FAIRFIELD — You can hear voices, including Johnny Colla’s, as he drops by Fairfield Saturday to chat with fans and sign copies of his new solo recording, “I Hear Voices.”
Colla, an Armijo High School graduate who grew up in Suisun City, is a founding member and saxophone player for Huey Lewis and the News. The band will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its “Sports” album next year. That launched the band internationally and sold more than 10 million copies. In the tune “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” Lewis can be heard saying “Johnny! Oh!” before Colla’s saxophone solo.
Huey Lewis and the News also figured prominently in the first “Back to the Future” movie with the songs “Back in Time” and “The Power of Love.”
“I’m still eternally grateful to do something I was so passionate about, something I love so much and make a living at it,” Colla said. “Some mornings I get up and still scratch my head and ask, ‘How did I get away with this?’ ”
The idea for “I Hear Voices” surfaced about three years ago when Huey Lewis and the News was recording “Soulsville.” But Colla had band commitments and could only work on the solo effort as time permitted.
He narrowed down a list of about 20 songs to the final 12.
“Even before I started demo-ing with the band, I had envisioned what tunes would work and what tunes would exemplify the vocals the best,” he said.
The title was already chosen. It was just a matter of bringing it all together.
And it would be the opportunity to realize a dream that hadn’t come to fruition with Huey Lewis and the News.
“I tried to talk the band into doing an a cappella effort for years. The fans love it,” Colla said. “The songs are already there. For one reason or another, we never got around to it.”
The opening track, “Our Prayer,” is a duet with wife Christie. Colla said he hopes his listeners find the intended humor between the first song and the rest of the CD, a tribute to 1950s and 1960s soul and pop.
He’s very pleased with the result and response to “I Hear Voices.”
“This CD is as much a business card as a solo project,” he said, adding that it gave him the opportunity to take a different band and produce the record from the top down. “I’ve reached that place in my career where I’m capable of doing it. I’m kind of proud of that.”
Colla also has his hand in other things, including working with former Fairfield resident Leigh Stephens, who formed the band Blue Cheer. The band is credited with being pioneers of heavy metal.
About two years ago, Colla found Stephens via the Internet, invited him to a Huey Lewis and the News show and ended up playing saxophone on Stephens’ solo project. Some 45 years after they met, the two finally worked together.
Colla looks back fondly on his fellow Fairfield musicians and the time spent in Rick Lowe’s (of the Time Bandits) barn rehearsing.
“That barn took on a mythical quality when I was a kid,” he said. It has since been razed.
There’s also a lot of chatter about the 30th anniversary of “Sports.”
Colla is going through the band’s tape library and seeking out live material from the era, which may be used as bonus tracks on a re-release. Or there could be a live release by itself.
That project isn’t giving him time to promote “I Hear Voices.”
“I’m still a working stiff in a popular band,” he said. “I don’t have the luxury of going out and backing the CD with live performances.”
He’s also tinkering with “I Hear Voices,” preparing a purely a cappella version for release next year and taken an extensive trip down memory lane on his website, detailing how he fell in love with music, as well as the local bands Colla played with.
“It was a trip,” Colla said with a chuckle. “And it ain’t over.”
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.