Oh, what a feeling — Lionel Richie hits the road with his greatest hits tour
By Miriam Di Nunzio Chicago Sun-Times September 25, 2013 5:14PM
Andrea Berg 'Die 20 Jahre Show'
Lionel Richie, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29, United Center, 1901 W. Madison. $39.50-$125; ticketmaster.com
Updated: September 25, 2013 5:28PM
He recorded one of the most instantly recognizable dance hits in history in homage to the girls in the dorms of Tuskegee Institute, where Lionel Richie and the rest of the Commodores hooked up while students in 1968.
“Everyone says you go into show business to make money. We couldn’t get arrested at Tuskegee,” Richie says with a hearty chuckle during a recent interview. “We did it to meet chicks. Come on, that’s why every guy starts up a band. We just needed a song that was our theme song.”
That theme song turned out to be “Brick House,” the 1977 megahit that became a staple at college campuses (not to mention discos) across the country. “[Suddenly] we were judging ‘Miss Brick House’ parties at frat houses across the country. Can you imagine being 23 and judging these contests? Judging [the women] on their intelligence, their smiles, on what they were wearing, which was barely nothing.”
Richie freely admits there was a whole lotta partying going on back in the day.
“The Commodores went to Amsterdam early on and I did everything possible. The only reason I have the reputation I have today is because we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter,” he says laughing. There were no cell phones with cameras, and if someone in the room had a camera you avoided that person like the plague.”
Just how crazy was Amsterdam?
“Everyone was drinking and smoking everything in Amsterdam,” Richie recalls. “It was free love, free smoking, to the point where you finally had to go, ‘no thanks!’ My tolerance was zero. Two cans of beer and I was buzzed. But I survived it with some of the greatest memories ever.”
His run with the Commodores, with whom he parted ways in 1982 (following the success of his “Endless Love” duet with Diana Ross), set the stage for the pop/soul/ R&B stylings that propelled Richie to solo superstardom with hits such as “Truly,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Penny Lover,” the Oscar-winning “Say You Say Me,” “Lady,” and the hauntingly beautiful “Hello.” The 64-year-old entertainer is currently on the road for his “All the Hits all Night Long Tour,” featuring all those songs and more.
“I’ve not toured America in eight years, so this is a homecoming for me. My fans are gonna get all the hits. These are songs people fell in love to, got married to, got divorced to. They remember where they were and what they were doing the first time they heard them. ”
So what’s the song that touches his soul in a very special way?
“It’s probably ‘Hello’ or ‘Easy,’” Richie says. “‘Easy’ brings it all back for me. It takes me to the Commodores. ‘Hello,’ man it just gets crowds going all over the world just by that first chord.”
“Homecoming” takes on special meaning for Richie’s Chicago concert Sunday night. The singer graduated from Joliet East Township High School, when his parents moved here from Alabama for his dad’s new government job.
“I have some of the greatest memories of my teen years in Chicago,” Richie said, chuckling. “I spent three brutal winters there that made me decide ‘I’m going back South for college.’ ”