It's hard to believe that Richard Marx has never performed a solo acoustic show. After all, the pop auteur of '80s swooners Right Here Waiting and Hold On to the Nights is like the Nookie Whisperer, a soft-spoken chart-topping romantic. But tonight, the 46-year-old will be hosting his very first acoustic gig at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre.
"It's very much a storyteller kind of thing," he told the Stuck in the '80s podcast crew of Sean Daly and Steve Spears. Expect hits (Hazard, Endless Summer Nights), tall tales and more than a few zingers. "After maybe two or three years of touring, I learned to get the joke: that I wasn't doing anything particularly important. So I started to have a lot more fun with it and tell stories during the shows."
For Daly and Marx, the interview was something of a reunion. Before he was a pop music critic, Sean was a hotel bellboy in an ill-fitting uniform who once drove Marx around in a courtesy van. The pop star bestowed love advice to Daly back then, and the singer says he's still helping out random strangers today.
"We're having some construction work done (at my house)," Marx said, "and there was a note in my studio from (a worker) that said, 'I just had to thank you so much because you helped me get so much action in high school.' "
Crave more Marx action? Here are excerpts from the interview:
Is it true that Lionel Richie helped launch your career?
He was the impetus for me moving from Chicago to L.A. (in the early '80s). In the middle of my senior year (of high school), this demo tape of my first four or five songs wound up in Lionel Richie's hands. And my phone number was on the demo tape. Lionel Richie heard the tape, and he called me himself. And he was very encouraging.
Whoa. And then Lionel hired you as a background singer on his first solo album.
More than that, he said, "You have an open invitation to be at the studio with me." I went to the studio every single day!
That's like a masters class in pop. You then hooked up with Kenny Rogers' camp, right?
Lionel recommended me as a background singer. And so I got hired for a couple days. One day, I overheard Kenny telling his producer that they were still short a song. So I went home to my apartment that night and I wrote a song. Kenny was nice enough to let me play it for him. And he cut it. And it was a No. 1 country song, Crazy. It was the launch of my songwriting career.
Let's skip ahead to 1987. Did you go crazy after all that success? Your debut album had four hit singles on it.
In retrospect, I wish I had. I'm not much of a partier. I'm a drug virgin to this day. Not even weed.
I remember being offered blow regularly and thinking to myself, "The only reason I'm not going to do blow is because I know I'm gonna love it." . . . My life consisted of 6:30 a.m. radio performances and interviews. And then going and doing in-stores. And then going to sound checks. And then right from sound checks to some more interviews on TV. Then doing a gig. Then doing phoners in Japan and Australia. Then going to sleep on the bus for a few hours and waking up and doing it all again.
Did you have any fun?
It was such a blur. My only regret is that I didn't soak it in. When it's happening to you, you can't appreciate it. You don't have the perspective. You're just treading water. My attitude was "This could go away tomorrow."
What do you make of the instant music careers that American Idol generates?
I haven't watched the show since Season 1. It's meaningless to me. It's just karaoke. It's really lowered the public's perception of what is good singing and what isn't. Just because you can sing loud doesn't mean you're good.