TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: The Song That Changed My Life: Huey Lewis

The Song That Changed My Life is a segment that gives us the chance to talk with some of our favorite artists about the music that made them who they are today. This time around, we’re joined by a true legend – Huey Lewis. In an era dominated by new wave, glam rock and hair metal Huey Lewis stood out with his bluesy pub-rock. He helped define pop music in the 80’s. Huey Lewis and the News had a run of hit singles during the 80’s and early 90’s. Their most successful album, “Sports,” was released in 1983. It’s one of our favorites here at Bullseye. Huey Lewis explains how Count Basie and Joe Williams’ “Alright, Okay, You Win” helped him visualize his career as a singer. Huey Lewis and the News are back with their first album in nearly a decade. Their latest release “Weather” is out now.

Guests: Huey Lewis

Transcript

music

Gentle, trilling music with a steady drumbeat plays under the dialogue.

promo

Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

jesse thorn

I’m Jesse Thorn. It’s Bullseye.

music

“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team. A fast, upbeat, peppy song. Music plays as Jesse speaks, then fades out.

jesse

Time now for The Song That Changed My Life—where we talk with some of our favorite artists about the music that made them who they are. This next one, I know I am very excited about. He’s an important artist from my own youth. He is a hero to all of us native to the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a favorite of my best friend Pete’s dad, Mark. [“Huddle Formation” fades out to be replaced by “If This is It”.] I’m talking, of course—that last clue probably gave it away—about Huey Lewis.

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“If This is It” from the album Sports by Huey Lewis & The News. …Than never believe If this is it Please let me know If this ain’t love You’d better let me go If this is it (Ooh-wap) I want to know If this ain’t love, baby Just say so You’ve been thinking… [Music fades out as Jesse begins to speak.]

jesse

Huey Lewis—and, specifically, his 1983 album, Sports—helped define pop music in the 1980s. Defining pop music wasn’t the goal, though. When Huey Lewis came home from a stint playing pub rock in England, in the ‘70s, he just wanted to start a local R&B group with his pals. A party band. And for 40 years, that’s what Huey Lewis & The News have been: close to the apotheosis of something-for-everyone, good-time music. Whether they’re playing in stadiums with six figure crowds or sweaty rock clubs or state fairs. But a couple years ago, Huey Lewis’s life changed dramatically. He’d only been able to hear in one ear for quite some time. But one day, backstage at a show, he realized that all he could hear was crazy noise. Like a construction site that never quit. He found out he had something called Ménière’s disease: an untreatable disorder of the inner ear. In the years since, it has ebbed and flowed, but he’s been kept off the road for quite some time, hoping for treatment that will help him sing onstage again. [Music fades in.] But is this the end of Huey Lewis? No way. The News have a new record, in a nod to their 1983 class, Sports. It’s called Weather.

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“Her Love is Killin’ Me” from the album Weather, by Huey Lewis & The News. Can’t eat, I can’t sleep I’m so nervous, I can’t keep the beat I can’t run, I can’t hide And I damn sure can’t keep her satisfied Drifting and drifting like a ship at sea Her love is killing me Burning hot, a big flame… [Music fades out as Jesse speaks.]

jesse

When we heard about the new album, we invited Huey to come back on the show and tell us about the song that changed his life. His answer takes us way back to his childhood, growing up in Northern California. And the song is Count Basie and Joe Williams, “All Right, OK, You Win”. Here’s Huey Lewis.

huey lewis

Hi, everyone. I’m Huey Lewis, and this is the song that changed my life.

music

“All Right, OK, You Win” from the album Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings by Count Basie and Joe Williams opens with a brassy flare. [The music continues quietly underneath Huey as he speaks.]

huey

First time I heard the song, “It’s All Right, OK, You Win” was with my dad, at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I think it was probably 1962. I was—I was 12 years old, so I was already playing the harmonica, a little bit. You know, just barely. And I was listening to my dad’s jazz collection. So, my dad always liked big band jazz, but he never liked the singers. [Chuckles.] So, he would just play the big band jazz instrumental stuff. Benny Goodman and Jimmie Lunceford and stuff like that. Well, when I went to see this concert, Count Basie was playing. And my dad was super excited about that, so he said, “Look, you’re gonna see the great Count Basie.” So, we saw Count Basie, and then they brought out Joe Williams and sang “All Right, OK, You Win”. And that’s the first time I’d seen a singer, you know, with a big band, live like that. And he was amazing. I didn’t know I could sing. I’d never even thought I could sing. I hadn’t even thought about singing! Until I saw Joe Williams with the Basie band.

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[“All Right, OK, You Win” swells in volume again.] All that I am asking All I want from you Just love me like I love you And it won’t be hard to do [Music drops in volume as Huey begins speaking again.]

huey

I had been to a few other jazz concerts—jazz and philharmonic at the Oakland Coliseum. When my dad first mentioned that we were gonna go to the Monterey Jazz Festival, frankly I wasn’t all that excited. And my dad was very excited about it. But I just heard this music and I had no idea what it was gonna look like or—I didn’t know, really, what to expect. And it was a long trip down there and, you know, I wasn’t that—it was kind of something I did for my dad, to be honest. Initially. But the Monterey Jazz Festival was an unbelievable festival, in that it was really an important jazz festival. And it’s the first time I’d seen any of this jazz music live. I’d heard it on my dad’s, you know—at home, a lot. But when I saw it, live, it was just amazing to me. Basie’s band was all in maroon suits. And then Big Joe Williams comes out in a black suit, just dressed to the teeth with rings and his jewelry going and singing. And had his hair perfect. And, I mean, he was so handsome, and his voice was so beautiful. I was just knocked out. I was just knocked out. I remember, I thought to myself, “That’s what I wanna do!”

