Lionel Richie goes country on new album
IF he hadn’t known better, Lionel Richie jokes that he might have felt insulted when initially sitting down with some of today’s top country stars to record his new album of duets, Tuskegee.
“I pulled out the lyrics to the songs, and they were like, ‘what’s that?’ “I said, ‘here are the lyrics.’” Richie says with a mock look of astonishment, then smiles.
“They said, ‘Oh no, man. I know this. I’ve been singing it since 1983 or 1987’. Someone even said, ‘I’ve been singing these songs since I was in elementary school.’ “I was like, ‘Thank you very much, I didn’t need to hear that,’” the 62-year-old said about re-recording some of his memorable songs with the likes of Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Willie Nelson and Little Big Town.
Tuskegee, which hit record stores recently, features Richie and 13 country stars singing some top hits of his heyday in the 1980s, including Hello, Stuck On You and All Night Long.
Going country may seem out of place for the pop and R&B singer who gained stardom in the 1970s with the funk and soul group The Commodores, perfecting his brand of romantic ballads then embarking on a major solo career.
But the Alabama native is no stranger to country music, and several of his mega hits have been covered with a twang. The late Conway Twitty recorded Richie’s Three Times a Lady and Kenny Rogers scored a hit with the Richie-penned Lady.
“I’ve always felt right at home in country because I was raised just down the road from Nashville in Tuskegee, Alabama, where I was immersed in country, R&B, gospel and classical music,” Richie said.
He said recording his old favourites with country stars proved to be a surreal experience as he came to realise how many artists knew, and liked, his music. Some of those singers offered re-interpretations of his songs and many pushed him hard to perform at his peak level in the studio, Richie said.
“Jennifer Nettles (of Sugarland) came in and it took me a minute to wrap my head around what she wanted to do with Hello. I was like, ‘Oh, I hold that note that long?’ And Billy Currington can go high with his voice, and you’d never know that. He did Just for You and he just nailed it.” Richie also chuckled at the memory of Darius Rucker announcing in the studio that he would sing Richie’s part on Stuck on You.
“He told me, ‘I’m doing your part and anything that goes up high you have it.’” Richie said. “Those were my orders.” A few people surprised him with their song choices.
Instead of choosing All Night Long, as Richie anticipated, Kenny Chesney picked My Love which he said was his favourite. Perhaps his biggest challenge was a duet with Shania Twain on Endless Love. It was the first time Twain had been in the recording studio since her long hiatus to deal with a crumbling marriage and voice condition.
Richie became aware that she had lost her confidence as well.
“I told her we both had something in common: We were both scared,” Richie recalled. “ I told her, ‘When you walk back in front of that microphone, you’ll turn back into Shania Twain.’ Richie further explores his country side in a CBS special, ACM Presents: Lionel Richie and Friends In Concert, set to air on April 13. “The ultimate compliment here is that you have these people telling you that something you wrote is their favourite song. And then they want to sing it with me? Come on, I mean, at a certain point you have to stop and realise your blessings,” he said.