Lionel Richie is reaping what he sowed during his dalliance with country music 30 years ago with the release of 'Tuskegee,' a country duets album named for his hometown in Alabama.
ATLANTA — His fall tour is dubbed “All the Hits, All Night Long,” but if Lionel Richie truly was to play even half of his smash-filled catalog, it would be more like “All Year Long.”
He’s the king of the R&B pop jam and has lived on the charts since the ’70s, when the Commodores funked through “Brick House” and sent hearts fluttering with “Three Times a Lady.” His ’80s solo career soared when “Can’t Slow Down” spent the entire year of 1984 on the charts, eventually selling more than 10 million copies thanks to the ubiquity of “All Night Long (All Night),” “Penny Lover” and the ballad with perhaps the greatest video ever, “Hello.”
But Alabama native Richie is no nostalgia act. In 2012, Tuskegee, his album featuring country stars such as Shania Twain and Jason Aldean duetting with him on his own material, hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, his first to reach that pinnacle since 1984.
For the moment, though, Richie is bringing fans what he knows they want: a set featuring more than two dozen classics.
The affable Richie, 64, checked in recently to talk about his newfound fan base and his pride in being a Southerner.
Q: So it’s all the hits this time around?
A: You’re gonna hear as many songs as we get to play; it’s going to be a great show. There’s always someone who will shout out a song and the band is prepared to go there. I’m going to go out there and give myself the quiz! It’s going to be a lot of crazy memories.
Q: Are you seeing a generational thing in your audiences, with people bringing their kids?
A: It is the weirdest thing — how about the kids bringing their parents! We finished Hyde Park in London — 62,000 of my closest friends — and I’m looking in the audience and there are no 64-year-olds out there. We’re looking at all these festivals we’re playing, and all of a sudden, I’m realizing it didn’t sell out in four days because of my generation, it’s the younger generation.
Q: When Harry Connick, Jr., came through town, he made a point of saying how audiences in the South are different. As a Southerner yourself, do you feel that way?
A: Absolutely. In the South, I’m Ly-nel. If it’s really down South, it’s ly-nah, there is no “l” at the end! That is the best compliment of life. I know a lot of people, when they move away, they start to say, “I’m from L.A.” “I’m from San Francisco.” No, you’re not — you’re from Tupelo! When I did this country album (2012’s Tuskegee), I explained, I’m not going country, I am country. I didn’t write “Sail On” to go country. My pride and joy is that I am from Alabama and a Southern boy. I attribute my success to the earthiness of growing up there.
Q: Tuskegee came out about a year and a half ago, so is there anything in the pipeline?
A: The next release will probably be a mixture. I’m gonna write another album. I’ll call it a Lionel Richie album, and if it happens to go country, we’ll call it country. I do popular music that goes wherever it goes. On this next record, you’ll hear some dance stuff because I like to hear people comment, “What the hell is this brother doing?”