On Friday (Feb. 14), Huey Lewis & the News will release Weather, the durable group’s first album of new original material in nearly 20 years. And it may be the group’s last. For the past two years, Lewis has suffered from Meniere’s disease, a hearing disorder that has left him largely unable to hear, even with hearing aids, and unable to perform.
Despite the debilitating illness — and the depression he had to overcome following the diagnosis — Lewis was in great spirits when he appeared at Los Angeles’ Grammy Museum Wednesday (Feb. 12) night to talk about Weather, his hearing and his wide-ranging career. In an interview conducted by his longtime friend and fishing buddy, Jimmy Kimmel, Lewis shared stories that were hilarious, illuminating and revealing.
Here are the top 10 takeaways from their conversation:
Kimmel’s first question addressed Lewis’s hearing loss and how he was feeling. Lewis said he had good days and bad days and that, unfortunately, today was a bad day. From day to day, Lewis has no idea how severely he will be affected, but he said that on a scale from 1 to 10, his hearing has never gotten above a six since he was stricken and tonight, it was a 2 1/2, meaning he was having difficulty hearing at all. The news was especially heartbreaking because late last year, he had several consecutive weeks where he rated his hearing a functional six, but since mid-December, it had never gotten above a four. To break the sad tension of the news, Kimmel jokingly asked Lewis, “But can you maintain an erection?” to which Lewis answered in the affirmative.
The video for new single “Her Love is Killing Me” features a wide array of celebrities lip-syncing to the song, from Joe Montana to The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Wendie Malick, Kimmel and even 94-year old “Lassie” actress June Lockhart. It turns out Lockhart’s a huge fan of the band and has seen them around 50 times. Lewis’s original idea for the video was to have only Kimmel lip sync the full song, but Lewis’s son, Austin, who works for Kimmel, said, “Dad, that’s a pretty big ask,” so Lewis aimed for a medley of stars.
Lewis’s radiologist father never saw his son play live until Huey Lewis & The News were selling out arenas. His dad came to a sold-out show at the Worcester (Mass.) Centrum. Tina Turner, who liked the band, also attended the show. “My dad didn’t know who she was, but he saw that this big, black, beautiful woman was a fan,” Lewis noted, and that was good enough for Lewis’s father to figure his son was doing something right.
Despite the band’s success, Dr. Lewis gave his son some sage advice. “He told me to keep playing the harmonica,” Lewis recalled. “He said, ‘They can’t take that away from you. This Huey Lewis & The News shit could be here today, gone tomorrow.’”
Lewis’s mom, who gave him his first Bob Dylan album, was a “hippie,” and growing up, Lewis’s Marin County home was filled with beatniks and musicians, ranging from beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Lew Welch to jazz giants Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Ben Webster.
One of his favorite musical heroes he toured with was Joe Cocker. “He was the most wonderful, generous, careful Englishman. Lovely guy,” Lewis said. It turned out, according to Lewis, Cocker’s spasmodic contortions when he sang came from his earlier days as a drummer and that he was really moving as if he were drumming.
The first time he heard himself on the radio, it was as “Do You Believe in Love,” the band’s breakthrough hit, was released. “KFRC in San Francisco was going to add it. They added new records on Tuesdays between 2 and 6 p.m. We gathered the whole band and watched the radio,” Lewis said. “They played it pretty early and two things struck me.” The first was that the sound was so compressed, “it sounded like someone else,” Lewis said. The second thing? “It sounded like a hit.” He was right. The song rose to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The band has sold more than 30 million albums and Kimmel asked how much money Lewis made per album sold. “That’s a bit of a sore point,” Lewis said. “My masters are still owned by Universal.” Huey Lewis & the News recorded for Chrysalis, which was purchased by EMI, which Universal then bought. The band’s deal did not allow for any reversion clause. “Even after [the label] recouped, they own the [masters] in perpetuity,” he said.
Lewis admitted to two regrets. The first involved a sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola, who was looking for a spokesman of their own after Pepsi inked a deal with Michael Jackson in 1987. “Before that deal, no music stars did corporate tie-ins,” Lewis said. “Coca-Cola asked to have a meeting. We flew to Atlanta,” where the soft drink’s executives touted Lewis’s soaring Q score that measured likability. “They offered us millions of dollars [to use] ‘The Heart of Rock & Roll’ in a commercial. I said no,” Lewis said. “Stupid.” His second regret? After meeting him during the recording of “We Are The World,” Dylan sent Lewis a song. He turned it down. “I should have cut it. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Lewis said.
Speaking of “We Are the World,” Lewis ended up singing a line meant for Prince at the star-studded recording session after Prince didn’t show. Producer Quincy Jones asked to see Lewis. “Quincy then said, ‘Smelly, come over here.’ That was his nickname for Michael Jackson because Michael was so clean. Michael Jackson sang [Prince’s] line to me. I sang it back and that’s how I got the part.”