Marina Chavez
Huey Lewis (right) and the News
Taking things back to the old school with a shot of classic R&B
shot to fame in the 1980s with hits like “The
Heart of Rock & Roll,” “The Power of Love”
and “I Want a New Drug.” With their latest
album, Soulsville, Lewis and company turn
back the clock even further—digging deep
into the Stax catalog and beyond, covering
obscure but wonderful soul nuggets. Working
at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Lewis and his
bandmates captured the authentic sounds
of a classic era. Lewis, 60, told us about his
journey through the musical past.
How did you discover soul music?
I grew up in Marin County, Calif., as did
most of the band, and the soul station
KDIA—sister station of WDIA in Memphis—
was our favorite. We were rebelling against
the psychedelic thing that was going on at
the time. Soul was the first music that really
grabbed me and made me want to sing and
play harmonica. But you need to be careful
with this stuff. It’s singer’s music for sure, and
I wasn’t sure at first that we could pull it off.
How did you choose the songs?
We struggled with that. You have to do an
Otis Redding song, for instance—but that’s
not easy, no matter how good a singer you are.
There’s a commitment there, on Redding’s
part, that’s hard to match. So rather than do
the obvious songs, or try to give instantly
recognizable songs like “Knock on Wood,” “In
the Midnight Hour” or “(Sittin’ on) the Dock
of the Bay” an original interpretation, we
searched out songs people might not have
heard before and recorded them faithfully.
We weren’t concerned with trying to give
them some sort of modern, 2010 twist.
What were the sessions like?
We rehearsed the songs and recorded
them first in our little garage studio, with
the horns and everything, five tunes at a
time. Each rehearsal session took two days.
In the end we decided we should cut the
songs live in the studio with the horns. So
we took everyone to Ardent, and they gave
us Studio A and Studio B to work in. The
horn section was set up in Studio B, with a
camera on our drummer in Studio A, where
the rest of us were. And we did everything
live. Everyone was allowed to do fixes, but
no re-dos! In fact, “Just One More Day,”
the Otis Redding tune, has no overdubs
or fixes at all.
Are overdubs always bad?
There’s nothing wrong with “machined-up”
recordings. [Producer] Mutt Lange is a good
friend of mine, and he makes albums piece
by piece, inch by inch. I don’t like working
that way, but that’s my taste. To my ears,
it sounds too cold, too perfect, too exact
and too slick. I like it funkier. This album is
old school. The songs were recorded pretty
much in the same manner they were recorded
in their day. It’s about microphone placement
and capturing the performances.
What were the ’80s like for you?
There were a couple of years where I really
had my finger on the pulse. I could have
told you which songs were going to be hits
and which ones weren’t. When the Sports
album [1983] came out and “Heart and
Soul” became a big hit, I knew there were
a lot more hits coming for us. I remember
we had a band meeting and talked about
that. We said, “Let’s just enjoy this. You go
from nowhere to everywhere only once in
a lifetime. Let’s have fun.” We enjoyed that
ride. It was a whirlwind, but we consciously
made it a pleasure.
–Russell Hall
‘Soul was the first music that really grabbed
me and made me want to sing.’
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