Richard Marx interview: From nausea to nirvana with acoustic shows
Back in 2010, Richard Marx made a little music history when he appeared on stage -- alone -- at the historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater. It was, as he told a slightly skeptical crowd gathered to pay homage to the '80s crooner, his first-ever solo acoustic show.
"I was never more nervous before a show in my life. Literally sick to my stomach with fear," Marx told me this week in an e-mail chat. "Then about halfway through the first song I realized this might end up being pretty fun."
The sold-out crowd of about 500 loved it too, giggling each time Marx would interrupt his lyrics to work in a "bless you" after hearing any audible sneeze in the very intimate venue. Marx has since turned the acoustic format into a staple in his touring schedule.
"These solo acoustic shows have been the most fun I've ever had onstage," he said. "I've played them here in the U.S., in Moscow, China, throughout Europe and I just came back from Japan."
His latest album -- A Night Out With Friends -- is a live project full of hits -- Endless Summer Nights, Right Here Waiting, Angelia -- and highlights his guitar-and-a-mike talents before letting his band take over.
"It's not an all acoustic album, only the first few songs," he corrected me when I called it an all-acoustic project." No, we'd been trying to figure out a way to do a PBS show for ages and that presented itself at the right time."
Marx and I have shared a couple chats since our first interview in 2010, and he's always a blast to talk with. On Dec. 1 and 4, he returns to Clearwater's Capitol Theatre for two more acoustic shows. They're can't-miss events, blending vivid storytelling with reworked versions of his hit songs (of which he has so many more than the casual '80s fan can remember). Here are some other highlights from our most-recent electronic conversation:
Stuck in the '80s: Not to get weird on you -- but I will -- because every time I hear your new album's version of Right Here Waiting, I damn near get weepy. Okay, I openly sob for some reason. Such a strong ending.
Marx: "No worries ... I thought you were weird way before that."
It seems like acoustic shows are more and more common these days among the great songwriters. I read the other day that Jackson Browne's latest tour will be acoustic. Is part of the attraction that you can put the focus on the words and message of the songs themselves?
"That's part of it. I just love the idea of deconstructing the songs back to the form they were essentially in when I wrote them. And it's a way to get more intimate and connect with an audience unlike any band show. But my shows aren't serious 'singer-songwriter' shows at all. It's more like a party in my living room."
Lionel Richie had a surprise hit with his Tuskegee album this year, re-doing his song with country artists. Ever been tempted to try something along those lines? Or tempted to go back and record some of the songs you wrote for other artists?
"I've recorded some of the songs I did with other artists, and I was really happy for Lionel's success with that project because he's a great guy. He gave me my first job in the record business as a background singer on his solo albums. But as for me, I'm always more interested in writing and recording new songs, and way less interested in retreating or looking backwards. I'm psyched about the songs that are ahead."
Your debut album turned 25 years old this year. Which of the songs there do you think have aged the best?
"I think 'Don't Mean Nothing' is the track that has retained its youthful charm the most from that album. But 'Endless Summer Nights' and even 'Should've Known Better' and 'Hold On to the Nights' have really held up in my acoustic show. I think the songs from that first album have aged better than my production of them at the time."
And I have to ask, because he's about to hit the road again this spring with his band The Tubes, how you got together with Fee Waybill. I've always enjoyed the tunes you two did together.
"He's been my best friend for 30 years now. He's my sons' godfather. I met him when The Tubes were recording 'She's A Beauty' back in 1983 and the following year he did a solo album and asked if I wanted to write a song with him. I couldn't count how many we've written since then. Fee's still a great songwriter and artist. In fact, we've been recording a bunch of new rock songs we wrote for him to release early next year, hopefully."
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