meta-scriptTrustees Award: Al Bell |
Trustees Award: Al Bell
Al Bell

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Trustees Award: Al Bell

Huey Lewis on 2011 Trustees Award recipient Al Bell, the man who put Memphis on the map

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. Each year, The Academy invites friends and colleagues of Special Merit Awards recipients to pay tribute to the honorees' career accomplishments, while also adding colorful anecdotes and personal accounts. In the days leading up to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, will present the tributes to the 12 Special Merit Awards recipients for 2011.

Al Bell might be the person most responsible for my musical taste.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the '60s, with folk music and early psychedelic music as a backdrop, my constant radio companion was soul station KDIA in Oakland. Not the obvious choice for a suburban white kid, but then, my dad was a jazz drummer and my mom loved psychedelic stuff, and I needed something of my own. KDIA was the sister station of the famous WDIA in Memphis. Needless to say, both stations played a healthy dose of Stax records, which were either promoted, commissioned, produced, or written by Al Bell.

Alvertis Isbell was old school before the term. Soul music came from the church, and Al knew the church. As a young man he worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and when he speaks the similarity is striking. He came to Stax from radio where he was a DJ, both in Little Rock, Ark. and Washington, D.C. He started as a promotion man. Incredibly hardworking and dynamic, he became a co-owner of Stax and grew the company into the second-largest black-owned business of the '70s. He was incredibly ambitious, famously releasing 27 albums and 30 singles in one month. He was "hands-on," producing and even writing hits for the label including "I'll Take You There" for the Staple Singers. In 1972 he produced Wattstax, the all-Stax concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the Golden Globe-nominated film about the event. It's been said he "put Memphis on the map," an incredible statement when you consider the vast musical history of the town.

The demise of Stax Records in the mid-'70s was complicated and messy and resulted in Al retreating from the business for several years. But Al Bell is a fighter and he did not give up. With the help of Berry Gordy Jr. he rebuilt his career, first as president of Motown Records and then with his own label, Bellmark Records. And now as chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation, Al Bell is back in Memphis, doing what he's always been doing…promoting Memphis music.

At 70 years old, he seems newly invigorated. He's still a workaholic (his friends say he works 24 hours a day, breaking only at midnight to eat his wife's fried chicken), and still as passionate as ever. When I last saw him in late 2010, it was at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis at a playback party for our new record, Soulsville, which is a tribute to Memphis soul music. He was dressed immaculately, as usual, in a suit, monogrammed shirt, his tie perfectly matching his pocket square, and his cuff links shining. He was complimentary of the album, and especially the song selection, but then I knew we'd have the same taste.

(Huey Lewis, primarily with his band the News, has earned five GRAMMY nominations, including Record Of The Year nods for "The Power Of Love" and "The Heart Of Rock And Roll," and won the Best Music Video, Long Form award in 1985 for Huey Lewis & The News — The Heart Of Rock 'N' Roll. The group's newest album is the Memphis tribute Soulsville.)

This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of The Recording Academy's National Trustees to individuals who, during their careers in music, have made contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording. The Trustees Award was established in 1967. To view a complete list of Trustees Award recipients, click here.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Julie Andrews, Roy Haynes, Juilliard String Quartet, The Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton, Ramones, George Beverly Shea
Trustees Award: Wilma Cozart Fine, Bruce Lundvall
Technical GRAMMY Award: Roger Linn, Waves Audio Ltd.


Huey Lewis On The 40th Anniversary Of 'Sports,' Never Seeing 'American Psycho' & The Importance Of Radio
Huey Lewis

Photo by Deanne Fitz Maurice


Huey Lewis On The 40th Anniversary Of 'Sports,' Never Seeing 'American Psycho' & The Importance Of Radio

Released in 1983, Huey Lewis and the News' 'Sports' spawned a handful of now-classic, pervasive hits. Lewis reflects on the album's creation and staying power, as well as the ways pop music has evolved since his '80s heyday.

