Arts·Q with Tom Power

How losing his passport in Spain kickstarted Huey Lewis's career

The musician continues to make music despite battling hearing loss. His new musical, The Heart of Rock and Roll, is now on Broadway.

The musician continues to make music despite battling hearing loss

Headshot of Huey Lewis against a plain white background.
Musician Huey Lewis has taken his music to Broadway with the new jukebox musical The Heart of Rock and Roll. (Brian Ach/Invision/AP)

When Huey Lewis snuck onto a plane to Europe after high school, he knew he wanted to busk around the continent playing his harmonica.

But the leader of Huey Lewis and the News didn't know that a lost passport would lead to the beginning of his musical success.

"It's a long story, but the guy I got a ride with, had a little too much to drink and drove the car with his trailer into a pond," Lewis tells Q's Tom Power. "My passport somehow floated out of my knapsack and disappeared."

Lewis needed $25 (around $200 in today's money) for the American embassy to issue him a new passport. He was busking in Seville at the time, and befriended some students who were thrilled to meet a real-life San Francisco hippy (it was a new phenomenon and Lewis hails from Oakland). They offered to throw him a concert to help him raise the funds.

Two weeks later, Lewis performed with his harmonica, alongside an Australian guitar player. When they started to play, the whole crowd went silent.

"I'm thinking to myself, 'Ooh, we are dying here,'" he says.

But once they finished their song, the crowd went wild.

"I'll never forget that feeling," Lewis says. "A light went off. I said: 'This is what I'm going to try to do.'"

Huey Lewis and the News then became a massive success in 1983, after the release of their album Sports. The album features hit songs such as The Heart of Rock & Roll and Heart and Soul.

"We knew we needed a hit," Lewis says. "We didn't know we were going to have five of them."

The success of Sports brought the band commercial success, sold-out shows and Grammy nominations. But it also gave the band freedom to make any kind of music they want.

"Since that time, I can honestly say we never did anything for commercial purposes," Lewis says.

In 2018, Lewis was diagnosed with Ménière's disease, an inner ear disorder which causes significant hearing loss. He can sing in-tune to himself, but he can't find the pitch in anything that he hears.

WATCH | The Broadway cast of The Heart of Rock and Roll perform the title track: 

Yet Lewis continues to create music. He helped produce The Heart of Rock and Roll, a new Broadway musical based on music from Huey Lewis and the News. The show follows Bobby, a former rocker turned assembly line worker at a cardboard box factory. The songs of Huey Lewis and the News accompany him as he figures out his futures.

He even wrote an original song for the show, Be Someone, that introduces Bobby and his hopes and aspirations to the audience.

"It's really the centrepiece of our show," Lewis says.

But with his hearing loss, he had to get creative about writing his song. Lewis thought up a chord progression, sang the melody and then wrote the words. His hearing doesn't allow him to create a demo, so he enlisted the help of his co-writer, Johnny Colla. Lewis recorded himself on his phone singing the chords, the melody and the words. Colla then cleaned it up and created the demo.

"It's been a salvation for me," Lewis says. "It's given me something to stay creative and to work on and keep my mind off my lousy hearing loss."

The full interview with Huey Lewis is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview with Huey Lewis produced by Sabina Wex.


Sabina Wex is a writer and producer from Toronto.