American singer, songwriter, actor and producer Lionel Richie has "partied all night long," "danced on the ceiling," and provided a host of romantic ballads that are the "go to" songs when talking about falling in and out of love.
He is coming to Mohegan Sun Saturday, July 26, with all his best hits in tow to his "All the Hits All Night Long," tour. The 65-year-old Grammy-winner who hit the charts as a member of the popular R&B group The Commodores, admits his priorities have changed over the years, but making good music when he is not entertaining grandchildren is still high on his list. He was "truly" a delight as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: By the time we see you at Mohegan Sun you will have turned that magic "65." Given the benchmark of life, is it turning out like you expected?
A: I hear the number and the only thing I can verify is that I have grandkids running around the house calling me "Pop Pop" and if it weren't for that, I would be 19 in my head. Seriously, I know this might sound strange but I have a little new philosophy I have come up with, youth is speed with no accuracy. At 65, I have accuracy in my life. Forget the speed. I know exactly what I love and what I want to experiment with and what I want to do and what I love. There is no bouncing around anymore; I have my favorite spots in life.
Q: Sounds like a man well settled in with himself and with life. But oh those younger days, wouldn't you like to go back for say, maybe a week?
A: Would l I like to go back and be wild and crazy and wreck my parents again? Not anymore. Every time I would do something my father didn't like, especially after I was 18 or so, he would start laughing and say "you are going to get yours someday." Now I understand because I know what my kids are trying to do to me. I did enough as a kid.
Q: You are best known for your love songs. Do you think the younger generation today has use for or sentiments for songs that are gentle?
A: I think there is a genre today that appreciates that music, and others who have to grow into it. What I am finding is that I have been asked to sing at private parties where the parents of the bride or groom danced their first dance to "Endless Love" and now their kids are being married and want the same song. Kids are getting the songs, even songs like "Three Times A Lady," are you kidding me. They still want that song. No matter what music you like as a teenager or young adult, once you say the words "I love you" to someone, I've got you. I can't tell you how many times when a reviewer back in the day would write "Lionel Richie with another sappy love song." Now I have some of those same guys interviewing me asking "do you have more of those legendary love songs?"
Q: But when it comes to love, you haven't been so lucky, I mean, respectfully of course, three divorces? Not so good. Is there a special lady in your life now? And if so, what are you singing to her?
A: I am dating someone but keeping it real quiet, there is wooing but I am keeping it all off the Richter scale for now. Of course, when I was in the most popular time of my life I didn't have to woo anyone. The reason I started out with the Commodores when I was in college was to meet girls on campus. I only wish it was because of the integrity of the music. Along the way we became famous and of course the opening line to us by our female fans would be "Hello, Is It Me You're Looking For." Fans were already in love with us.
Q: Had it not been for a twist of fate, you might have been a professional tennis player, if the legend being told is correct. Is it?
A: It was kind of a situation where you think you have your whole life planned but then it doesn't quite turn out that way. I was a good tennis player, a really good tennis player at Tuskegee where I went to college and I go to a camp and Arthur Ashe is there. He watches me, I'm 19 at the time, and says "you're too old to play professional tennis. Pros are already playing by the time they are your age. At the rate you are going you won't be ready until you are 25 and you'll be over the hill by then." So I just said Ok. And three or four weeks later we started the Commodores.
Q: Do you still play, tennis, that is?
A: I don't. There used to be a time when I could see the ball, run up to it and hit it back. Now, I hear my knees pop and they say "we are finished with this game." ., I used to see it and go to the ball and hit it back, now I hear a pop and they keep saying we finished the game.
Q: Whose music do you like to listen to other than your own?
A: What is happening to me now is really quite interesting. I follow songwriters and singers as opposed to artists. I love Katy Perry, Bruno Mars. Bruno Mars and a group called the Weekend. I mix up what I like to listen to, every once in a while I like the old, Billy Joel, that era, classic forms.
Q: What is best and what is worst about the music now, as far you are concerned?
A: Back in the day, when you asked an artist why they did a certain song they would give an elaborate answer as to why and the whole back story because it was important to them. Now you ask and it's 'oh, somebody wrote it for me.' Now getting in the business means passing an audition, or being discovered on YouTube. I want to ask some of them 'did you do any gigs, do you rehearse?' I am a back to basics guy when it comes to what I do. It seems like what happened along the way is someone said "you can be a superstar in eight weeks" and I think that new way is brutal. Can you imagine putting Barbra Streisand or Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger on a national TV show and saying "practice a little more and see if you can do better?" You need to be able to read and write music. As a singer/songwriter, I'm still trying to get it together at my age.
Q: If you could perform with anyone, dead or alive, who would be your choices?
A: Alive, Bruno Mars, Usher, Kenny Chesney and Blake Shelton. Dead, Marvin Gay, (that would be too much,) Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.
Q: I know your concert is about your hits, but some performers worry if their old hits are good enough or interesting enough to pack the audience in. What's your counter-argument?
A: Frank Sinatra said to me once, 'If you are lucky enough kid to have one song they ask you to sing over and over again, you have a career and you are a lucky SOB. You not only sang them you wrote them all." For an artist to say 'I don't think I want to perform my hits, he'd have to be brain dead. To me, when you have a body of work they want to hear, sing it. And if you want to add in some new stuff, so be it. And I am still working on new projects. I have been asked to do a second "Tuskegee" album.
Q: Are you seeing any musical ability in your grandchildren?
A: Sparrow and Harlow both have got the bug. Harlow is going to be Nicole Richie again, but in a nice way. These kids are born little actors. I like being a grandfather. What I like best is after they rip the flowers out of the flower beds and break everything in the house, I get to hand them back to their parents and say goodbye.
Q: I know you are an active advocate of the arts for children. Any concerns about the mindset when it comes to arts as education today?
A: We have thrown out the most important entity of our entire educational system as far as I'm concerned. The arts are where kids learn who they are, where they find their natural talent and their natural ability. Cutting back on the arts and physical education is cutting off our nose to spite our face. I had a chance to play and experience music and painting and sports when I was in school. And it was a mind opener. By taking it out of schools, we are cutting off the main part of a system that allows us to see who we are.
Q: What do you want people to say when they come to your concert in Connecticut?
A: 'Lionel, sing louder because this lady next to me is singing too loud.' Just be prepared to hug someone other than who you came with.
Q: What is something most people don't know about you?
A: I am really afraid of heights. If I am in a tall building I am Ok as long as there is glass and walls and doors. But take that away and forget it. As far as amusement rides, none for me.
LIONEL RICHIE'S "All The Hits All Night Long" concert with CeeLo Green start at $84. Go to mohegansun.com for information or call ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.