Lionel Richie

When you’ve been making hits and touring the world for nearly 50 years, people start asking when you’ll retire. For music legend Lionel Richie, the answer is simple: “From what? I’ve never had a job in my life.”

The Grammy winning singer/songwriter has no plans to slow down as he hits the road this month for his first U.S. tour in years, which he calls “the greatest play period” of his life.

“Many people just don’t have this opportunity to last this long,” said Richie, 64. “If I’m still having fun, and more importantly, if the fans are still buying tickets and still want to see you, then we’ve got show business.”

The “Endless Love” crooner brings his “All the Hits All Night Long” tour to Fairfax’s Patriot Center on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

A native of Tuskegee, Ala., Richie likens the D.C. metro area to his second home and was excited to hear he’d be returning to the area.

“It is probably where all of the history was ever made as far as live performances,” he said, referencing past solo tours as well as gigs with the Commodores and Tina Turner.

Despite major shifts in pop music with each decade, Richie considers his live shows to be the one constant in his career.

“Everything else in the music business has made some drastic change, whether it’s from the 8-tracks, to the CD, to the digital downloads,” he said. “One beautiful thing about the live show is that the live show from the audience standpoint doesn’t change a bit, except in one area.”

The area he’s referring to is the diversity of his fans over the years. He described how his audiences typically have generational blocks, with fraternities in one section, dressed up like an '80’s, “Can’t Slow Down” Richie. Another block will be an office party reminiscing on their college years, and then he’ll catch a teenager singing “Easy on a Sunday Morning.”

“My front row looks the same because each generation comes along and they plug back into the Lionel Richie experience,” he said. “It’s a whole melting pot, almost like a Rocky Horror Show Lionel Richie.”

Having sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, it’s no surprise Richie’s canon of tunes lures crowds of all ages. He said he tried for many years to stick to certain eras when on tour – whether Commodores’ tracks, solo hits, or new material – but now realizes the audience wants every hit, from every period, sung in full. And he’s happy to oblige.

“The songs are not gimmick songs, so therefore I enjoy singing them every night,” he said.

The Tuskegee Institute graduate attributes melody to the timelessness of his catalog, from “Brick House,” “Say You, Say Me,” “Penny Lover,” to “Hello.”

“I would rather have a song that … truly will last forever because it says it’s not a time period. It’s not trying to be hip … it never goes out of style,” he said. “A great melody sticks … it becomes a part of the fabric of your being.”

Richie still writes on a daily basis, “stockpiling” bits and pieces of songs that he develops over time. Though not always an autobiographical songwriter, he considers it therapeutic to give others a voice.

“I love putting myself in other folks’ shoes. It’s almost like character acting,” he said.

Even one sentence can spur a hit single for Richie, who said he wrote “Stuck on You” in the early '80s after a man approached him eating breakfast at an Alabama truck stop. The man thanked him for writing “Three Times a Lady” and explained how he met a girl and is “stuck on her.”

Richie compares his songs to kids with their own personality, but said if he had to choose one he’s most proud of, it would be “We are the World” – the 1985 charity single to aid in famine relief for Africa. Richie wrote the song with Michael Jackson and dozens of musicians contributed to the recording. The song sold more than 20 million copies and won Song of the Year at the 1986 Grammys.

“I thought it was brilliant that we could get together with all of these other fabulous artists and do something good outside of our own egos. And taking our strength, which is our talent, and actually applying it to something and saving some people’s lives,” he said. “I’m very proud of that song because it did that and more.”

Countless accolades adorn Richie’s illustrious career, including an Oscar, a Golden Globe, five Grammys, 16 American Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award. Still, his brass rings of success did not come overnight, and he stressed the music industry nowadays is too often focused on a voice rather than the full package, which often results in here-today, gone-tomorrow talent.

“This is a tough world because they’re trying to put superstar in 12 weeks of a TV show,” he said. “We’ve gotten to the point now where I can sing is more valuable than I am special.”

Richie touted Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, and Jay-Z among the few superstars of today. He also said music legends Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and James Brown never would have made it on a show like “American Idol” because they needed to write and perform their own material.

“This is a business of dreams,” said Richie. “You have to, first of all, believe in who you are, and then you discover more and more.”

Richie said he tells aspiring artists to make sure they’re committed and love what they’re doing, because they’ll hear “no” many more times than “yes.”

“There are going to be 800 million people telling you, ‘You suck,’” he said. “I think I’m just blessed with the fact that what I’m doing now is something that I would still want to do years from now.”

Want to go?

What: Lionel Richie performs classics on his “All the Hits All Night Long” tour

When: Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m.

Where: Patriot Center, 4400 University Dr., Fairfax, VA 22030

Details: Tickets range from $39.50 to $129.50 and can be purchased on Ticketmaster.com or Livenation.com 

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