Born Hugh Anthony Cregg III, July 5, 1951, in New York, NY; son of Hugh Anthony, Jr. (a radiologist and musician), and Magda Cregg; married Sidney Conroy (a secretary), 1983; children: Kelly, Austin. Education: Attended Cornell University, 1968. Addresses: Record company-- Capitol-EMI Records, 1750 North Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028.
Huey Lewis and his band the News are perhaps best described as the working man's Top 40 group. With their hard-driving rock and roll, catchy songs, and brisk a capella harmony, the band members have placed 16 songs in the Top Ten on the pop charts since 1982. Some of their most memorable hits include "I Want a New Drug," "Heart of Rock and Roll," "If This Is It," and "The Power of Love." Success came slowly for the California-based group, but since selling more than eight million copies of their 1983 album Sports, they have enjoyed superstar status in the United States and abroad.
People magazine contributor Roger Wolmuth wrote about Huey Lewis and the News, "No matter that the band's message has all the depth of Huey's chin dimple, or that its bouncy good-time sound seems straight out of rock 'n' roll's archives. Echoes of street corner doo-wop singing and urban gospel, of '50s rockabilly and '80s rock blend together like primary colors." The critic added that Lewis and his companions hardly fit the hard rocker mold with their short haircuts and shirt-and-jeans attire. "With Lewis," concluded Wolmuth, "there are only the chiseled good-guy looks and slap-on-the-back chumminess that make him seem as comfy as a cardigan to his fans. Think of him as an aging high school jock, a favorite drinking buddy or that lovable lug of an older brother."
Huey Lewis was given the unlikely name of Hugh Anthony Cregg III. Only the name was conservative, however. Lewis was born in 1951 to a set of parents who were a generation ahead of the bohemian revolution. A graduate of Duke University, his father gave up medical studies to play drums in a jazz band. His mother was a Polish refugee who was drawn to both jazz music and beatnik poetry.
After Lewis was born in New York City, the family moved west to Mill Valley, California, where the elder Lewis completed his medical studies and worked as a radiologist. Young Huey grew up in a racially mixed community where drug experimentation and a love of rock music went hand-in-hand. Lewis's own musical tastes leaned to the early hillbilly rock of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. He also loved rhythm and blues and taught himself how to play the harmonica.
When Lewis was 12 his parents divorced. Partly in order to remove him from the heady atmosphere of Mill Valley, Huey's father sent him to Lawrenceville Academy, a conservative boarding school in southern New Jersey. Lewis earned honor roll grades there, especially in math, but refused to conform to the school's strict codes of behavior. "I really hated prep school when I first got there," he recalled in Rolling Stone. "I couldn't believe there were people from everywhere in the world and they had the same tie on. I never was very cool. I didn't really distinguish myself at all, really."
Lewis's math grades were so high that he was accepted into a prestigious program at Cornell University. He graduated from high school at the age of 16--he had skipped a grade--and wanted to play baseball for the summer. Instead, his father persuaded him to fly to Europe. For three months in 1968 he used a rail pass and the youth hostel system to see much of Spain, Portugal, and Italy. When money ran low, he would earn pocket change "busking" his harmonica on street corners. "Europe taught me I could live on my own," he remarked in Rolling Stone. "From that day on, I decided I was never gonna work for anybody."
Lewis lasted only one semester at Cornell, and by late 1968 he found himself back in the San Francisco Bay area, jamming with old Mill Valley friends and trying to make good in a rock band. He called himself Huey Louie and in 1972 joined the soft-rock band Clover. The band also boasted future News member Sean Hopper and future Doobie Brothers member John McFee.
Lewis told Rolling Stone that Clover had the talent but perhaps pressed too hard for success. "We kept trying to sound like a big-time rock band," he said. Nevertheless, the manager of the British group Dr. Feelgood caught a Clover show at the Palomino Club and offered the group a recording contract in England. Clover cut several albums in Great Britain, but none sold well. Disappointed, the members came back to San Francisco and went their separate ways.
In Lewis's case, the breakup of Clover meant a shift back to the minor leagues. He organized a Monday night jam session at a Marin County club called Uncle Charlie's. Lewis recruited more old friends, all of whom had been working with semisuccessful rock bands, and soon the personnel for a new group began to take shape. The musicians were lifted out of obscurity when Nick Lowe turned a Lewis line--"what looks best on you is me"--into a song. Lewis declined royalty payments and accepted a flight to London instead. There he and his companions cut a parody tune, "Exodisco," based on the theme from the motion picture Exodus.