GRAMMYs/Oct 16, 2023 - 01:20 pm

Huey Lewis hit a grand slam with 1983's Sports. The third album from Huey Lewis and the News featured the ubiquitous hits "Heart and Soul," "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock and Roll," "If This is It" and "Walking on a Thin Line." The LP hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in June 1984, charted for 160 weeks and has sold more than seven million copies to date. "The Power of Love" single was featured in Back to the Future and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Lewis had been touring for a decade by the time Sports hit, beginning in the early '70s with his San Francisco Bay Area band Clover. Throughout, he gathered  cool fans, friends and collaborators, including Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe, (Lewis produced Lowe's 1985 version of "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll):).

By the close of the ‘70s, Clover was over, and  Lewis’ new band was the American Express. However, when their debut album launched on Chrysalis in 1980, the lineup would be named "The News,"  to dodge potential legal issues with the credit card company. The ensuing decade of hits and MTV dominance assured Lewis’ place in cultural history. Of the six Huey Lewis and the News albums released in the ‘80s, two hit Gold sales status and three platinum. And the frontman  would still be playing those hits live on tour if it wasn’t for Meniere’s Disease, which robbed the performer of his hearing seven years ago. (He’s wearing Bluetooth hearing aids "connected to his devices" for our Zoom interview.)

Lewis and the News’ most recent (and potentially final) album, Weather, released in 2020, and was recorded before Lewis’ hearing loss. But don’t count Lewis out; he’s got some tricks up his sleeve that will come to fruition in 2024. For now, looking back on the occasion of Sports’ 40th anniversary, the singer evinces both gratitude and a sometimes slightly wry humor as he recalls the hits, misses and memories of his career to date.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

From what I read about your self-titled debut in 1980, you were always attuned to what was commercial and on the radio. What does Sports sound like to you now, 40 years later? 

It sounds like a collection of singles to me, which means it's a record of its time. In the early '80s, there was no Internet, no jam bands, and album rock didn't mean anything, either. All that mattered was contemporary hit radio, which was playing 23 songs, basically a playlist. And it was an editing process that we all competed for.

If you wanted to write your own music and sing your own music, and make a living, you had to have a hit single. And if you wanted to hear one of our Huey Lewis and the News hit singles, you also would hear a Garth Brooks song, a Commodores song, or Whitney Houstonsong, or Michael Jackson. Very diverse. We all competed for that one format.

So Sports we produced ourselves because we knew we needed a hit record. We wanted to make those commercial choices ourselves because if we had a hit, we'd have to play it for the rest of our lives. And we didn't want "One Eyed-One-Horned-Flying Purple People Eater" [the 1958 novelty hit by Sheb Wooley] if you know what I mean.

We fought to produce our record ourselves. And fortunately, our small little label Chrysalis was 7,000 miles away and couldn't really control us. We aimed every song — or most of those songs — right at radio. We knew we needed a hit. We didn't know we were gonna have five of them.

Even though I know Sports well, I didn't realize "Heart and Soul" was by [songwriters] Chapman and Chinn. I was a huge fan of the Sweet and all the bands they worked with. How did that song come to you? 

First of all, Chinnichap, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, they're brilliant. Mike Chapman, we actually met with him and flirted with having him produce us, but we really wanted to do our own thing. A publisher sent me the song. It was originally written, I think, for Suzi Quatro. Because, thinking about the [original] lyric, "two o'clock this morning, if he should come a calling / I couldn't dream of turning him away."

But they redid it with Exile, the country band. I didn't know any of this; all I know is my publisher sent me the song. I heard it and went, Wow, that sounds like a hit to me. My philosophy always was, we'll write the eight best songs we can write, and then cover the two best original songs we can find. We basically just copied what we thought was the demo — we now know it was Exile’s record.

