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Joliet East alum Lionel Richie returns to Chicago

IF YOU GO

What: Lionel Richie.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., Chicago.

Tickets: $39.50 to $125 at ticketmaster.com.

Info: (312) 455-4500
or unitedcenter.com.

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Updated: October 30, 2013 6:28AM



He recorded one of the most instantly recognizable dance hits in history in homage to the girls in the dorms of Tuskegee Institute.

That’s where Joliet East High School alum Lionel Richie and the rest of the Commodores hooked up while students in 1968.

“Everyone says you go into show business to make money. We couldn’t get arrested at Tuskegee,” Richie said with a hearty chuckle during a recent interview.

“We did it to meet chicks. Come on! That’s why every guy starts up a band. We just needed a song that was our theme song.”

That song turned out to be “Brick House,” the 1977 megahit that became a staple at college campuses and discos across the United States.

“(Suddenly) we were judging Miss Brick House parties at frat houses across the country. Can you imagine being 23 and judging these contests — judging (the women) on their intelligence, their smiles, on what they were wearing, which was barely nothing,” Richie said.

He admitted that there was a whole lot of partying going on back in the day.

“The Commodores went to Amsterdam early on, and I did everything possible. The only reason I have the reputation I have today is because we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter,” he said, laughing.

“There were no cellphones with cameras, and if someone in the room had a camera you avoided that person like the plague.”

Just how crazy was Amsterdam?

“Everyone was drinking and smoking everything in Amsterdam,” Richie recalled.

“It was free love, free smoking to the point where you finally had to go, ‘No thanks!’

“My tolerance was zero. Two cans of beer and I was buzzed, but I survived it with some of the greatest memories ever.”

He parted ways with the Commodores in 1982 following the success of his “Endless Love” duet with Diana Ross.

But Richie’s run with the Commodores set the stage for the pop, soul and rhythm and blues stylings that propelled him to solo superstardom with hits such as “Truly,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Penny Lover,” the Oscar-winning “Say You Say Me,” “Lady” and the hauntingly beautiful “Hello.”

The 64-year-old entertainer is currently on the road for his All the Hits All Night Long Tour, which features all those songs and more.

I’ve not toured America in eight years so this is a homecoming for me. My fans are gonna get all the hits,” he said.

“These are songs people fel l in love to, got married to, got divorced to. They remember where they were and what they were doing the first time they heard them.”

So what’s the song that touches his soul in a special way?

“It’s probably ‘Hello’ or ‘Easy,’ ” Richie said. “ ‘Easy’ brings it all back for me. It takes me to the Commodores.

“ ‘Hello,’ man it just gets crowds going all over the world just by that first chord.”

The word “homecoming” takes on special meaning for Richie’s Chicago concert on Sunday night.

The singer graduated from Joliet East, when his parents moved to the area from Alabama for his dad’s new government job.

“I have some of the greatest memories of my teen years in Chicago,” Richie said, chuckling.

“I spent three brutal winters there that made me decide ‘I’m going back South for college.’ ”

Follow Miriam Di Nunzio on Twitter: @MiriamDiNunzio



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