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Interview:
Huey Lewis & the News go back in time for "Sports' " 30th anniversary
 

By GARY GRAFF
@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

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When Huey Lewis & the News contributed "Back in Time" to the soundtrack of the first "Back to the Future" film, the group didn't realize some time-traveling of a sort lay in its future, too.

This year the San Francisco Bay Area group is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its multi-platinum landmark "Sports" album -- with a special edition of the album and a tour during which Lewis and company are playing the nine-song set in its entirety and giving free entry to anyone who's 30 years old.

The exercise, Lewis says, is also providing a bit of perspective.

"It's an interesting thing, playing a collection of songs from 30 years ago," says Lewis, 62. "There was no Internet, no cell phones, not a lot of personal computers and all that, and the music business was completely different. It feels like a little bit of a time capsule."

It's a trip the band hardly minds taking.

"Sports," Lewis and the News' third album, was released in September of 1983 and worked its way to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 nine months later. It's since gone 10-times platinum and launched five Top 20 singles, four of which -- "Heart and Soul," "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll" and "If This Is It" -- went Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

They were accompanied by energetic, good-humored videos that made the band an MTV favorite, which only increased the News' dominance during the mid-80s.

"Back in the day you wanted your albums to have a theme," Lewis recalls, "and 'Sports' ' theme was really a collection of singles. It was really a record for its time. In the 80s, the way radio was programmed, if you didn't have a hit record you weren't going to be able to make any more records. That was it, period.

"So our priority was to come up with hit singles. Every tune we aimed for radio 'cause we didn't know which one was going to be a hit. We just knew we needed a frickin' hit, period. And fortunately we got 'em."

Though "Sports' " songs came from a variety of sources and circumstances, the road was particularly fruitful for the hard-touring group while it was supporting its ?? album. Writing sessions on the tour bus yielded "I Want a New Drug," for instance, had its start on the tour bus, and so did "The Heart of Rock and Roll," which was inspired, appropriately enough, while the group was rolling out of Cleveland -- which, along with Detroit, is name-checked in the song.

"We'd always heard Cleveland was a great rock 'n' roll town," Lewis recalls. "We're from San Francisco, so how could Cleveland be a great town, a better town than we got, right? But we had a gig there that was just fantastic, so on the bus the next morning, I said to the boys, 'They're right, man -- the heart of rock 'n' roll is in Cleveland.' Everyone said, 'What?!' I said, 'The heart of rock 'n' roll is in Cleveland -- hey, that sounds like a song!' "

Besides the top of the charts, "Sports" took Lewis and the News to arenas and amphitheaters around country and also around the world. The group's hot streak continued with a pair of songs for "Back to the Future" -- "The Power of Love" was its first No. 1 hit -- and another chart-topping, multi-platinum album in 1986's "Fore!"

The 30th anniversary edition of "Sports," meanwhile, features a second disc of live recordings of all of the albums songs, curated by guitarist-saxophonist Johnny Colla and including renditions of "You Crack Me Up" and Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues" that were performed just this year.

"It was a great ride. It really was," Lewis says of the "Sports" experience now. "We had been at it for awhile, all of us. We were not spring chickens. I was 33 years old. My message to the boys was, 'Enjoy this. This is as good as it gets right now. Everybody is rooting for us, and it's going to get pretty crazy.'

"And it did. But we knew it was coming, and we enjoyed the whole thing."

Huey Lewis & the News and 50 Amp Fuse perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 4, at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights. Tickets are $45 and $35 pavilion, $16 lawn and free to anyone who's 30 years old. Call 586-268-9700 or visit www.freedomhill.net

Web Site: www.freedomhill.net

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