Richard Marx’s ‘Holy S—!’ Moments With Eagles: Exclusive Interview
Richard Marx certainly seemed like an overnight success when his self-titled debut arrived in May 1987.
The first four singles from Richard Marx soared into the Billboard Hot 100's Top 5; “Hold On to the Nights,” the big power ballad, snared Marx his first No. 1. Bolstered by their success, his first album has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide.
But Marx had actually toiled for years in search of his first recording contract, carrying around a demo tape that had two future hit singles but getting turned down again and again.
In the meantime, Marx sang background vocals on a slew of big records, including Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night)” and “Running With the Night.” Hired as a session singer, Marx finally took a leap of faith by presenting Kenny Rogers with “Crazy,” a song he wrote after hearing Rogers still needed a ballad to complete an album.
It was the kind of thing that could get an overly ambitious hired gun sent packing, but Marx took the gamble and ended up cowriting three tracks for Rogers’ 1984 album What About Me, including the title track. “Crazy” went straight to No. 1 on the country chart. He’s since written hit songs for NSYNC, Keith Urban, Josh Groban, Vixen, Luther Vandross and many others.
A new memoir, titled Stories to Tell, gives readers a fly-on-the-wall view as that journey unfolded. The Grammy-winning songwriter talks to UCR about the book and another career highlight when he collaborated several times with members of Eagles.
Listen to Richard Marx's 'Crazy'
The way you've organized this book using the songs as the structural road map, it really works well. It must be daunting figuring out how to lay something like that out. How did you land on the concept?
It was never going to be a book, and it was certainly never going to be a memoir, the first few years. It was just this back-pocket little thing I was doing. It was a function of the solo acoustic shows I was doing a lot. When I was initially doing those shows starting, nine years ago, 10 years ago, it occurred to me that the stories I was telling in between the songs during the show were the most important part for me, at that point. I felt really confident in the songs. I felt confident in my singing. I was going to get the songs across. To me, the show had to be what happened in between the songs. That needed to be as entertaining as the songs. I just happened to be blessed with a whole shitload of really interesting and funny stories – a lot of them self-deprecating, a lot of them involving other well-known people. It occurred to me after refining those stories and coming up with more and remembering more stories to tell in my show that each of those stories in between the songs was its own chapter of a book. I started to think about it that way, but I still didn’t even really take it that seriously until I got a book deal. That was the real slam dunk.
It was like, "Oh, okay, now I really have to do this. I have to form it into a real book." There was also a little bit of a push to write about my life and my personal life, in addition to telling all of these stories. You read the book, so you know, it’s still very career and music-centric. I only write about my personal life in ways that I felt comfortable and that respected the integrity of my privacy. It’s not a tell-all. There’s so many stories I could tell you that I would never write in a book, because it’s just not cool.
Joe Walsh is one of the great rock 'n' roll characters. When he comes into play on “Don’t Mean Nothing,” how much of that did you see in that moment?
Well, Joe was still kind of partying at that time, yet it didn’t affect his playing at all. It just fueled it. He was pretty out of it, but he was so sweet. He was really doing this kid he’d never met before a favor. He just liked the song and was friends with Randy Meisner. That’s how it happens. Randy, I met through somebody else. Randy liked “Don’t Mean Nothing” and said, "I'd be happy to come sing on it." It was Randy who said, “You know, I know you haven’t put a solo on this thing yet. I think Joe would really like this song. He’d probably want to play on it.” I lost my mind. I was like, “Don’t tease me like that, man!” He called me a couple of days later and he said he played it for Joe over the phone, the demo. Joe said, “Yeah, I like that; I’ll come play on that.” He came in and played the solo in, like, two takes. It was like 10 minutes and he was done. I was like, “Oh, my God, I can’t thank you enough.”
He said, “Well, hang on a second. Let’s sit down and listen. I was thinking, I like that bridge thing, and I had an idea.” So then he starts playing little parts. He spent an extra hour tweaking and coming up with the thing at the very end during the fade of “Don’t Mean Nothing,” there’s this part that goes [Marx imitates riffing] with these delays. That was all Joe, just coming up with parts after his obligation, if you will, to play the solo was done. Then when I started touring, he had me come and open for him on his tour a couple of times. Through the year, every time I see him, I mean, his presence on “Don’t Mean Nothing” and Randy and [their Eagles bandmate] Timothy [B. Schmit], for sure, but Joe’s solo and his presence on that track, was a massive contributor to its success.
Listen to Richard Marx's 'Don't Mean Nothing'
What are your memories of working on background vocals for that song with Timothy B. Schmit and Randy Meisner? They’ve done this countless times as members of the Eagles but never together. So it seems like it would have added a really interesting dynamic to the whole process.
It was. They didn’t really know each other very well. They’d both been in Poco, and they’d both been in the Eagles, but not together – obviously [because they were both] bass players. I kick myself to this day for not having video of some kind from that session. There are some photographs; I think one of them’s in my book. My memory of it – and this was a long time ago – is that it was like two pros coming to a studio to do a session. They gave off no vibe, like, “We’re just here to do a favor, and we want to be done [as soon as possible].” They were happy to be there, and they were happy to help me. I remember thinking, “I don’t understand why they’re doing this. They don’t know me. They’re doing this because they like the song and because they know me through so and so.”
And then, after the song became a hit, maybe eight or nine months later, I did my first MTV special, and we filmed it at the Palladium in Hollywood. Somebody asked them if they would come and be part of the special. And they were there, there they were onstage with me! And they came to rehearse with me! These people, but especially them, it was my first album and I was 23 years old; in fact, when I recorded it, I was 22. I still kind of can’t believe it, but it says so much about them and about their graciousness and coolness.
Watch Richard Marx Perform 'Take It to the Limit' With Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit
You standing there trading verses with them on “Take It to the Limit,” that’s a cool moment.
Yeah, that was the same show – and holy cow, that was. I did that song with Randy years later on an NBC special. I can’t remember what the special was, but he reached out and said, “They want me to come and do ‘Take It to the Limit’ and I was hoping you’d come and sing it with me again.” I remember thinking, “You don’t need me; it’s all about you, man!” He’s like, “No, no, I want you to come.” And think about that, man, as an Eagles fan, a real big Eagles fan, to get up onstage and sing “Take It to the Limit” with Randy Meisner? Holy shit! I did a charity event with Joe. He asked me to come and sing a few songs at a charity event in Chicago about nine years ago. It was the first time we ever performed “Don’t Mean Nothing” together live. Then we did “Life in the Fast Lane,” and I just played guitar and sang background vocals – and this is now decades later.
I’m standing there and as cool as it was, and it was awesome to finally perform “Don’t Mean Nothing” with him live, it was me standing there watching him and listening to him sing “Life in the Fast Lane” and me having my part down and singing my background vocals, like, it’s one of the countless moments of my life where I go, "I cannot fucking believe this is happening right now."
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