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Richard Marx Talks Writing Songs for *NSYNC & Keith Urban

Legendary singer songwriter Richard Marx stopped by The Bobby Bones Show to talk about why he feels like he has two different versions of his career, the time he pitched a song to Kenny Rogers while singing backup for him, and how songs for Keith Urban and NSYNC happened! 

Marx believes that you make your own luck, and the luckiest thing that happened to him was being born to his parents, who were always supportive of his musical dreams. He said he started singing before he could talk and when his dad noticed his talent, he had him sing in one of his commercials for candy. While in high school, he was awkward, and girls only wanted to be his friend. He had to do something to set him apart, so he started to write songs and it came naturally to him. Where he grew up in Chicago, no one was a songwriter or a rockstar at that time, so he wasn’t taken seriously. But when he wasn’t doing homework, he was learning to write songs and studying music. When it was time to graduate, he told his parents he wanted to move to LA and chase his music dreams, and they encouraged him and even told him to not have a backup plan and to just fully invest himself in it.  

At 18 he got his first job in Los Angeles singing backup vocals for Kenny Rogers for two days on his new album. While in the studio, he shared he did what no newbie backup vocalist should do, and that was go up to Rogers and tell him he was a songwriter. Surprised, Rogers asked to hear one of his songs. He played his song “Crazy” for him and Rogers loved it so much, he recorded it, and it became a number one song. Marx said he was inspired by the opportunity and the song just fell out of him.  

The first man who gave him a shot and was instrumental in launching his career was Bruce Gaitsch. He got signed to a one album deal and put out his first single “Don’t Mean Nothing,’” which blew up. It happened so fast, and everything fell into place so easily, he wondered if the success really happened. He did start to deal with some adversity though. The person who signed him to the label left, and he had to deal with guys who did not sign him, and everything became a battle when deciding which songs and singles they should use. He was told his song “Right Here Waiting” would not be successful, and that’s when he knew he had to take a bet on himself. Marx is fine with failing, he rather screw up because he tried, rather than not try at all. He pushed for “Right Here Waiting” to be a single, and it ended up becoming one of his biggest hits globally.  

At the end of the ‘90s, after 10 years of success, he had his first album that did not go double platinum. He said that’s when radio stopped playing white male singer-songwriters, and he realized he had a choice to make. He started focusing on writing and producing and found a lot of success. The song he wrote for *NSYNC, “This I Promise You,” he had in mind for another group at first. He saw a girl trio sing at a friend's wedding and he thought the song would be perfect for them. After some back and forth, the deal fell through. A few days later, he received a call asking if he had any songs for *NSYNC and pitched them that song. 

He was put in contact with Keith Urban after he released his first album to write together. But after a year or two they found they couldn’t finish any song together and didn’t click. Then when he was living in Chicago, Urban came to stay with him over Superbowl weekend, and during halftime they went down to his studio and started throwing out ideas and wrote his song “Better Life.” It became a huge hit for Urban and then they started writing together every few years and wrote his song “Long Hot Summer.” 

Marx was very close to his father, and when he suddenly died in 1997, Luther Vandross was the only person who really knew what to say to him. A few years later, Vandross called him and said he only had a song title called “Dance With My Father” and he didn’t know what to do with it, but he knew he wanted Marx to be part of the writing process. Ten days after he mixed the song, Vandross had a stroke and died. Marx was happy he lived long enough to hear the song because he knew how much it meant to him.  

Marx said he has never written a song he thought was a hit. He writes what he likes and is always surprised when they become hits. Writing a song to this day is still a piece of magic to him. Every time he finishes another song, he can’t believe he did it.  

You can watch Marx's full interview and hear him perform his song "Right Here Waiting" above!