Given the circumstances, Huey Lewis has a remarkably upbeat attitude. “I’m having a really good day today,” he says, sitting on the balcony of his L.A. hotel room. The beloved rocker — launched to stardom leading his band the News in the early ’80s thanks to their quintuple-hit-spawning, Grammy-winning juggernaut Sports — is here to discuss both his crackerjack new album Weather and learning to live with Ménière’s disease, which causes his hearing to fluctuate from nonexistent to the “really good” he is experiencing on this fall day.
“Usually, it’s episodic,” he explains of the chronic condition for which there is no known cause or cure and with which he’s been dealing since January 2018. “I’ll have maybe a week or two of good, like now, but then it just goes to hell. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
Unsurprisingly, with the onset of the disease, the Bay Area native was despondent. It’s a destructive condition for anyone. For a musician to be unable to hear or perform for uncertain stretches of time or perhaps ever again? That’s a special circle of hell.
“The first two months were just horrible,” he remembers. “Loud tinnitus, couldn’t hear anything. I thought, ‘I might as well kill myself; I can’t do anything.’ It was just tormenting.” But, mercifully, his mood improved, thanks in part to the support of his kids and the reality that “you can get used to anything, it turns out.”
In two years, three weeks has been his longest stretch of “good,” and one week his worst spell of deafness. The unpredictability has made booking gigs impossible. But Lewis flashes a grin on that genial mug — the one that launched a thousand MTV spins (“Heart and Soul,” “Stuck With You,” “If This Is It”) and helped propel Marty McFly back to the future (“The Power of Love”) — and says, “I still have hope.”
To that end, he’s excited to discuss Weather, whose seven tracks manage to evoke the band’s vintage-’80s vibe — sing-along choruses, bar-band brawn, wry humor with the occasional melancholic twist, and Lewis’ familiar rasp — while maintaining a contemporary verve.
Songs such as “While We’re Young,” “Her Love Is Killin’ Me,” and “Remind Me Why I Love You Again,” with their blend of pop, R&B, and rock, would not have sounded out of place on Sports or its hit follow-up, Fore!
“I’ve heard that comment a lot, that it sounds like [back in the day],” says Lewis. “We actually made this record like we made Sports, production-wise, and we haven’t recorded like that since. So maybe that’s some of it.”
There’s also a moving country jaunt, replete with pedal steel, called “One of the Boys,” contentedly recounting a long, lucky life in music. The tune was commissioned by producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, the Highwomen) for an unrealized Willie Nelson album. “I thought, that’s the weirdest thing anybody ever said to me,” Lewis says with a laugh. “Me write a song for Willie Nelson? I didn’t think another thing of it. And I woke up three weeks later with a whole song in my head.”
When the project didn’t materialize, he says, “I thought, that’s too bad, it would’ve been great for Willie. Then I listened to it again and I realized, it’s my life story!”
And that story is very much still a work in progress as Lewis prepares to promote Weather and continues to tinker with a jukebox musical — The Heart of Rock & Roll —he hopes to bring to Broadway. He also has been cheered by the response to his diagnosis. “The empathy from our fans has been amazing. I look at other people who have [medical issues], and I have a lot to be thankful for. In spite of all this, I’m a very lucky guy.”