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In 1972, singer/harmonica player Huey Lewis and keyboardist Sean Hopper joined the Bay Area jazz-funk band Clover. Clover recorded several albums in the 1970s, and in the middle of the decade transplanted themselves to Britain to become part of the UK pub rock scene.
Without Lewis, they eventually became the backing band for Elvis Costello’s first album My Aim Is True. Lewis also worked with Irish band Thin Lizzy, contributing harmonica to the song “Baby Drives Me Crazy”, recorded onstage for the Live and Dangerous album.
Thin Lizzy bassist/vocalist Phil Lynott introduces Lewis by name during the song. The band returned to the Bay Area by the end of the 1970s.
Clover’s main competition in the Bay Area jazz-funk scene was a band called Soundhole, whose members included drummer Bill Gibson, saxophonist/rhythm guitarist Johnny Colla, and bassist Mario Cipollina (brother of John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service).
Like Clover, Soundhole had spent time backing singer Van Morrison. After getting a singles contract from Phonogram Records in 1978, Huey Lewis joined Hopper, Gibson, Colla, and Cipollina to form a new group, Huey Lewis & The American Express.
Although they played gigs under this name, in 1979, they recorded and released a single simply as “American Express”. The single, “Exodisco” (a disco version of the theme from the film Exodus) was largely ignored.
The B-side of this record, “Kick Back”, was a song that had previously been performed live by Lewis and his former band, Clover. In 1979, the band was joined by lead guitarist Chris Hayes and moved to Chrysalis Records, which occurred after their demo tape was heard by Pablo Cruise manager Bob Brown, who helped them land a record deal with the label.
Chrysalis did not like the name American Express, fearing trademark infringement charges from the credit card company, so the band changed their name.
Later in 1980, the band released their first studio album, a self-titled LP, Huey Lewis and the News. It went largely unnoticed. In 1982, the band released their second studio album, the self-produced Picture This.
The album turned gold, fueled by the breakout success of the hit single “Do You Believe in Love”, written by former Clover producer “Mutt” Lange. Largely because of the single, the album remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for 35 weeks and peaked at No. 13.
The follow-up singles from Picture This, “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do” and “Workin’ for a Livin'”, followed, with limited success.