Still hip to be square: Huey Lewis and the News to perform at Luhrs Center

October 17, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Huey Lewis and the News have performed since the band formed in 1978. They will perform favorites and new music during their concert at H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center in Shippensburg, Pa.
Submitted photo

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — It's been 30 years since Huey Lewis and the News asked if we believed in love.

Today, the band continues to show that the heart of rock 'n' roll is still beating by playing their blend of old-tme rock 'n' roll, mixed in with a good taste of blues and soul.

And on Thursday, Oct. 25, the band will transport its audience "Back in Time" during its show at H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, Pa.

"We're excited playing these PACs (performing arts centers)," Huey Lewis said during a telephone interview from New York City. He had just returned from Europe the day before and was next heading for a gig in Las Vegas. "We used to be a beer and hot dog band, and now hanging with the wine and cheese set. We're better musicians and better players. It's nicer to play in these intimate places."

Lewis, 62, fronts the News, which is made up of a mixture of longtime friends and newer members — Johnny Colla on guitar and saxophone; Bill Gibson on percussion; Sean Hopper, keys; John Pierce on bass; Stef Burns on guitar; Johnnie Bamont on baritone and tenor saxophone; Marvin McFadden on trumpet and Rob Suduth on tenor saxophone.

And to what does Lewis attribute the band staying together for three decades?

"We pay well," Lewis deadpans. "No, we're friends first and colleagues second. It's not easy. And we also don't work as much as we used to, so we do 80 to 85 shows a year. Then we love music. We're actually a better band now than we ever, ever have been."

Formed originally in 1978 as Huey Lewis & The American Express, they eventually changed their name to Huey Lewis and the News in 1980. That same year they put out a self-titled album that seemed to stall.

In 1982, they released "Picture This" and hit the charts with "Do You Believe in Love," "Workin' for a Living'" and "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do."

But it was the band's 1983 "Sports" album that qualified the band as a hitmaking machine. It included "Heart and Soul," "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll" and "This Is It," to name just a few. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in June of 1984.

The band's music featured prominently in "Back to The Future" in 1985, and they followed up their success with 1986's "Fore!" featuring "Hip to Be Square" and "I Know What I Like."

The group continued to crank out albums through the late 1980s and early '90s, with hit songs such as 1988's "Perfect World." In 2010, the band produced "Soulsville," a collection of covers of lesser-known soul songs.

And through it all, it's been Lewis' distinctive gravelly voice and his fiery harmonica playing that has led the group. He said he picked up playing the mouth organ during his prepubescent years.

"My mother had a boarder named Billy Roberts," he said. "He was a folk singer and he wrote ‘Hey, Joe.'"

"He used to play harmonicas in a little cradle around his neck, like Bob Dylan," Lewis said. "And he had a bunch of harmonicas and he gave me his old ones."

And that was it. The harmonica has been part of Lewis' sound ever since.

"Then I graduated high school at age 16, and I hitchhiked across the country," he said. "I stowed away on a plane to Europe."

He spent the next year bumming around Europe and North Africa in Casablanca and Marrakech. "And I played harmonica the whole time, just constantly," he said. "That's how I earned my living. I would go into the square, have a hat and play harmonica."

He found that he could actually make money playing music.

"The youth hostel cost one dirham, (an) all-you-could-eat (meal) cost another dirham, and I made four dirhams," he said. "A light went off and I thought, 'This is what I want to do.'"

He returned to America and joined a couple of bands, including the early-1970s country-rock band Clover, which toured on the same circuit as many punk bands.

"We got a front row seat to all that punk stuff," he said. "Musically, it didn't speak to me, but I loved their stance. Their stance was that they were thumbing their nose at the industry, singing their own quirky songs in their own quirky way."

He saw another music opportunity. "I vowed if Clover ever broke up, I'd surround myself with my favorite musicians from my hometown, sing all the songs myself and make it rhythm-and-blues-based and hell with all of this '70s 'whoooahh' kind of stuff. And that's what I did."

Once the sound clicked, they soon found and audience and that's when Huey Lewis and the News found their voice.

"I knew we had something going, but I didn't know we had hit records, yet," he said.

Songs from "Sports" and "Fore!" are heavy on most fans' list of faves. The band continues to find new fans because its music keeps popping up in entertainment, such as the films "Big," "Pineapple Express" and "American Pyscho."

Lewis said he's very proud of the songs' staying power.

"I contribute that honesty about the song," he said. "I always say when the guy says 'I'm going to Kansas City and (I know) some crazy little women there, and I'm going to get me one,' ... we have to believe he's going to Kansas City, he knows about the crazy little women and he wants to get him one. ... You've got to speak the truth, I think."

And there's no better music in which to find truth than soul. Lewis said "Soulsville" was a labor of love for the band, picking songs that are lesser known.

"Once we hit on that idea, it became fun," he said.

Unlike albums such as "Sports" where the songs were built piece by piece, "Soulsvile" was basically a jam session.

"We recorded the record in two weeks," he said. "We just played and captured it in the studio."

This year the band also did 25 gigs with legendary icon Joe Cocker.

"He's a wonderful guy," Lewis said. "We became fast friends. I played harmonica on his set on a tune. He emails me to this day. Our fans loved him and his fans loved us."

But for how much the band gives on stage, it's hard to find personal information about band members. There's no mention of marriage or kids on their website, and it takes a deep Google search to find much.

And even though the band was formed in the pre-digital area, Lewis said it was always a conscious effort to protect their loved ones from the limelight.

"It was absolutely conscious. I'm old school that way," he said. "I put my heart and soul in the show, and into my records and into my videos. I'm not going to get married on stage or talk about my personal life very much. I don't feel good about that."

That's another reason why you won't find him tweeting anytime soon. "It doesn't feel creative for me," he said.

As for the future of Huey Lewis and the News, the band has been writing songs and Lewis said they hope to put out another record soon. And next year, "Sports" will be re-released as part of the 30th anniversary, and then they'll go tour again.

"We should have a pretty good year," he said.

If you go ...       

WHAT: An Evening with Huey Lewis and the News

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25

WHERE: H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, Pa.

COST: Tickets cost $55 to $75.

CONTACT: Call 717-477-7469 or go to

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