RICHARD THE LIGHTHEARTED
By Bill McLean
By Bill McLean
Nothing would thrill Grammy Award-winning songwriter and former Lake Bluffian Richard Marx more than learning the bulk of the audience at his March 1 concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre had lost most of their voice (from singing along and screaming joyfully) and suffered a sore oblique muscle (from guffawing too hard, too often).
“As they exit, I hope they’re all hoarse,” says Marx, also a pop rock/soft rock singer who’s the only male artist whose first seven singles reached the Top 5 on the Billboard charts. “I hope they’re all still laughing, too. I don’t just sing and perform with my incredible band; I’m also on stage to entertain between songs. If I knew an artist would sing only at a concert, I’d stay home instead and put on headphones to experience that.
“I want each of my shows to feel and sound like a two-hour party. I want everyone to have fun and feel like they’re hanging out with my band members and me and having a blast.”
That’s quite a stark contrast to 1980s Richard Marx, who was urged to pout, make dramatic faces, and never smile in public, especially while performing. Follow that script and you’d be branded a bona fide rock star, handlers insisted.
“I look back at some of those images of me and think, ‘What was I doing?’” Marx says. “I was told to be a poser. I’ve said to that poser, ‘Dude, just have fun. You have the best job in the world and you look miserable.’ I was on the third tour of my career, in either the UK or in Germany, when I started talking between songs, started being silly.
“I lost the ‘poser’ act and started being more me. To those who plan to see me next month on stage for the first time, the person you’ll get to know between songs is the real me. One of the highest compliments I’ve ever received was, ‘He’s the same guy on stage as he is off stage.’”
Marx, 60, splits time at his places in Miami and Los Angeles with his wife, Daisy Fuentes. He could easily pass for a striking 40-something who resurfaces from a sea inlet in a television ad for a cologne. He grew up in Highland Park, attended North Shore Country Day in Winnetka, and lived in Lake Bluff for nearly 20 years. In 2013 he was named Local Legend by the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff. His three sons— all musicians— with his first wife, Cynthia Rhodes, were born in Lake Forest.
“I haven’t performed in Chicago proper for a while, so I jumped at the chance to include a show date (with special guest John Waite) at Auditorium Theatre around stops in Detroit and Milwaukee,” Marx says. “I was at the Auditorium as a kid. Beautiful venue. Performing for your hometown crowd—it doesn’t get better than that.
“I always love returning to the Chicago area, driving along Lake Shore Drive (now Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive) and Sheridan Road and seeing if my favorite after-school hangout, Michael’s (Grill & Salad, in Highland Park), is still around (it is).”
Marx was only 5 years old when he officially became a professional musician. He sang his first commercial jingle at a studio owned by his late father, Dick. The Chicago Blackhawks’ official fight song, “Here Come the Hawks!”, was produced by the Dick Marx Orchestra and Choir in 1968.
One of li’l Richard’s jingle-warbling colleagues 55 years ago was his late mother, Ruth.
“That was really cool, getting to work with my parents after school and singing songs that would help companies sell products like candy bars and breakfast cereals,” recalls Marx, who has been a professional songwriter for 38 years and a recording artist for 35. “Sometimes my father would arrange for a full symphony to perform in his studio for the recording of a commercial.”
Marx’s songwriting career got off to an auspicious start in 1984. He co-wrote “What About Me?”, sung by Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, and James Ingram. All it did was shoot to No. 1. His self-titled debut album in 1987 featured four Top 5 singles, including “Hold On To The Nights” and “Don’t Mean Nothing,” and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. His sophomore album in 1989, Repeat Offender, went quadruple platinum and contained a pair of No. 1 singles: “Satisfied” and “Right Here Waiting.”
Fourteen Marx songs—thanks to either his voice or his pen—have scaled to the top of a chart. In 2003 he won the “Song of the Year” Grammy Award for co-writing Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father.”
Marx has also collaborated with a host of other artists, including Keith Urban, Natalie Cole, Josh Groban, and NSYNC.
Marx released his latest album, Songwriter, in 2022. That work’s top single is the mellifluous “Same Heartbreak Different Day.”
Count on hearing that song, along with Marx’s enduring hits from the first three decades of his highly successful, impossibly steady career, at Auditorium Theatre on March 1.
“I love performing live,” Marx says. “People ask me, ‘How’s touring going?’ I’m not touring; I’m doing shows. I’m constantly doing shows.”
For ticket information about Richard Marx’s 7 p.m. concert on March 1 concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, visit auditoriumtheatre.org.