Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I want a new drug

Mario Cipollina, the original bassist of Huey Lewis and the News, is in legal trouble again.

The tall, slender, silent Newsman — you remember, the one who always looked like Bowser from Sha Na Na — pleaded not guilty yesterday to felony drug possession charges. His probation officer turned up heroin and methamphetamine at Mario's house during a routine search, the musician having been placed on probation a couple of years back for stealing radio controlled cars from a local store. Cipollina was earlier arrested for drug possession in 1996, shortly after he left the News.

All of which makes Uncle Swan cry, because I loves me some Huey Lewis and the News.

My first exposure to the band came in the summer of 1980. A new waterslide park called Windsor Water Works held its Grand Opening one Saturday in a town just north of here, and Huey Lewis and the News were the featured entertainment. At the time, the band had just released their first album — to general disinterest on the part of the record-buying public — but some friends of mine had heard them on the local club circuit and told me, "Hey, you've gotta go check these guys out." Since the concert was free to park visitors, I made the short trip up the freeway and heard the News.

Immediately, I was hooked. I loved the News' raucous-yet-refined garage-retro sound, anchored by the smoking guitar riffs of Chris "The Kid" Hayes and the rock-steady tempos of drummer Bill Gibson. I loved the acid-washed vocals and bluesy mouth harp of frontman Lewis, surrounded by the tight harmonies of keyboardist Sean Hopper and dual-threat guitar/saxophone man Johnny Colla. I loved the fact that they dared to sing an entire number a cappella (as they later would perform the National Anthem at Candlestick Park before 49ers games). And I loved Mario, who simply stood stock-still amid the chaos — always dressed in black, his eyes always masked behind aviator sunglasses, his pompadour flawlessly coiffured — thumping out the backbeat on his Fender bass.

By the end of the hour, my list of favorite musical acts increased by one.

I next caught the News live again in 1982, while I was pretending to study broadcasting at San Francisco State University. By this time, the band had charted with their first couple of hits and were becoming household names around the Bay Area. (This time, I had to shell out a fin to get into the show. A pittance, even then. As you can see, I still have the ticket stub.)

Fame hadn't changed Huey and the boys one whit. They still looked and sounded like six guys banging out tunes in a garage after an evening of swilling beer at a bowling alley. No glitz, no glamour, just good-time, hard-rocking power pop buoyed by radio-friendly hooks.

KJ and I saw the News in concert a few times over the years. As the size of the group's venues expanded, they supplemented Huey's harmonica and Johnny's sax with the Tower of Power horn section. But they never varied much afield from the '50s-influenced sound that marked their early hits. We were among the rain-soaked masses huddled on the lawn at the Concord Pavilion on that stormy October night in 1991 when legendary concert promoter Bill Graham was killed in a helicopter accident leaving a Huey Lewis and the News show. We had seen Graham prowling the backstage area earlier in the evening, which made the news (no pun intended) of his death hours later all the more eerie.

Anyway, the News — who were never really stylish to begin with — fell out of style as time marched along. Mario Cipollina left the band a decade ago (willingly or not, who's to say?), as did Chris Hayes a few years later. (Incidentally, Chris's sister Bonnie is a whale of a talent herself. For many years, she fronted a Bay Area band known originally as Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo. More recently, she has written songs and played session keyboards for a variety of artists, from Billy Idol to Robert Cray.)

Although Huey and company last recorded an album five years ago, they continue to tour, mostly county fairs and casinos and such like. This summer, the News shared a skein of performance dates with the band Chicago, another act heavy on the harmonies and horns. They're probably out there somewhere in America tonight, keeping the heart of rock and roll beating.

Mario Cipollina, sad to say, will not be joining them.

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4 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Mr. Fabulous offered these pearls of wisdom...

Man, I know I wore out more than one copy of Sports back in the day...

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Donna offered these pearls of wisdom...

My first copy of "Sports" was on cassette tape and I think I wore that out one summer traveling to Ohio for a visit with my extended family. I always did and still do have a fondness for Huey Lewis.

BTW, did you know that there's a typo in this post? I refer specifically to: "At the time, the band had jsut released their first album..." It's that old editorial drive in me that I've never seemed to extinguish.

Typos and all, which I admit are a rare occurance with you, I still love you Uncle Swan!

7:36 PM  
Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

You know what?

I'm so glad to read something about Huey Lewis that ISN'T making fun of them.

I loved Huey as a kid and I STILL do. They made some of my favorite music of all time. I don't care if that's "cool" to admit or not.

It sucks to hear the news (no pun intended) about Mario though. Obviously I've spent far too much time listening to tunes and not enough reading "the news":)

4:41 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Mr. Fabulous: You and me both, brother. "Are there any Sports fans in the house?"

Donna: Typo? What typo? I don't have to show you no stinkin' typo. ;)

Janet: Always remember, babe, it's hip to be square.

4:52 PM  

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