By that time Lewis and his friends were calling themselves American Express. The U.K.-based Chrysalis Records offered them a recording contract but insisted upon a name change. The group became Huey Lewis and the News, and their first album was released in 1980. That work, Huey Lewis and the News, was recorded in three weeks. It briefly held a spot on the charts but soon faltered. The executives at Chrysalis were confident, however, and they gave the go-ahead for another album. Picture This hit the stores in 1982 and yielded the group's first Top 40 hits, "Workin' for a Livin'," "Do You Believe in Love," and "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do."
Huey Lewis and the News broke through as headliners with the 1983 album Sports. Most of the tracks were written by Lewis or other band members, and the work produced an astonishing number of hits. The News made the Top Ten with "Heart and Soul," "I Want a New Drug," "Heart of Rock and Roll," and "If This Is It." The long-form video of "Heart of Rock and Roll" won a Grammy Award, and Lewis was invited to join other talented artists for the "We Are the World" project, which yielded a single and video to aid famine relief in Ethiopia.
The group's next album, Fore!, was greeted with high expectations. It too produced such Top 40 hits as "Stuck with You" and "Hip to Be Square." The News also contributed two songs to the popular film Back to the Future, including the chart-topping "Power of Love," which earned an Oscar nomination for best song of 1986.
This period of dizzying success was followed by a fallow time. The News' 1988 album, Small World, their most experimental work to date, featured Bruce Hornsby, the Tower of Power Horns, and the late jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. It failed to sell well, however, and Lewis and his band changed record labels and took a three-year hiatus to work on their next release.
Hard at Play, the News's first Capitol-EMI recording, was issued in 1991. The group went back to work on tour to help promote the album, appearing in the United States and Europe. Hard at Play went platinum in sales, but the venues that Huey Lewis and the News were playing in the early 1990s were not as vast as they once were. The group can be heard at Houston rodeos and at the New Orleans Jazz Festival rather than in arenas that seat many thousands. Lewis commented in the Akron Beacon Journal, "I enjoy our new profile. It's a little lower than it was in 1984, '85 and '86. Now it's just about the music and the show, you know? It's nice not being the bee's knees. It's fabulous. We have our fans. They come to see us play--and that's it. I love it. It's all I ever really wanted." The musician concluded, "I didn't want to be the talk of the town. I wanted to have a nice, successful band--and that's what we've got going."
Lewis has cautioned would-be musicians to make music for the love of it, and not for any fame that might come. "I never did this to make it," he declared in Rolling Stone. "Period. Neither fame nor fortune. And I didn't do this to get girls either. The real reason I did this was because when I was growing up, being in a great band looked like the coolest thing in the world. And you know what? It is the coolest thing in the world."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Huey Lewis's Career Singer, songwriter, and harmonica player. Performed and recorded with group Clover, 1972-77; formed band American Express, 1978; changed group name to Huey Lewis and the News and signed with Chrysalis Records, 1978; scored first Top Ten hit, "Do You Believe in Love," 1982; signed with Capitol-EMI Records, 1988.
Huey Lewis's Awards Grammy Award for long-form video, 1986, for "Heart of Rock and Roll"; Academy Award nomination for best song, 1986, for "The Power of Love"; with the News, named International Artists of the Year, British Phonographic Industry, 1986; with others, Grammy Award for "We Are the World"; several platinum albums.
Selective Works With Clover; released in Great Britain Clover 1977. Unavailable 1977. Love on the Wire 1977. With the News Huey Lewis and the News Chrysalis, 1980. Picture This Chrysalis, 1982. Sports (includes "I Want a New Drug," "Heart of Rock and Roll," "Heart and Soul," and "If This Is It"), Chrysalis, 1983. (With others) Back to the Future (soundtrack; includes "Power of Love"), 1985. Fore! (includes "Stuck With You" and "Hip to Be Square"), Chrysalis, 1986. Small World Chrysalis, 1988. Hard at Play Capitol-EMI, 1991. Best of Chrysalis, 1992. Contributor to the single and video "We Are the World," 1984.
Further Reading Books
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC-CLIO, 1991. Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, St. Martin's, 1989. Periodicals Akron Beacon Journal (OH), July 19, 1991; July 20, 1991. Desert News (Salt Lake City, UT), January 3, 1992. Houston Post, February 20, 1992. Newsweek, November 3, 1986. People, January 19, 1987. Rolling Stone, September 13, 1984; November 20, 1986; July 14, 1988.