It’s not much of a song, there are only three chords, and most of the song is two chords, but it's a brilliant production. We swiped all that, we just copied it. So we're mixing it in LA. I go to the bathroom out of the control room, and go by the other studio. And I hear "Heart and Soul" coming out of the next studio, the same song. And it’s [L.A. band] Bus Boys. The publisher had pitched it to all these people. Needless to say, I wasn't very happy with the publisher.   

"Heart and Soul" was nominated for Best Rock Vocal, Group at the 1984 GRAMMYs. What did that mean to you?  

No question; it meant everything to me. Those are our peers. We got nominated for a zillion GRAMMYs, and I think we only won one or two. I mean, Bruce Springsteen beat me out in about nine categories, including "Power of Love," which should have won something, I think.

The "Heart of Rock and Roll" video is so much fun. It was shot in New York City and at Gazzari’s on the Sunset Strip. Where would you guys be without MTV? 

We certainly wouldn't be as popular. But we might be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. [Laughs.] It kind of hurt our credibility. We were seen as a pop band in America. In Europe. we're a rock and roll band, or a soul band. But I remember it was a necessity for us.

We actually filmed two videos prior to being signed by Chrysalis Records as a way to market ourselves. There was a gal called Kim Dempster and Videowest in San Francisco — this was the advent of videotape and cable and cable TV — she said, "I'll do a video of you guys if you'll let us show it on our Videowest channel at midnight." I said "done!"

I schemed this idea for "Some of my Lies are True" where we’d go to the beach and set up on a sewage pier. Like,what's the strangest place you would have a band set up to play? I liked it on "Shindig" and "Hullabaloo" when James Brown would set up by the swimming pool. Chrysalis saw [the video] and loved it and they signed us.

Now the song "Do You Believe in Love" is on our second album.For that song, the label  got an advertising guy and he designed the set. They're all these pastel colors and they matched our pastel shirts and we all had a lot of makeup on. This is the video where we're all in bed singing to the gal. A week later, we assembled at the record company to see the rough cut. There are 10 people from the record label, 10 people from the video company, 10 of us, and the director and he says, "Now this is not colorized yet, it's gonna look a lot better when it's colorized."  He shuts the lights off, and plays the video.

My heart just sank. It was just so horrible. There's no direction. There was no story, there was no meaning. It wasn't funny, wasn't entertaining, it was just horrible. When it ended, everybody got up and gave us a standing ovation. I remember thinking to myself, clearly, there's no art here.

So we're writing our own songs, we're producing our own records, we're gonna do our own videos from now on. From then on, we wrote all those videos. The idea was to avoid a literal translation of the song and if at all possible, zig when the song zags and just goof off and  have fun.

That's an amazing story. I just flashed back to the Billy Squier "Rock Me Tonite" video.   

There is one other thing about "Heart of Rock and Roll"…  When we were making [Sports]  we were in the Record Plant. Next door was Peter Wolf, working with the producer Ron Nevison on the Jefferson Starship record [Lewis sings ‘We Built This City"] with the [electronic-sounding] machines going. I went, ‘Wow, what is that?’ I befriended Peter Wolf, and  said, ‘can you show me how to do that?’ Because we learned about the Linn Drum machine about 1980; that Roger Linn had a machine that had Jeff Porcaro’s [drum samples] in it.

So he sets the machine up and he sequences the bass and gets it going. So we're going to cut ["I Want a New Drug."]  We start playing to it, and it was just lying there. It  was not working. So we cut the track normally, just organically. We finished the record. We went to New York to mix it. I couldn't get "I Want A New Drug" to groove. I mixed it three or four times with Bob Clearmountain, who's brilliant. We just couldn't get it to where it sounded good to me. I finally got it as best I could. The record was done.

Then Chrysalis sold out to CBS. So we couldn't hand our record in because we didn't know who was going to distribute it; it was all mystery meat at that point. So we just hung on to the record. We hit the road. We had the band and crew and everybody on one bus and we went out and did clubs, the West, Midwest.The last thing we'd ever do is listen to the record because we've been working on it for months and listen to it over and over again. So after about three weeks, one night, on an overnight trip, I say to the guys  "Hey, let's put on the record. Let's see what it sounds like."

