Interview from 2007:
In the late ‘70s, Larkspur resident Hugh Cregg drove a yogurt delivery truck by day and played harmonica at Uncle Charlie’s bar in Corte Madera by night. For most of the decade, he always seemed to be playing somewhere around Marin. If you didn’t catch him jamming at Uncle Charlie’s, he and his earlier band Clover were playing at the River City pool hall in Fairfax or The Lion’s Share in San Anselmo.
Unfortunately, if you waited until the mid ‘80s to see Hugh
play locally, it would cost you a trip to the Oakland Coliseum…and there you’d have to share the experience with 20,000 other fans. Hugh’s alter-ego Huey Lewis and his band The News had become an international sensation.
Timing is everything.
While the Uncle Charlie’s jam sessions are now the stuff of legend, I recently spoke with Huey Lewis about his early days growing up in Marin.
Jason: How old were you when you first moved to Mill Valley?
Huey: I think I was five.
Jason: Do you remember what street you lived on, what schools you attended, etc?
Huey: We first stayed at the Edgewater Hotel until my parents found a house and then we moved to Tam Valley and lived on Starling. I went to 1st grade at Tam Valley school, then we moved to Strawberry and bought a house on Strawberry Drive. Then I went to Strawberry Point Elementary School. I went to Edna Macguire for two years — 7th and 8th grade — then went to summer school and took Shop class at Tam High School before going away to prep school in New Jersey.
Jason: Shop class?
Huey: Yeah, we worked with C-clamps and built machine stuff. Hard to believe but I was 12. That was a great course.
Jason: When did you finally move back to Marin?
Huey: Well, I never really moved away. When I went to prep school (Lawrenceville School in New Jersey) I still lived in Marin and came back every summer. So I’d spend nine months in NJ and 3 months in Marin. I took a year off (after graduating) and hitchhiked around Europe, then (attended) Cornell University for about five minutes over almost a two year period. Then I moved back to Marin in ’69.
Jason: What was happening in Marin around 1969?
Huey: Well, it was the ‘Summer of Love’ and everybody kind of discovered (Marin) and the numbers (of new residents)
just kept increasing and there was a lot of animosity. There were tons of “New Yorkers Go Home” bumper stickers.
Of course, there weren’t just new people from New York here — there were new people from Wisconsin and everywhere else — but the New Yorkers had the accents so they got kinda picked out the most. These days you don’t hear any of that (animosity). You know why? Because they took over! (Laughs) I mean, there are very few people who were born in Southern Marin who still live here.
Jason: Where did you perform in Marin back then?
Huey: I joined Clover in ‘74 and in ‘75 we played The Lion’s Share (in San Anselmo) and a place called The Woods and River City in Fairfax. And we played at The Old Mill Tavern (in Mill Valley) occasionally … and then The Sweetwater came along and that was kind of ‘The New Thing’…. And we played at Uncle Charlie’s (in Corte Madera).
Huey: It was a pool hall…That’s where I first met and jammed with Michael McDonald (of The Doobie Brothers) in 1975 or 1976. I was living in Mill Valley at (musician) Alex Call’s house.
Jason: Where else in Marin did you live?
Huey: I lived in Larkspur when I first started this band (Huey Lewis & The News) in ‘77 or ‘78. I was living with my business partner at the time. We started Natural Foods Express and distributed Nancy’s Yogurt and all kinds of natural foods to health food stores. I’ve lived all over the county. I lived in San Pedro for awhile. I lived in Mill Valley a bunch
Jason: Did you shoot any of your music videos in Marin?
Huey: The only videos we shot were “Power of Love” at Uncle Charlie’s, “Don’t Ever Tell Me That You Love Me” which we shot at the Mountain Amphitheater on Mt. Tam and “Perfect World” in Novato at the landfill (dump). We were there two days.
Jason: What was that like?
Huey: It smells like garbage but you get used to it.
The “Perfect World” music video was shot in Novato’s landfill dump.
Jason: Why did you choose The 2am Club in Mill Valley for your Sports album cover?
