Exclusive

Richard Marx recalls emotional story behind co-writing 'Dance with My Father' with Luther Vandross

16 December 2021, 14:37

By Tom Eames

Richard Marx may be one of the most underrated singer-songwriters of his generation. Not only has he had a hugely successful solo career, but he has written or sung for some of the biggest artists of all time.

Speaking on Smooth's Famous Firsts podcast, Richard Marx opened up to host Jenni Falconer about his friendship with Luther Vandross, and how the pair penned 'Dance With My Father' together.

After meeting backstage at the American Music Awards in the '90s, Marx and Vandross instantly hit it off.

Soon, they were working together musically, with the 'Never Too Much' singer performing backing vocals for multiple Marx albums, and Richard writing songs for Luther's first and only Christmas album, This Is Christmas.

It was years later, in 2003, when the talented duo worked on 'Dance With My Father' together, which resulted in them bagging a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

"I met Luther in the early ‘90s at an American Music Awards show backstage. I was a big fan of his, and he was really sweet to me. It was a little mutual admiration society backstage for a minute. And we exchanged phone numbers," Richard explained.

"You know how sometimes you just hit it off with somebody immediately? You just feel like, 'Oh, this is a person I’m going to hang out with'? We started talking on the phone. We were both touring.

Read more: The Story of... 'Dance with My Father'

"So we found ourselves calling each other at night after our shows, just to get to know each other, and hang out on the phone. And we just became pals. And then a few months later, we were both off the road, and he came to my house. We just developed a friendship over time.

"We didn’t work together that much in the first couple of years. He sang background vocals on a couple of my records, which was amazing. He offered to do that, so I took him up on that. He sang on 'Keep Coming Back' and some other tracks.

"But then a year or two later, he asked me to write a song with him. He did a Christmas album – his first and only Christmas album. So we wrote the single from that. It was called 'Every Year, Every Christmas'. And it was so easy to write songs together because I wrote music, and he wrote lyrics. He was capable of writing it all, as I am. But it was just an easy fit."

Speaking about writing the song, he said: "And then in 2003, he rang me up one day. He said: 'I’ve got an idea for a song, and only you can write it for me. And it’s called ‘Dance with My Father’.' All he had was the title.

"He told me kind of what he wanted it to be about. I went off and wrote some music, and sent it to him. He loved it. He had so many lyrics. My original melody was not a lot of notes. There were longer notes. To hear Luther’s voice hold a note was just heaven.

Richard Marx in 2018
Richard Marx in 2018. Picture: Getty

"So he said, 'Look, I’ve got to just break these verses up a little bit, because I’ve got a lot to say. There’s too many words.'

"And so he changed the verse melody a little bit, but it was, again, effortless. And he went into the studio and recorded it 10 days before he had the stroke that ultimately took him from us. It was the last song he ever recorded, and I think the last song he ever wrote.

"Luther really felt like 'Dance with My Father' would be a hit. But more importantly, he said, 'This is the most important song of my life. This is my 'Piano Man'. This is my signature song. This is what I’m going to sing for the rest of my life. This is how I’m going to be associated'.”

Read more: The incredible moment Celine Dion supported Luther Vandross with emotional performance at Grammy Awards

"And I think had he lived, it still would have been the same situation. Because it really has touched so many people."

At the 2004 Grammys, Richard played piano on the song, while Celine Dion stepped in for Luther, who was too ill to perform.

Richard added: "I obviously have bittersweet emotions about the whole thing. We won the Grammy for Song of the Year, and he lived to see that. I would say not a week goes by where someone doesn’t mention that song to me, and how much they love it, and how much it means to them.

"And so I’m really grateful that we wrote the song together, and that it was so successful. But as long as it’s been, I miss him. He was one of my best friends. I miss him every day."

Richard Marx appears in the latest episode of Smooth's Famous Firsts podcast, where Jenni Falconer speaks to pop music icons about the various firsts throughout their career so far.

Previous episodes have featured Ed Sheeran, Michael Bolton and Paul Young, with future guests including Tony Hadley and Marti Pellow.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify