Five-time Grammy winner Lionel Richie recently returned from an eight-month tour of Europe and Asia that included a stop in Shanghai.
The stop included singing “Say You, Say Me,” for 453 million viewers of the finale of “Chinese Idol.”
But after years of regular tours outside the country, Richie is now back in the U.S.
This month he launches the national All the Hits All Night Long tour that will bring him to the Patriot Center in Fairfax on Wednesday.
It’s his first North American tour in more than a decade and a prelude to what he expects to be an even bigger U.S. tour next year.
“It’s like a snapshot — we want to see what’s going on,” said Richie about testing the waters before launching a new album with new music in 2014.
For the current tour, which started in Florida and will end in Los Angeles, Richie will be singing some of his big hits — along with fans in the audience — that he has racked up during four decades of singing with the Commodores and as a soloist, including “All Night Long” and “Say You, Say Me.”
“People sing it back, because the song has been part of their lives,” he said.
Music was also part of Richie’s life growing up in Tuskegee, Ala., in the 1960s. He said he had trouble reading music but had no trouble learning to play by ear instruments like the saxophone and piano.
“Anything I heard, I could play,” said Richie, adding that being a musician didn’t hurt his standing with the female students on campus.
“If you’re in a band, the girls come out of the dormitory,” he said, laughing.
On track to study economics at Tuskegee University, Richie said he realized two years in that his future lay elsewhere.
“I was tortured in my sophomore year in college,” he said about what turned out to be the accounting class from hell.
“My professor used to joke that I didn’t embezzle the money — I lost the money,” he said, laughing about his less than perfect grasp of the subject.
Richie joined a student band that in 1968 became the Commodores, which a few years later signed with Motown Records. The Commodores, which opened for The Jackson 5, released its first single, “Machine Gun,” in 1974.
Richie left the group in 1982 to go solo and went on to score hits like “You Are” and “My Love.” In 1985, he wrote “Say You, Say Me” for the 1985 movie “White Nights” about an American tap dancer (Gregory Hines) and a Russian ballet dancer (Mikhail Baryshnikov) who defects.
“Dancing On the Ceiling” also became a hit, and he also co-write with Jackson the Live-Aid tune “We Are the World.”
Richie, who has also written a lot of his hits, said songs can emerge from his feelings, be it frustration or happiness, and he also picks up ideas from the people he knows and meets.
“Three Times a Lady” was inspired by something his father said about his mother — “I love you. I want you. I need you,” he said.
That song triggered a conversation with a man who was crazy about a woman but his love was not returned.
“That gave me my next song — ‘Stuck on You,’” he said.
“I’m writing and I continue to write,” said Richie, who is hard at work writing new songs for next year’s tour and CD.
In the meantime, this tour is “warmup to the kaboom!” he said, laughing.