For people coming up in the 1980s, Huey Lewis & The News was one of the biggest things going. But who knew that Lewis was a harmonica player with Thin Lizzy, and that he jammed nightly with Stevie Ray Vaughan on tour in 1984?
The News, with Vaughn and Double Trouble opening, came to the building once known as Roanoke Civic Center in 1984. I wasn't around in those days, but when the word that Huey Lewis & The News was returning to Roanoke (for the first time since 1987), I heard from a few people that Vaughan, a magnificent blues-rocker who died in a 1990 post-concert helicopter crash, had opened for Lewis.
My own research on Lewis revealed the Thin Lizzy connection. I'm sure really hardcore rockers know that! This was new to me, so I had to ask him about both rock icons when we spoke last week.
Here's what he had to say about them both.
In the 1970s, Lewis was in Europe, working on his craft there with a West Coast band called Clover, which included future Doobie Brother John McFee and Lewis' soon-to-be-News bandmate, keyboardist Sean Hopper.
Check out "Baby Drives Me Crazy," from the band's "Live and Dangerous" album. That's Lewis playing mouth harp.
Here are Lewis' recollections of that time, and Lynott in particular.
"That was the greatest hard rock band that I ever saw in my life. Wow. They were unbelievable.
"And Phillip, he was just an amazing guy. He was a teacher, and he had humor, and he had heart, and yet he was a hard-ass rocker. He had all that going. He was an amazing man. He taught me a ton. I learned everything, not musically, but how to run a band, how to treat fellow musicians, promoters, the record label, publicists, interviews, wardrobe. He dressed me out of his closet, Phillip would.
"And stage stuff, like move, Huey. [Impersonating Lynott's Irish accent] 'My mother saw you in Leeds, and she said you weren’t movin’. Move, Huey!'
"He was the greatest man. Phillip Lynott was the greatest. He was my teacher. He liked me a lot for some crazy reason and just took my under his wing. I lived with him for a minute, and then we were on tour for a long time. He taught me everything."
Stevie Ray Vaughan
From The Roanoke Times, August 1984:
> "A double dose of rock — Huey Lewis and Stevie Ray Vaughan — came to the Roanoke Civic Center last night. It was as fine a double bill as Western Virginia has seen in a long time."
Lewis said he was among Vaughan's first big fans. He knew fellow harmonica man/singer Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Wilson's bandmate, guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. He also had heard that Vaughan had a brother who could burn. So he picked up the SRV debut disc, "Texas Flood."
"Wow, it knocked me out," Lewis said. "I wrote him a little fan letter that he always talked about. I wrote him a little post card that we used to send out for our fan letters. I told him how much I liked his record. He claimed it was one of his first five post cards he got [from a] fan.
"That was when we were having our run. We announced our tour. The tour was pretty much sold out. They asked me, do you have any ideas for opening acts? I said, 'Get Stevie Ray Vaughan.' My agent said, 'who’s that?'" I said, 'Trust me, he's great.'"
By that time, Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble, had released their second album, "Couldn't Stand The Weather." But the band didn't have near the national buzz that Lewis and his hit-making crew did.
The agent said Vaughan's manager wanted too much money. "I said, 'Just pay him. Trust me, you'll like it,'" Lewis said.
They booked the entire tour with Vaughan opening. Lewis remembered the first gig was in Oklahoma City, an outdoor show. When the band pulled up in its bus, Vaughan was already on stage. It was the first time Lewis had heard Vaughan live. "He was playing his ass off," he remembered.
When the song ended, "the crowd goes, 'Ooooooh. Huey, Huey Huey.'
"And I had this amazing sinking feeling, right, this horrible feeling about hating your audience, you know," he said.
It was a rough set for the opener. Vaughan and his band hated it, Lewis said. But "like a bull in a China shop," Lewis went to their bus to say hello. Five minutes or so later, the road manager let the headliner on the bus. Vaughan, drummer Chris "Whipper" Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon were in the rear lounge, bummed.
"I said hey man, you sounded great," Lewis remembered. "You've gotta understand. These people have paid to see me. So no matter how good you are, in the beginning, they're not gonna know. They're just gonna think I'm gonna be better. There's no way they're gonna be openly receptive to you.
"Whatcha gotta do is just forget 'em. Just do your thing and split, and believe me, when they go home, they're gonna say, man, that first act was great. And that's all you can do out here. But you're gonna have fun, and we're gonna have a ball."
A friendship was forged.
"He jammed with us every night. We just hung out. We were thick as thieves for two months, man. It was fantastic."
The run lasted 40 dates.
"People didn't realize how great Stevie Ray Vaughan was until he died."