott] taught me most of what I know. He taught me more than anybody else. He was my main mentor. That band was so amazing live, such a great hard rock band.
Huey Lewis performs with Joe Cocker tonight, July 20, at the Meyerson Symphony Center.