During their 1980s heyday, frontman Huey Lewis brought soul to a string of pop-rock hits generated by his band, the News, including the No. 1 singles "Power of Love," "Stuck with You" and "Jacob's Ladder," as well as the Top 10 tracks "I Want a New Drug," "If This Is It" and "The Heart of Rock-n-Roll." Lewis and his bandmates were veterans of the San Francisco music scene for over a decade before finally scoring their first charting single with "Do You Believe in Love" in 1982, but their genuine breakthrough came a year later with Sports (1983), which reached multi-platinum status, thanks to the band's blend of goodtime bar band rock and Motown-flecked R&B. "The Power of Love," from the 1985 film "Back to the Future," marked their first trip to the top of the pop charts, while Fore! yielded two more No. 1s before changing tastes in rock left their careers deflated in the early 1990s grunge era. Lewis enjoyed a second career as a supporting actor in features like "Short Cuts" (1995) and "Duets" (2000), while continuing to spread the gospel of rock and soul with the News at concerts throughout the United States. A powerhouse singer who straddled the pop, rock and R&B world with equal ease, Huey Lewis remained one of the most successful and beloved artists of the 1980s.
Born Hugh Anthony Cregg III on July 5, 1950 in New York City, Huey Lewis was the son of Hugh Anthony Cregg, Jr., a doctor, and his wife, Magda. The family relocated to Marin County, CA soon after Lewis was born, but his parents split during his early teens, which required him to attend High School in New Jersey. A solid student in math, he was accepted to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, but developed a taste for the itinerant, rock and roll lifestyle while hitchhiking across the country. By the time he arrived at Cornell, Lewis had lost interest in higher education and dropped out to return to the San Francisco area in an attempt to break into the music business. In 1971, he joined the roots-rock act Clover, which included journeyman musician John McFee and Alex Call, who later penned "Perfect World" for Huey Lewis and the News and "867-5309/Jenny" for Tommy Tutone. Clover's limited success in the Bay Area scene prompted a move to Los Angeles, where they were encouraged by Nick Lowe to move to the U.K. Their tenure across the Atlantic earned an equally tepid response, despite two albums produced by future hitmaker Robert John "Mutt" Lange.
By this time, Lewis, who had adopted the stage monikers "Hughie Louis" and later "Huey Louis," recorded a harmonica track on Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous (1978) LP and penned "Bad is Bad" for Dave Edmunds, while Clover, without Lewis, backed Elvis Costello on several tracks from his debut album, My Aim is True. Clover disbanded upon their return to the United States in 1978, but Lewis and keyboardist Sean Hopper continued to perform together in the Bay Area. Together, they formed a new group, American Express, with drummer Bill Gibson, bassist Mario Cipollina and guitarist-saxophonist Johnny Colla, three members of a rival group called Soundhole that had earned a degree of fame for briefly backing Van Morrison. The group recorded "Exo-Disco," a dance version of the "Theme from Exodus," that failed upon release by Phonogram Records in 1979. Despite this setback, the group successfully transitioned to Chrysalis Records the following year, shortly after adopting "Huey Lewis and the News" as their name after the credit card company threatened legal action. A self-titled studio album failed to find an audience in 1980, but its follow-up, Picture This (1982), yielded a Top 10 pop hit with "Do You Believe in Love," which kept the record on the Billboard 200 for nearly three months. The band built up a solid following by touring relentlessly behind the record, which helped to generate major sales for their next and biggest-selling album.
Sports (1983) shot to multi-platinum status on the strength of four singles - "I Want a New Drug," "Heart and Soul," "If This is It" and "The Heart of Rock & Roll - all of which broke into the Top 10, thanks, in part, to Lewis's blue-eyed soul delivery and handsome sex appeal to female fans. At peak of his fame, he briefly made headlines for filing a lawsuit against singer-guitarist Ray Parker, Jr. over alleged similarities between his theme for "Ghostbusters" (1984) and the News single "I Want a New Drug." The case was settled out of court, after which Lewis produced Nick Lowe's 1985 take on "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)" and several tracks on Bruce Hornsby & The Range's The Way It Is (1986) before scoring a No. 1 hit with "The Power of Love," which received an Oscar nomination as part of the soundtrack for the blockbuster "Back to the Future" (1985). Lewis also contributed a cameo in the film as a hopelessly square schoolteacher who cut off Michael J. Fox's version of the song during a talent contest for it being played too loud.
The following year, Lewis and the News repeated the success of Sports with Fore! (1986), another chart-topping album with two No. 1 pop singles in "Stuck with You" and "Jacob's Ladder" as well as an additional three Top 10 tracks. A lengthy tour followed its release, after which the band returned to the studio to release their fifth album, Small World (1988), which failed to break into the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 and generated just one Top 10 hit with "Perfect World." After three straight albums of pop-rock, the band's experiment with jazz elements failed to pay off, signaling that Lewis' time at the top of the charts was coming to an end. Their sixth release, Hard at Play (1991), underscored their dwindling fortunes by failing to generate any Top 10 hits. Lewis and the News changed labels several times before settling with Elektra for Four Chords & Several Years Ago (1994), a collection of early R&B and soul hits that rose no higher than No. 55 on the albums chart.
As the band settled into its new status as a touring act, Lewis proved surprisingly effective as a character actor in several major motion pictures, including Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" (1993) and Barry Levinson's science fiction thriller "Sphere" (1998). His most substantial role was in Bruce Paltrow's comedy-drama "Duets" (2000) as a small-time hustler on the karaoke circuit who is reunited with his long-lost daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow). His rendition of the Smokey Robinson classic "Cruisin'," performed with Paltrow, became a Top 10 hit on the U.S. adult contemporary charts while topping the pop lists in Australia and New Zealand. Lewis also remained remarkably active with the News, playing over 50 dates a year while continuing to release albums, including the 2004 concert album Live at 25, which celebrated the band's quarter-century anniversary, and Soulsville (2010), which paid tribute to the legendary Stax Records.
By Paul Gaita