Back in 1988, a young rock singer made quite a name for himself on the charts with such songs as “Hold on to the Nights,” “Satisfied,” “Keep Coming Back,” “Hazard” and “Now And Forever” just to mention a few. In fact, when he was touring in support of his self-titled Manhattan Records debut and came to Maine, I scored a phone interview with Richard Marx. When I discovered that, after 28 years, he was coming back to Maine to play at the the Waterville Opera House (Saturday, May 28), I just had to chat with him again. To that end, he called on May 10 to talk about his new tour and upcoming appearance.

Marx: Hey, Lucky, if I lose you it’s only because I’m driving through the canyon and I’ll just call you right back.

Q: Where are you calling from?

Marx: Los Angeles.

Q: Have you ever performed at the Waterville Opera House before?

Marx: I don’t think so.

Q: What will you bring in for a band?

Marx: A band? Who needs a band? This is my solo acoustic tour and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I love playing with the band, and I still play (with them) occasionally. But for the last couple of years I started doing these shows where it’s just me and the audience. I mean, the best part of it is that t
he show is really what happens in between the songs. So it’s not one of those serious singer-songwriter shows where I talk about the process. Nobody wants to hear that, but luckily I’ve got a lot of great stories over my life and career that sort of take people through my songwriting catalogue. I do all my hits, I do hits I wrote for other people, and we just hang out for two hours. It’s such a blast, especially in a room like that.

Q: Oh, man, yeah — this venue is tailor-made for what you’re going to do. Now, with all the success you’ve had writing your own songs and the ones you wrote for other artists, how come you’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the Songwriters Hall of Fame?

Marx: Well, as far as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame goes, even though I began my career at rock radio and had quite a few rock hits and No. ones, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a tremendously political machine unto itself. The board is made up of people who are probably going to be much more interested in inducting less commercial people, so I don’t really think about that one too much. But the Songwriters Hall of Fame, yeah, it’s a little bit of a head-scratcher for me. I think I certainly qualify and I’d love to be in it. Maybe it’ll happen in the next year or so.

Q: You’ve done so much over your career, is there anything, Richard, that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to do?

Marx: There are two things that I haven’t done that I think I’d really love to experience. One is: Even though I’ve worked with young artists on their first records — I produced and wrote Josh Groban’s first hit song and NSYNC’s “This I Promise You” — I have yet to discover and break a new artist. I’d really like to have that happen in my life.

Q: And what’s the second one?

Marx: To score a film. I’ve written songs in a lot of films, but I’ve never scored a film and I’d like to do that, too. I’d like to score some really small, independent relationship picture — you know, something that’s just a little bit more emotionally evocative and less about visual. I’ve just found myself writing these instrumental pieces in between all the songs that I write and I’ve got a stash of them that I think are worth hearing. I think that that’s always a good pairing between instrumental music and film.

Q: You will be playing keyboards, right?

Marx: Yeah, I play piano in the show, but only on a couple of songs. I’m mostly playing acoustic guitar throughout the whole show.

Q: Speaking of that performance, you have so much material to draw upon. Is it hard to put together a show?

Marx: No, it’s so much fun. The only dilemma is what to leave out, and it’s such a great blessing for me that I can change up the set list a lot and still cover a lot of ground. So there are certain songs that have to be staples of the show — and when I say “have to” it’s not that I play them begrudgingly. I love playing every song and I really am proud of the catalogue. I am happy to be playing “Don’t Mean Nothing” and “Right Here Waiting” every night as I was 20 years ago. It’s so fun for me every night to put the set list together because it’s always different, and I really recognize how lucky I am to be able to do that.

Q: And without a band you can go wherever your muse leads you, too.

Marx: Yeah, that’s the best, man — you nailed it just now! That’s the thing, there’s a different kind of joy to a solo show. When you’re in a great band, and everybody’s locked in, that’s a really exciting thing. But at the same time it has parameters, and when it’s just me and the audience, I can do whatever I want. It’s the most freeing, fun time on stage I’ve ever had.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this about your Waterville Opera House solo debut?

Marx: Just mention that it’s always a thrill for me to play in a gorgeous venue and I just want them to bring their party game. We’re just going to hang out for the evening as if we were in my house.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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