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[“All Right, OK, You Win” swells in volume.] You win! Baby what can I do? I’ll do anything you say

huey

[Speaking over the music.] And listen to how he swings the lyric. It’s so good.

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Well, alright, well, okay, you win. I’m in love with you Well, alright... [Music drops in volume as Huey continues.]

huey

His time is just impeccable. It’s a blues tune, really, at its core. And it was kind of an eye into rock and roll, if you will. It’s—it’s kind of a bridge to rock and roll. And that’s interesting, when you think about Basie. Because Count Basie was, you know, one of the great band leaders and he came from—came out of Kansas City. And they were the big noise out of Kansas City, and everybody knew they just played faster and swung harder than anybody else on the planet. And especially this song. If you think of it, the intro is actually a guitar riff.

music

The opening notes of “All Right, OK, You Win” play again.

huey

[Humming along over the music.] Da-dum, dada-dadun-dada-dadun. But, listen, that’s almost a guitar riff! [Music gets softer.] And that’s a lot of what Basie did. They would orchestrate these otherwise country blues tunes and orchestrate them for big band—for 18 pieces. And play them at breakneck speeds, and they would just swing so hard! You couldn’t help but tap your feet.

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[Music increases in volume.] Well, alright, okay, you win! Baby, what can I do? [Music decreases in volume as Huey speaks.]

huey

The thing that sets Joe Williams apart—first place, he had a gorgeous voice. He’s a gorgeous baritone. But he swings so hard, again. It’s the rhythm. It’s the time! It’s just the pocket that he sings, that he puts that lyric in—just pushes the rhythm of the song as well. I mean, the whole thing is like one big rocket ship ride, you know? And I mean, that’s dance music. In those days, that was dance music. You know, you just couldn’t sit still.

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[Music increases in volume.] … okay, you win! I’m in love with you… [Music decrease in volume as Huey speaks.]

huey

See how he’s kind of just in back of the beat, a little bit? In a wonderful way! And that was always great. Never rush. Always stay back.

music

[Music swells.] Anything you say, I’ll do! [Music quiets as Huey speaks.]

huey

Dig that? [Singing] Anything you say, I’ll do. [Speaking.] So good.

music

[Music swells.] First thing in the morning, You got to wake me with a kiss… [Music quiets as Huey speaks.]

huey

This led me to blues, and I started listening to Little Walter, Ray Charles, Sonny Boy Williamson—‘cause I’m a harmonica player—and became kind of a blues snob. But this was the first thing that I heard that turned me on to all that. I hadn’t listened to the song for a long time, until I thought of it. You said, “What’s the song that changed your life?” I could have actually picked a few. But this is the first one—the first spark that I had that I wanted to be a singer was Joe Williams and the Basie band.

music

[Music swells.] … okay, you win Well, alright… [Music quiets as Huey speaks.]

huey

After the concert, on the way home—first of all, I was instantly a Joe Williams fan. I remember, my dad said, “How’d you like Count Basie?” I said, “How ‘bout that Joe Williams?!”

music

[Music swells.] Baby, let me take your hand Alright, okay, you win [Song ends with a resounding crescendo.]

huey

He ends on a five chord. It’s kinda cool. Really cool. What a great record.

jesse

Huey Lewis on the song that changed his life, “All Right, OK, You Win” by Count Basie and Joe Williams. [Music fades in.] Huey Lewis & The News’ new album, Weather, drops on Valentine’s Day, this year. Let’s hear another track off of it. This one’s called, “While We’re Young”.

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“While We’re Young” from the album Weather by Huey Lewis & The News. (Oooh) Do you remember when, not so long ago All we had was time And the future was the last thing on our minds What a time Now here we are, getting older Wondering what will be Life is short Let’s take advantage of every opportunity While we’re young Let’s go out and have some fun Ooh baby, while we’re young Let’s go back and give it some

music

Laid back transition music plays.

jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is produced at MaximumFun.org world headquarters, overlooking MacArthur Park in beautiful Los Angeles, California—where some local teens were spotted by my colleague Daniel, playing on the barge that’s in the lake. I’m told—it says here on this paper—folks around the office are calling them The Barge Boys. The show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our producer is Kevin Ferguson. Jesus Ambrosio is our associate producer. We got help from Casey O’Brien. Our production fellows are Jordan Kauwling and Kristen Bennett. Welcome to Kristen! Great to have her here, in the office. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. He makes all those beats for the show and if you go over to Bandcamp, you can find a compilation he made of music from Bullseye that you can buy on a pay-what-you-will basis. And you can listen to it while you’re studying, or whatever. Freestyling. Whatever you want. Our theme song is by The Go! Team. Our thanks to The Go! Team and to their label, Memphis Industries, for letting us use it. And one last thing: there are decades of interviews in the annals of Bullseye and its predecessor, The Sound of Young America. They’re all on our website, MaximumFun.org. We have a whole interview with Huey Lewis! And it is a great interview. He talks about stowing away on an airplane to Europe, which apparently was something you could do, in the ‘70s. He has an incredible history, Huey Lewis—very important in the pub rock movement, in addition to being one of the defining stars of 1980s pop. We are also on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Just search for Bullseye with Jesse Thorn and keep up with the show there. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature sign off.

promo

Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

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