It’s fitting for Richard Marx – a songwriter who writes in a lot of diverse styles – that he tours the country in a variety of ways. He does full-band shows, solo stints and shows with full orchestras. He will also begin a three-week residency in Las Vegas this fall, playing his songs with a string quartet.
In Reno, it will be Marx with a guitar and piano. He plays June 24 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. Marx said in an interview from his home in Los Angeles that he does enjoy the more intimate setting of the solo shows.
“The thing about it is, and I certainly talk during the band shows, but the solo shows are very interactive,” Marx said. “It’s not the same energy when you have four other guys playing with you, but with the acoustic shows, there’s no barrier between me and the audience, so I end up talking a lot more.”
And sometimes that dialog can be funny, and it certainly is about more than the songs themselves, which Marx said he avoids over-explaining during his shows.
“It feels really conversational,” he said. “I could be talking about something that happened during the trip to the venue or on the flight that morning. I don’t go too much into what the songs are about. It’s not a serious, singer/songwriter show. I do have a lot of stories that are attached to the recording on the songs, but they’re all funny stories.”
A career or two
Music has been in Marx’s blood from before he went to school. He was born and raised in the Chicago area. His father, Dick, ran a commercial jingle company and Marx sang as early as age 5 on some of those ads. Richard Marx moved to Los Angeles and started his career as a studio singer, eventually getting two of his own songs, “Crazy” and “What About Me” placed with his boss at the time, Kenny Rogers. Both songs ended up being hits in 1984.
It was three years later, but Marx’s self-titled debut on Capitol Records heralded the start of his own career. It was a smash from the get-go, selling four million copies and spawning a No. 1 hit single, “Hold on to the Nights.” The album spawned three more top 3 hits: “Don’t Mean Nothing,” “Should’ve Known Better” and “Endless Summer Nights.” Sales of the album were also helped by Marx’s first big tour as an opening act, playing arenas with the rock group REO Speedwagon.
“That was a big breakthrough for me,” Marx said of the REO tour. “I did a pretty decent club tour to launch the first album, and the clubs started filling up when ‘Don’t Mean Nothing’ became a hit, but sometimes it was rough. I played in Albany (N.Y.) to six people and two were the bartenders.”
That all changed when the album took off and Marx and his group played with REO. “Just to get in front of an audience like that was great. And, (REO members) Kevin Cronin and Gary Richrath couldn’t have been more gracious to me. It was like, ‘Let’s (mess) with the opener.’ They would be on the radio before saying, ‘By the way, get to the venue on time, because you’ve gotta see Richard Marx.”
Finding his place
From that point, Marx released four more albums on Capitol. Three of those albums – “Repeat Offender” in 1989, “Rush Street” in 1991, and “Paid Vacation” in 1994, all went platinum, while “Repeat” sold four million copies and became a No. 1 album. He also scored a lot of hits during this time, including two more No. 1 singles – “Satisfied” and “Right Here Waiting” – and top 10 hits “Angelia,” “Hazard,” and “Now and Forever.”
In the years since he’s released albums independently, Marx has also consistently played live. Marx said a new album will “always been in the cards,” but he also agreed that it’s a difficult time to release new music if you are a longtime artist.
“I don’t know about my peers, but I’m just as prolific as I ever was,” Marx said. “I write all the time, and not just co-writes with other artists. But, I don’t really know what the delivery method is anymore. At this point, the album is dead as far as I’m concerned, with some rare exceptions.”
Marx mentioned singer/guitarist John Meyer’s recent decision to release his album as smaller EPs before a full album came out as one example that was interesting to him, but he added that just recording a record these days can be difficult.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize, or they forget, what goes into the creating of records,” he said. “It costs a lot of money, and if you don’t really know if there’s going to be a return on that, it makes you go, ‘What am I doing?’"
Marx does play new, unreleased songs from time to time in his live shows.
“I don’t really set it up and say, ‘This is a new song,’ but I just play it and the reaction to them is always stellar, really great. I’ve been doing this long enough, though, to not be deluded by that. It doesn’t mean a lot of people are going to go out and buy it, but they are really enjoying in that moment," he said. “The bottom line answer is that that I’m always writing new songs, but I’m not sure how to make them available. I’m just sitting back watching the landscape to see what the next movement is going to be with new music, and in the meantime I’m plying shows and having a blast doing that. I’m really lucky.”
Marx also has quite a sideline going as a songwriter. His best known songs from the last two decades include “Beautiful Goodbye,” “When You Loved Me” and “Days in Avalon,” while his songwriting credits include hits by N’Sync (“This I Promise You”), Luther Vandross (“Dance With My Father”), Keith Urban (“Better Life,” “Everybody,” “Long Hot Summer”) and Emerson Drive (“If You Were My Girl”).
Marx does plays some of these songs he wrote during his shows.
“It’s really fun for me,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people who see me play who know I wrote some of these songs, so it’s a nice surprise, and I do love singing those songs.”
Even “Edge of a Broken Heart?” Yes, showing his diversity, Marx was co-author of that hair-metal hit from the all-women band Vixen.
“You know, some guy at a show was shouting at me for that one: ‘Do the Vixen song!’” Marx said with a chuckle. “I could barely remember the words, of course, but I did it anyway.”