Huey: I thought it was a funny notion. I can’t explain how it happened to be honest. I wanted a place that looked and felt like what I thought we were and sounded like. And that was kind of it. It juxtaposed against the title “Sports” because sports are on the television but we’re in kind of a sports bar.
Jason: Did you spend a lot of time in The 2am Club?
Huey: Actually, our local hangout was The Brothers bar across the street… but, yes, we spent plenty of time at the 2am Club as well…and The Old Mill Tavern (on the corner where Vasco’s in Mill Valley is today). You know, Mill Valley was originally a mill town where they milled lumber. That’s how they got the title — “The Old Mill Tavern”. Now the Old Mill Tavern is VASCO’S. That says it all! (Laughs)
Jason: What were the best places to play and the worst places to play in Marin back in the 70’s and 80’s?
Huey: Well, SCOREBOARD (on 4th Street in San Rafael, 2 blocks east of the highway) was, for the musicians, the toughest. Small tiny stage, no dressing room, no nothing, four sets a night. The Lion’s Share was the best place to play.
Jason: Bonnie Hayes told me she remembers watching you guys play out at Rancho Nicasio in West Marin. What was Rancho like back then?
Huey: Exactly like it is now, not much different. Nicasio is still like Old Marin. I haven’t been out there all that much but it used to swing pretty hard. One of Huey Lewis and the News’ seminal gigs was opening for Van Morrison out there…
Jason: Did you ever visit Van Morrison’s parents’ record store in Fairfax?
Huey: Sure. It was a few doors down from NAVE’S bar right on the main drag there, same side of the street.
Jason: What do you remember about Mill Valley growing up?
Huey: I remember when there used to be a road when you came into Mill Valley on Blithedale. Right as you go around Enchanted Knolls there used to be a bridge that would take you all the way to where Gira Polli is today. The Bay used to come all the way in there — it was pretty far out!
Jason: Your dad had a business next to Village Music in the Sixties?
Huey: He had a radiology office there. He took x-rays and read them for people. It was the first building next to Village Music.
Jason: What are your thoughts about Village Music closing?
Huey: That’s so sad. It’s one of the best music stores in the country. It’s a tough deal. You can get (music) all online (today). I still try and buy stuff there. It’s sad. It’s a great music store and John Goddard is a great guy and a great lover of music.
Jason: What were your favorite places to hang out back in the day?
You had Bill Champlin and Rob Moitoza and early John Cipollina. Those were the bands that became the Sons of Champlin and The Quicksilver Messenger Service. It was a summertime thing and they’d have dances everywhere in Marin. All the schools had dances. Strawberry Point school had dances. There was live music everywhere those days (because) you couldn’t play records. (Records) were scratchy and they were 45’s.
Jason: Favorite Restaurants?
Huey: The restaurants in Marin are incredible and they’ve gotten even better. My favorite restaurant is Poggio’s.
Jason: But what about in the old days?
Huey: Pat & Joe’s in Mill Valley. It was a little café right where the bank is today, right downtown opposite the bus depot. You could see anybody in there after gigs. They were open really late and for breakfast and late mornings, it was fabulous.
Jason: Best hamburger in Marin in the 70’s?
Huey: Pat and Joe’s was pretty close. Marin Joe’s is excellent and always has been.
Jason: Do you have any little-known Marin music trivia?
Huey: The two real prodigious music talents out of Marin were Bill Champlin and George Duke and both of them went to Tam High. They were both great and they still are. George Duke has produced all kinds of fabulous R&B stuff and Champlin is now with Chicago and has done all kinds of great stuff. They were two mentors for most of us growing up.
Jason: So how has Marin changed?
Huey: I got cut off in my car the other day by a gal who was road-raged. I really didn’t think I did anything wrong but she drove up next to me and flipped me off, then she pulls in front of me and her bumper sticker says “Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty”. That says it all, man. (Laughs) But I still love Marin. I’ll always love Marin because I grew up here. It was the best place to grow up on the planet.
To visit the Huey Lewis and the News website, click HERE.