Rejection couldn’t keep ’80s pop hit maker from success
In the late 1980s, Richard Marx conquered the pop charts with a string of hits, including “Hold On To the Nights” and “Right Here Waiting” — syrupy ballads that became his trademark sound.
He was a big star in those days although we couldn’t care less, since a lot of other things were happening in the scene at that time, especially the rise of Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses.
But what’s interesting about Marx was that he had the drive to succeed as a singer-songwriter, even while he had to stay in the sidelines for some time as backup vocalist, not to mention being turned down by record labels and discouraged by David Foster.
Marx is performing for the first time on Dec. 9 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Better late than never, we should say, if only to find out how good he is as a live performer.
His e-mail chat with the Philippine Daily Inquirer has surprising revelations.
Your parents were professional musicians. How strong was your desire to follow in their footsteps and how did you prepare for it?
It wasn’t so much following in their footsteps as much as the fact that I just loved to sing and perform. But they were great teachers. And very supportive of me. I learned a great deal watching my dad not only create music but run a successful business.
Your initial break consisted of singing backup for the likes of Lionel Richie, Madonna, Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross; and two of your songs were recorded by Kenny Rogers. How exciting were those times?
Really exciting. I was “struggling” trying to get a record deal, but also getting to work with some of the biggest artists in music, so it was a thrilling way to pay my dues.
But your attempt to get your own record deal took several years to fulfill. Did you think that the people who rejected your demo missed something, or they didn’t deserve their jobs at all?
Most people who make those decisions know very little about music, and they also come from a place of fear. If they sign an artist who doesn’t have hits, the company will blame the person who signed that artist. So it’s always been safer for them to just say no. I was rejected based on songs that later became big hits, so … I guess they were wrong. Just like David Foster telling me I had no future as a singer, and only as a writer.
How did you use the money that you earned when you got famous?
I put a lot of it back into my career, on my tours and videos, etc. And I’ve never been about “bling.” I have a nice house and drive a nice car and go on beautiful vacations once a year. That’s about it.
What have you learned about success and the power of music in people’s lives?
The hardest lesson to learn and accept is that we in the music business. Unlike any other business, we are not known for our greatest achievements. We’re only known for our most recent hit. So all the hits I’ve had and records I’ve sold mean little or nothing a week later. That’s rough. But that’s the way it is. No one said life is fair but mine’s been very blessed, so it’s hard to complain.
What were the mistakes that you wished you never committed in your career?
The mullet! And not breathing the successful years in and enjoying them. I was too busy working and trying to top everything that I didn’t really embrace all the great stuff that was happening. I was young and didn’t know any better.
How do you want people to remember you when you’re old and gray?
As a loyal friend and someone you could count on. And most of all, a great father.
What should your Filipino fans look forward to in your Manila concert?
Well, it’s my first time there, so I’m very anxious to play for the fans and see all I can of Manila. I just want the audience to hang out with me like we’re friends in my living room.
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