- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

Lionel Richie is on the telephone in his hotel suite in Tampa, Fla., discussing his musical comeback. The former lead singer of the popular '70s and '80s soul group the Commodores, who later became a successful soloist, says he can't believe it has been 10 years since he stepped on stage to perform.

"Originally, I had only planned to stay away for a year," Mr. Richie explains, "but I went through a very painful, public and tumultuous divorce. There were many other personal things going on at the time, too. I was emotionally and physically drained. It was very difficult for me to focus on my music. There really was nothing left in the well to draw from."

Now, Mr. Richie says, he has his groove back. After much soul searching, he feels revived and is ready to pick up the pieces. He has a new album on the Def Jam label, aptly titled "Renaissance," and the accomplished singer-songwriter is opening for Tina Turner on her "Twenty-Four Seven" tour. The tour has been a huge success, selling out in minutes throughout the country.

"I couldn't have asked to share the stage with someone as phenomenal as Tina," Mr. Richie says. "Tina just simply asked me to join her. I was thrilled at the opportunity. What guy can say no to Tina Turner? The phrase 'living legend' gets thrown around a lot these days, but on Tina it's not wasted. She is truly a living legend."

Many fans seem to think Mr. Richie is too. He clearly has established himself as one of the most talented and significant songwriters in pop and R&B; music. Mr. Richie penned and produced such hits for Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers and, of course, the Commodores as "Sweet Love," "Just to Be Close to You," "Sail On," "Still," "Brick House" and his all-time personal favorite, "Easy."

"I like that song for many reasons," Mr. Richie says, "but the biggest reason is because I love the reaction I get from the audience when it's sung. I mean, everybody in the audience will take over that song. It's as if I could just sit there and hold the microphone out and let them carry it, because they know every word. Sometimes I do. I just sit and say, 'Why don't you guys go ahead; you're doing a great job.' They eat it up."

As much as Mr. Richie loves the old stuff, he knows it's a new day. His new music must have a contemporary, hip sound. He hopes the new album, "Renaissance," will be the ticket to put him back on top. He teamed up with get this the Backstreet Boys on an uptempo track called "Cinderella" and co-wrote a song with mega-producer Rodney Jerkins (Whitney Houston, Britney Spears) titled "Tonight."

"Yep, it's definitely different," Mr. Richie says. "Don't get me wrong, I haven't completely abandoned what got me to the dance. I'm still going to produce songs that will make people fall in love and songs that will get you married. But I always want people to expect the unexpected from Lionel."

What many fans expect to see soon is a Commodores reunion tour. After all, back in the day, the Commodores was considered one of the top R&B; dance groups, rivaled only by Earth Wind & Fire.

"A reunion is a distinct possibility," Mr. Richie says. "I would love to see that happen. There really isn't a reason why it couldn't. All of us are still around and kicking, and our voices are still holding up pretty good. If the powers that be give the OK and promote it right, that could be one dynamite concert."

Tina Turner and Lionel Richie are scheduled to appear at the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge next Wednesday.

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