With thirty million record sales to his name, Richard Marx has written 14 No.1 songs, topping the US charts in each of the past four decades. These include recordings released under his own name, like Right Here Waiting, Hold On To The Nights and Satisfied, plus songs he's written for others, which include chart-toppers by Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers and N Sync. He's also worked with The Tubes, Michael Bolton, Bonnie Tyler, Chicago, and about a thousand others.
We caught up with singer, songwriter and producer Marx to talk about his recent album, Songwriter.
You last spoke to Classic Rock just before lockdown, about the release of your 2020 album Limitless, and a series of unplugged dates in the UK. We all know what happened next.
We do know. And I’m only just starting to get back on the road. Now I’m back there’s something palpably different about playing live, a sense of gratitude from the crowds and also from myself. We had been kept apart for two years.
Did lockdown and all that came with it have an effect on your mental health?
It took quite a bit of a toll when I realised it was not going to go away quickly. For the first time in my adult life I was forced to be quiet and still. It took me quite a while to get used to that, but it turns out I kind of liked it.
Presumably the new album, Songwriter, was conceived during that ‘quiet’ time?
Yes, that’s correct.
On it you purposely set out to explore a number genres – pop, rock, country and ballads. That’s ambitious; most people probably like one or two of those, but few would tick all four boxes.
You’re right. But it’s something that I’ve been doing my entire professional life. In my first five years I had hits with Kenny Rogers, Vixen, Philip Bailey [of Earth, Wind & Fire fame] and an R&B artist named Durell Coleman, so I’ve always been all over the map with genres. It feels very natural. There has been diversity on my previous records, but this time I just thought: “Why not?”
The album’s hardest rocking track, Shame On You, was written with your son Jesse.
We wrote that song in twenty minutes flat. We got Taylor Hawkins to play drums on it a month before he passed.
Do you see a lot of yourself in Jesse?
All three of my sons have turned out to be songwriters. Jesse is in a rock band called Mark This Hour. My eldest son Brannon has an incredible voice and is more into electronic music, he’s done some things in hip-hop. Although I write pretty frequently with my other son, Lucas, Brannon and I haven’t collaborated yet.
You co-wrote one of the ballads on the record, the gorgeous Always, with the iconic hit maker Burt Bacharach. How did that come about?
Getting to do that was a life-long dream come true. I reached out to Burt a couple of years ago. It took a while to make it happen. Burt was on tour and then doing a Broadway show… the guy is 91 years old. Talk about inspiring! I wrote the lyrics about how I met my wife Daisy [Fuentes, the 1990s MTV video jockey] late in life. I’m proud to say that it launched a friendship with Burt.
Given the ‘cuddliness’ of your image, the outspoken nature of your presence on Twitter is quite is remarkable. Some of your take-downs are brutal.
I don’t go after anybody unless they’re an elected official or a politician. Then they’re game. Anybody that I go after has already come after me.
All the same, you don’t hold back.
Hey, I grew up in Chicago in the sixties and seventies, and if some random person insults me in the street I wouldn’t keep walking. I’d be: “What the fuck did you just say?” And it’s the same on Twitter. People often ask why I even bother engaging. But in my view, apathy breeds ignorance and rudeness. I love it when these people go away afterwards and close down their accounts. That’s fun for me.
How do you feel about social media’s growing impact on society? Do you think it’s dangerous?
As much as I participate, it’s not a good thing. I was a late arrival. My buddy Matt Scannell from the band Vertical Horizon convinced me to try it out, and I was surprised that I had so much fun with it. I didn’t really start reacting until the lead-up to the Trump administration. When I’m on Twitter I’m not an artist, I’m an American taxpayer and my opinion is just as valid as anybody’s.
Who remains on your bucket list as a potential songwriting partner?
The first names that come to mind are young artists that, frankly, don’t need any help from me. I’ve always fancied the idea of writing with Rod Stewart. And I’d really like to write with JD Souther [Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and a solo artist]; this is interesting, as it might well happen. He’s such an incredible poet.
And which artist do you wish would record one of your songs, who is yet to do so?
Rod [Stewart]. Back in the 1990s I sent him a song called Chains Around My Heart that I recorded myself. He sent back a note that said: “Lovely song, mate. I’d love to do it but I can’t hit those fucking notes."
Songwriter is out now. Richard Marx is currently on tour in The US, with dates in Australia and New Zealand scheduled for February and March next year. Full dates (opens in new tab).