We throw the record up, and I go, "Damn, it's not happening." So I cried "problem!" to our manager. We went back into the studio and we recut "Heart of Rock & Roll," "I Want a New Drug," "Walking on a Thin Line," "Bad Is Bad," all to the drum machine. Gives it that little modern, techno thing.

I love that you’re such a producer. I know you worked with Mutt Lange with your band Clover. I feel Mutt has some kind of hitmaking brain. Do you have any takeaways from him either as a songwriter or as a producer? 

We actually kind of have completely different philosophies about music. I think music matters like crazy. I think it's important to people, to their lives. Mutt just thinks it’s pop music. See, I have a jazz musician dad. All of his favorite bands — like Jimmie Lunceford and Chick Webb and all those early jazz bands — had one number where they would put funny hats and use the hat for a mute on the trumpet, and it was a kind of a show number, a novelty number.

My old man saw rock and roll as that — all novelty; to him it wasn't real music. So when we cut "Power of Love" I'll never forget. You find out a week ahead of time that a song is gonna be number one next week. I’m talking to my pops, and I say, "Guess what? My record goes number one next week.’ And he goes, "Ah, that’s no good. The best s— is never the most popular."

Oh, ouch.   

But that's where I'm coming from. And Mutt Lange is coming from a whole ‘nother place. All he cares about is popularity. But Mutt is a genius. He works so hard. I like dashing things off and just going with it. I don't mind if there's a mistake or two; didn't bother me.

Jumping ahead, I’m curious about Weird Al and his take on "I Want a New Drug"—"I Want a New Duck."  

I don't know Al at all, but in fact, we did that little thing, the "Hip To Be Square" American Psycho lampoon.. I like his work. He's funny. And you know, he's kind of a serious guy. You know, comedy is serious. It's funny, because when we did that whole thing, the lampoon of American Psycho, we worked on it with the Funny or Die guys for six to eight hours. And they never laughed. No, nothing was funny. I was laughing my ass off.

Did you know the "Huey Lewis appreciation" scene in American Psycho was going to be in the movie? 

Somebody showed me the book. And I read the passage about us. It was amazing. I mean [Bret Easton Ellis] actually clearly had listened to our music a lot. They told us that the movie was gonna come out and they wanted to use "Hip to be Square." I said, "and they're gonna pay us?" I mean, it's an artistic thing, Willem Dafoe’s in it, no problem. So, boom, they paid us.

A week before the release of the film they decide they want to do a soundtrack album. I said, ‘Really? What's that going to look like?’ They said, "Well, 'Hip to be Square,' I think there's a Phil Collins song, and then mostly source music." I said, it isn't good for our fans to have to buy a whole record for one song. So we politely declined.

Now, literally the night before the premiere of the movie, they issued a press release to USA Today, The New York Times, everybody, that said that Huey Lewis had seen the movie and it was so violent that he yanked his tune from the soundtrack.

Oh no! 

It was bulls, but they were ginning up publicity.’ That pissed me off. So I boycotted the movie and never saw it. To this day. I actually lent the tune to the musical of American Psycho on Broadway! Duncan Sheik wrote all the other music and it's really good. It didn't last that long, but I was really impressed.

Sports’ huge success must have been the "I can buy my first house" record?    

Sports signaled that we're going to have a career where we're actually going to be able to play our own music and have people show up. Until Sports, our focus was to get a hit record, because to exist in the radio was all there was. Such a narrow scope.

Living Legends: Frankie Valli On The Four Seasons' Biggest Hits, Impressing Bob Dylan And Inspiring Billy Joel & Elton John

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

10 Essential Facts To Know About GRAMMY-Winning Rapper J. Cole

A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With