A fixture of the Bay Area music scene since the 1970s, musician, producer, songwriter and raconteur Johnny Colla has seemingly done it all.
He got his start on stage performing with acts like Van Morrison and Sly & the Family Stone before co-forming a little rock group called Huey Lewis & the News back in 1978. Not only did Colla play saxophone and guitar in the News, he co-wrote and co-produced many of the band’s biggest hits, and toured the world 10 times over with them.
Even though the News stopped playing in 2018 due to Lewis’ hearing loss, Colla still works as the group’s archivist, and he writes and plays for various other projects out of his Marin home studio.
So, it may come as a surprise to fans that Colla just released an album that he wanted to make for more than 40 years.
Available now, Johnny Colla’s new CD, I Hear Other Voices!! (Hardly Strictly A Cappella), is—as the name implies—a mostly a cappella collection of classic pop, R&B and doo-wop songs.
“‘I Hear Other Voices’ is really the a cappella record I always wanted to make with Huey Lewis and the News,” Colla says. “I broached the subject with the guys several times over the years, and Huey’s line was always, ‘Let’s keep that one in our back pocket.’”
Of course, Huey Lewis & the News incorporated several classic pop elements into their music, crafting throwback hits in the ’80s and singing a cappella tunes in live shows. Yet, the band never got the chance to make that a cappella record. That’s why Colla did it.
Colla originally made a record in 2012, titled I Hear Voices!, featuring full-band arrangements of classic songs that he grew up on. Recently, he revisited that album during the pandemic shutdown.
“I started looking at my stuff in my home studio and I thought, ‘That thing needs to be redone the way I always wanted to do it, which was an almost pure a cappella effort,” Colla says. “So I opened up that can and started digging away.”
Remixing the original recordings from the 2012 album, Colla stripped down the songs to their vocals, kept a few instruments, added percussion and reworked the track listing to create a new listening experience for fans who’ve followed him all these years.
With the new record out now and restrictions lifting on live events, Colla hopes to get back on stage soon to perform. He’s also still working with Huey Lewis & the News on potential upcoming releases of previously unheard performances and more.
“I’d like to put a little band together,” Colla says. “Probably next year.”