February 10, 2011 – By ANDY GRAY Tribune Chronicle
There was a time in the late ’80s when Richard Marx was all over the radio.
Between 1987 and 1994, he recorded seven songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 and/or the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart – ”Don’t Mean Nothing,” ”Hold on to the Nights,” ”Right Here Waiting,” ”Satisfied,” ”Keep Coming Back,” ”Hazard” and ”Now and Forever.” Several more songs cracked the top 10.
But the truth is, Marx’s songs never left the radio. The only difference he’s usually not the one singing them. Marx has penned hits for ‘NSYNC (”This I Promise You”), Luther Vandross (the Grammy winner ”Dance with My Father”) and Keith Urban (”Better Life,” ”Everybody”) and collaborated with a list of artists that ranges from Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole to Daughtry and Lifehouse.
Marx scaled back on touring when he and his wife, Cynthia Rhodes (a dancer-actor best known for her roles in ”Flashdance” and ”Dirty Dancing”), started having children.
Those three kids now range in age from 17 to 20 (and middle child Lucas Marx has a recurring role on the new FOX series ”The Chicago Code”), and Marx is increasing his touring routine, mixing solo acoustic dates with shows that pair him with former Vertical Horizon frontman Matt Scannell.
The dates allow Marx to perform stripped down versions of his hits as well as the songs made famous by others. Those lean arrangements are featured on ”Stories to Tell,” an album released last fall in Europe to coincide with a five-week tour overseas. The disc will get a U.S. release in May.
”It’s all pretty much me without a net,” Marx said during a telephone interview from his home in Chicago. ”I had to rework all of my songs, which frightened me at first but then it became the most fun thing I’ve ever done.”
Touring with Scannell, who will accompany Marx when he performs Sunday at Cleveland’s Ohio Theatre, gives him a little more freedom, providing some backing vocals and lead guitar to flush out the arrangements.
Marx said he and Scannell were friends first, and initially they hesitated to try writing together.
”It was the same situation with my wife,” Marx said. ”We were best friends for six months before we started dating, and we were both a little gun shy relationship-wise. We didn’t want to ruin this great friendship. With Matt and me, it was a similar thing with songwriting – ‘What if we go in a room together and try to write and it sucks?”’
Marx likes collaborating with other songwriters, but the majority of the time he writes alone. And he admitted that most of the songs he writes these days he writes with idea that they will be recorded by someone else.
”I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that I’m going to come roaring back on the charts,” Marx said. ”I had a great run. If I never have another hit song as a singer, I certainly can’t b—-.”
He’s still writing songs that he believes are too personal for anyone else to record, and he’s not sure how or when those songs will surface publicly. But Marx also knows that the most personal compositions can be the ones with the most universal appeal.
A perfect example is ”Right Here Waiting,” arguably his best-known song.
”On so many levels, that song couldn’t be more universal, but it was never written with the intention of being heard by anyone except my wife,” he said. ”I had to be talked into recording that song. I wrote it strictly for her. Once she heard it, mission accomplished.”
Marx already had another ballad he planned to include on his second album, but Rhodes kept playing his little demo for friends and family.
”Everyone who heard it said, ‘Are you an idiot? How can you not record that song?”’
The song sold more than a million copies and helped propel the album ”Repeat Offender” to sales of more than 4 million copies.
”Right Here Waiting” and Marx’s other hits get reworked on the ”Stories to Tell” dates.
‘Even when I do band shows, I try really hard not to replicate the record,” he said. ”They already have that. (With ‘Right Here Waiting’), I play it on acoustic guitar (instead of piano). That signature riff gets heard, but it’s not the same thing you’ve heard a million times before.”