In the 1980s, Huey Lewis was one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, dominating MTV, winning two Grammys, landing an Oscar nomination and selling tons of albums.
Yet deep inside, Lewis, 60, always wanted to be a soul singer. He got his wish with “Soulsville,” a cover album featuring songs by legends such as Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes.
amNY spoke with Lewis.
Why did you decide to record an album of old soul songs?
It was my manager’s idea initially. Rather than modern interpretations of old classics, we went deeper into the catalog and faithfully captured songs most people hadn’t heard before.
Was it daunting to cover these classics?
I was extremely apprehensive at first — it’s Otis Redding, for chrissakes. We worked it up and it sounded pretty good. The version on the album is the first take, with no overdubs or fixes. It was almost as if the soul gods were saying “It’s OK, you can make this record.”
How did you go from being a soul-music junkie to a pop star?
In the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was no Internet; there was just Top 40 radio. You needed to have a hit or you couldn’t make records. You had to do it to keep the band alive.
Do you still like playing your old hits?
I love playing those songs, as long as we don’t have to do it too much. Playing “The Heart of Rock and Roll” is the most fun thing in the world — just not 200 nights a year.
Do you have a favorite memory of playing in New York?
I have lots of them. When I was in a band called Clover, we played the Bottom Line in front of [music industry mogul] Clive Davis, and we were terrible. I can still see the expression on his face. A few years later, we sold out three nights in a row at Madison Square Garden.
If you go: Huey Lewis and the News are performing at the Gramercy Theatre Wednesday at 8. 127 E. 23rd St., 212-777-6800, $49-$89