By Diana Nollen
One star reached out and another one was born.
A fortuitous phone call nearly 30 years ago helped point Richard Marx down his golden career path.
It wasn’t just any caller on the line. It was Lionel Richie in Los Angeles, offering the 17-year-old songwriter some advice.
“I remember how kind he was to me and how encouraging he was,” Marx, now 46, says by phone from a recent concert stop in Nashville. “He heard the first four or five songs I’d ever written and picked up the phone.
“What does it say about Lionel Richie that he’d take the time to call some kid in Chicago. He talked to me for 45 minutes, about how he got started and how songwriting is important,” Marx says. “It’s very odd. Still to this day, I can’t believe it.
“He said he lived in Chicago when he was younger, and that ‘You are not going to get your career started in Chicago, you have to come out here.’”
So after Marx graduated from high school, he moved to L.A. He also met legendary producer, performer and songwriter David Foster there, and forged a working relationship and a little star-struck admiration that continues today.
“A couple of weeks ago I sat in with David Foster,” says Marx, who moved back to Chicago in the mid-’90s to raise his sons with his wife, actress Cynthia Rhodes. “I’ve known him since I was 19; he’s a sort of hero of mine. He played a show in Chicago. I was singing ‘Right Here Waiting’ with David Foster playing the piano. It makes total sense — we’re like brothers — but part of me steps back and says, ‘That’s David (expletive) Foster!’”
Looking back to those early years, the young Marx had a lot to learn and Richie and Foster had a lot to give.
“They let me into their world as a sponge. I was welcome in that room any time they were in that room. What a gift that was,” he says. “I learned about making records, relationships between artists and musicians and artists and producers. It was like going to the greatest college of music you could imagine.”
They taught him well. The student has racked up his own impressive list of accomplishments. Singing backup on recordings for Gordon Lightfoot, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross and Kenny Rogers helped pay the rent in the early days.
Before long, he was recording his own string of hits in the ’80s and ’90s, including “Hold on to the Nights,” “Now and Forever,” “Endless Summer Nights,” “Should’ve Known Better” and “Satisfied.” He was the first male solo artist to have his first seven singles hit Billboard’s Top Five; has sold 30 million records; and has recorded 13 number one hits.
That doesn’t count the songs he’s written and produced for a who’s who in the industry, from Barbra Streisand, ‘N Sync, Josh Groban, Natalie Cole, Keith Urban, and Vince Gill to Sarah Brightman, Sister Hazel, The Tubes, SHeDAISY, Daughtry, LeAnn Rimes, Kenny Loggins, Michael Bolton and actor Hugh Jackman.
And even though Marx considers himself more of a writer and producer these days, he has released his first new CD in five years, “Emotional Remains.” He says the disc came together “really quick,” sort of.
“It adds up about three months of work stretched out over five years,” he says. “Being a writer and producer for other artists is my main role. Recording for myself is a fun hobby job. … I go out and play because I love to play.”
He’ll bring a few of those new tunes to the Riverside Casino Event Center on Nov. 28, but realizes his fans really want to hear his hits.
“I just get it,” he says. “I go to concerts, I love going to concerts, but I don’t ever get fully lost in them. I just know too much. I know what the man behind the curtain looks like. I love hearing someone whip out a couple of new songs, but I want to hear the hits. I totally get that.
“I love singing the old songs. I love my catalog of songs; I love reinventing them. That keeps it fresh.”
Just don’t call his time on the road a tour.
“I stopped touring years ago,” he says. “I can’t imagine ever really touring again like I did the first 10 years. It’s not conducive to the lifestyle I love. I have a gorgeous wife and three kids (16, 17 and 19). Two are at home in high school and I don’t want to miss stuff. It’s fine for me to leave on Friday and come back on Monday. I love playing live — touring is not something I’m interested in doing.”
What: Richard Marx in concert
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 28
Where: Riverside Casino Event Center, 3184 Highway 22, Riverside
Tickets: $39 and $50 in the Casino Gift Shop and www.riversidecasinoandresort.com; must be 21 or older to attend
Artist information: http://richardmarx.com