(In keeping with our apparent theme of ‘90s artists coming to town this weekend, here’s a recent Q&A I did with Richard Marx, who plays The Fred on Saturday. Earlier this week, I posted an interview with Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray and Jesse Valenzuela of Gin Blossoms, both performing at Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Friday night.)
Richard Marx’s name might have been bandied about more frequently in the late-‘80s, early-‘90s when he consistently topped the charts with irresistibly catchy pop-rock hits including “Satisfied,” “Should’ve Known Better,” “The Way She Loves Me,” “Hold On to the Nights” and the moody story-song “Hazard.”
But what many casual followers might not realize is that Marx has been a chart staple for four decades, starting with co-writing the Kenny Rogers/Kim Carnes ballad “What about Me” in 1984 and continuing through the past few years, when he’s shared his songwriting and production skills with artists such as Keith Urban, Chris Daughtry, Lifehouse and Ringo Starr.
Marx, a down-to-earth Chicagoan, is happy to chat about everything from his Twitter beef with American Airlines (he’s an amusing follow @RichardMarx) to his wife of 23 years, Cynthia Rhodes (“I married way out of my league,” he said) to his friendship with Hugh Jackman, who appears on Marx’s latest album, the live, “A Night Out with Friends,” released last month.
Calling from his home in a northern suburb of Chicago, Marx, 48, also talked about his upcoming Christmas album and what to expect at Saturday’s show at The Fred.
Q. You’re performing with a string section here. Do you have to prepare differently or recast your songs?
A. I’ve done it quite a bit. In the mid-‘90s, I did a show with the Atlanta Symphony and my dad [jazz pianist/arranger Dick Marx, who died in 1997] did the charts. When I started doing these acoustic shows two years ago, every once in awhile I’d say, let’s get a quartet. The ballads are just gorgeous. There’s nothing sleepy about the show. It will be me, 20 strings and my keyboardist, Steve Hornbeak. I’ll do about 20 songs, and I’ve started doing an acoustic arrangement of Katy Perry’s ‘The One That Got Away.’
Q. You’ve written dozens and dozens of hits for other artists. Do you prefer the behind-the-scenes side of the business?
A. I did, initially, because I was always away from my family and friends [before]. But 10 years into my career as an artist, I made a record that didn’t really connect and I was at a crossroads. I chose to make hits for other people. But I missed the playing and performing. It’s the best now. I am so in love with performing now, even the travel.
Q. Hugh Jackman is on “A Night Out with Friends.” How do you know him?
A. I met him when he was doing ‘The Boy from Oz’ on Broadway. They brought me in as a possibility to do some songs for an album he was working on. I pulled the plug on it because he was fried at the time, but we loved hanging out together.
Q. And now you have a Christmas album coming out later this year.
A. I just recorded a duet with Kenny Loggins, a new arrangement of ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth.’ I really wanted Kenny to sing on it. Everything I ever wanted to be as a singer was based on his ‘Through the Fire’ album. The album is called ‘Christmas Spirit.’ There are a couple of originals, and Dave Grusin is on a song called ‘Christmas Mornings.’ That’s just amazing to me that he’s on it. I’ve worshipped his film scores all my life.
Q. OK, let’s talk about Twitter. You’re pretty active on there.
A. I was a Twitter holdout. I finally l succumbed to it last November. I thought, it’s not going away, so I can be involved as a way of showing my personality. My songs are a real reflection of what I think, but it’s still manufactured to a degree. I don’t have a stage persona, but I wondered if Twitter could be another outlet of expression for me.
At this point in my career, I don’t care! So I figured it would be fun to entertain whoever wants to follow me with sardonic comments. I love to remind people of records that maybe they haven’t heard of in awhile or say, ‘You’ve got to see the Civil Wars live.’ It’s just another creative outlet. But there’s a toxicity to it. There are some pretty dark, angry people on there.
Q. So you’ve been married now 23 years. What’s the secret?
A. [Cynthia] is just the best. We always tell people we married our best friend. There’s just no one I’d rather spend a second with than her. We were teammates raising our kids. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s hot!
Q. And now those three boys are all grown.
A. They’re all grown and they still live here! The oldest [Brandon] will be 22 this fall, he’s doing some DJ work. My middle son [Lucas] took a detour to acting, he had a role on ‘Chicago Code.’ The youngest [Jesse] just graduated from high school. He’s starting work at Starbucks. Seriously. I’m old school when it comes to men being men and supporting themselves. They’re really good guys. We’re all best friends.
Q. You mentioned how good Cynthia looks, but how have you managed to still look so great?
A. [Laughs] I work hard at it. I work out like a maniac and eat really clean and healthy. Some of it’s genetics, but what can I say? I’m vain.
Q. With the record industry the way it is, do you think that these package albums, sort of like your current live one, are the way to go?
A. That’s what the theory is and who am I to say that’s not the correct theory? I don’t know anybody my age or from my time who is a solo artist who is really viable as a record seller. But I feel like my best songwriting is at hand. Part of that is due to the fact that I get to write with these younger bands. I just don’t have the audience anymore who really cares about new music. It doesn’t translate into record sales. I have no idea what this industry is going to look like in a year. I fear for the new generation of singer-songwriters that they can make a living. I’m a big fan of new music, and soon, that will start to dry up.
All of my kids are musical and I was telling Luke, you might have to do something else to make a living while you do music. I’m so grateful to have a catalog of hits. I don’t know anybody else who has worked in as many genres of music as I have. My kids love that my name is on a country album this week and a hard rock album the next. But you have to be a real student of music to pull that off.
8 p.m. Saturday. $40-$90. Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater, 201 McIntosh Trail, Peachtree City. 1-877-725-8849, www.ticketalternative.com.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene