“We’ve had a little bit of weather these last couple of years, so it seemed appropriate,” commented Huey Lewis during a recent TV interview on NBC’s Today show when asked about the title of his new album with The News. “Besides,” he jokingly added, “‘Business’ didn’t ring right” – unlike Sports, the band’s best-selling third studio album from September 1983, which catapulted them to international stardom and brought them on my radar screen at the time. While undoubtedly radio-friendly pop, I think many of their songs are well-crafted, and I like them to this day.
Weather, which was released last Friday, marks the first new Huey Lewis and The News album with original material in 19 years since Plan B from July 2001. In October 2010, the band released a well-executed record of Stax soul covers. Usually, a new record with original material would be a reason to celebrate, and during the above Today interview, Lewis said they are proud of it. But the news has been a mixed bag for him over the past couple of years.
In April 2018, Lewis revealed he essentially had lost his hearing due to an inner ear condition called Ménière’s disease, which forced him to cancel all upcoming shows. While he was diagnosed with the disorder 33 years ago after he had lost 80 percent of hearing in his right ear, he continued his career, relying on his left ear. That worked well until two years ago when he lost hearing in that ear as well.
Lewis’s condition fluctuates, and with the help of a hearing aid, he has some hearing most of the time. But it hasn’t allowed him to perform since he can’t find pitch. If you’re Peter Frampton and lose your ability to play guitar due to a neurological disorder impacting the feeling in your fingers, that’s pretty bleak; but at least you can still hear. Though Frampton is a guitarist first and foremost, so perhaps it was not surprising he decided to bow out with a still-ongoing farewell tour while still being on top of his game. But losing your hearing? I can’t possibly think of a more cruel fate for a musician.
Lewis and his band had worked on Weather for quite some time. They managed to record seven tracks until he lost hearing in his left ear. All of this translates into about 26 minutes. Let’s get to some music.
Here’s the Her Love Is Killing Me, a feelgood tune you could well imagine on one of the band’s ’80s albums like Fore. In fact, it does remind me a bit of Hip to be Square. That’s not a coincidence. According to an AP story, the tune “is nearly that old, having been written back when guitarist Chris Hayes was still in the band.”
Next up: Hurry Back Baby, co-written by Lewis and News co-founding member Bill Gibson (drums, percussion, backing vocals), who remains with the band to this day. The tune’s combination of rock guitar, horns and organ make for another classic Huey Lewis and The News sound.
Remind Me Why I Love You Again is another fun tune with a good groove. The horns give it a nice soul feeling. The track is credited to Lewis, Gibson and two other News co-founding members: Johnny Colla (rhythm guitar, saxophone, backing vocals) and Hays (lead guitar, backing vocals). Like Gibson, Colla is still part of The News. Hayes left in 2000, an indication this song at least in part must have been written more than 20 years ago.
The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer One of the Boys. The track stands out for two reasons. Essentially, it’s a country song, the first I recall hearing from the band. As reported by Billboard, Lewis had been commissioned to write it for Willie Nelson. But what is really striking to me are the lyrics, especially in light of Lewis’ current condition.
Well, I remember way back when
I must’ve been 9 or 10
When I saw my very first band
Playing a little Dixieland
Yeah, I knew immediately
That’s where I wanted to be
With them boys up on the stand
Playin’ in a honky-tonk band
One of the boys
Making beautiful noise
Playing with my friends
Until the music ends
One of the boys
Well, it’s plain to see, I got my wish
And I’ve been lucky ever since then
And one day, I’m meeting my maker
I don’t know where or when
But I still love the gypsy life
Yeah, I’m still havin’ fun
And though I ain’t gettin’ any younger, I’m a
Long way from done…
In spite of everything, Lewis seems to have come to grips with his situation. “First of all, you can kind of get used to almost anything,” he told NPR. “And number two, I remind myself that there’s lots of people that are worse off than I am … I’m still, overall, a lucky guy.” The same segment and other reports I’ve seen noted Lewis did not always have such a positive attitude. Initially, he was pretty devastated over his hearing loss and considered taking his own life.
Nowadays, Lewis projects a hopeful outlook. “I’m hoping to recover my hearing so we can get the band back together and play live, but can’t right now, and I can’t tell you that I’m certain that I ever will again,” he said during the above NPR interview. “In the meantime, I’m staying as creative as I can.” This involves what has become popular among an increasing number of music artists who are in the twilight of their careers: work on a Broadway musical. In the case of Huey Lewis, it’s The Heart of Rock & Roll, with Tony Award-winning producer Hunter Arnold. He told the Today hosts they will bring it to Broadway next season.
Sources: Wikipedia; NBC Today; Associated Press; Billboard; YouTube