Lionel Richie has crossed over before. From R&B to pop in the 1980s, when he left The Commodores to go solo. He’s also had success in country music, writing the #1 hit “Lady” for Kenny Rogers, and recording “Deep River Woman,” a Top 10 duet with Alabama. Today, Lionel Richie releases an entire album of duets with country stars that he calls “Tuskegee.” Country Countdown USA spoke with Lionel Richie in the Mercury Records office in Nashville: “I had lots of suggestions, people saying ‘You should do Gershwin, Nat King Cole.’ Why not do my own catalogue. I only know how to be me. I’m not gospel. I’m a southern boy. What’s the place I haven’t been? Country. So I put it out, and everybody called, and they picked their own songs. When they came to the table, they knew the songs by heart. Darius Rucker said, ‘I’m gonna sing your part, it’s the only part I know.’
When Darius was Lon’s co-host, he talked about the experience with Lionel. “It was a blast for me. Lionel’s in my DNA. I’m proud to be a part of that.” Jason Aldean is also on the project: “Of course I’m a huge Lionel Richie fan, as a child of the 80s, he was huge, so I was into it. It was cool, seeing what a huge country music fan he is, so he was excited to have all of us be a part of his album.”
Rascal Flatts chose the 1986 hit Dancing On the Ceiling. The group’s Jay DeMarcus told Lon on Country Countdown USA “That was an absolute blast. To be in a room with a Commodore, making music, it doesn’t get any better than that.” Lead singer Gary LeVox said, “Lionel was a big fan. I saw him on a plane, and he was over the top. He told us we could produce it, so he was excited about it.” Who picked the song? Jay said, “We all did. It was one of our favorite post-concert songs. When the three of us were on the same bus, we’d blast that song after our shows.” Joe Don added, “We always thought it should be an encore song. So it’s funny this opportunity came up, we got to record this song with Lionel Richie, and it because the encore last summer during Flatts Fest.” Gary said, “He still looks like he’s 30 years old. But it was fun to be in the studio with him and watch him work.”
Shania Twain recorded “Endless Love” with Lionel, and you can read about that HERE. Kenny Chesney was also part of Lionel Richie’s album, and he spoke with Lon about it when he co-hosted the Countdown last month.
The album title, Tuskegee, comes from Lionel’s hometown. ” It was inspired by the fact that I’m from Tuskegee Alabama. I can go home now. They call me Little Richie. They were the first fans of mine. I wrote those songs inspired by Tuskegee. It’s a fitting tribute to those people. The great part is I don’t have to make up anything. Probably what this record did is make me take a good look at myself. It’s like group therapy with the greatest artists in country music. It’s real, and that’s what made it personal to me. To take it back to Tuskegee makes it even better.”
This week, Lionel will travel to Las Vegas where he’ll appear in the Academy of Country Music Awards show on Sunday. And then on Monday, he’ll tape a TV special that will air on Friday April 13th. After that, Lionel says he’ll go on tour, and there’s even thought of a Volume 2: “I can tell you that Part 2 is coming. Tuskegee put my foot in the door. It ended up being my whole body. I want to write with Nashville songwriters, and work more with these musicians.”