Long before Grace Potter teamed with Kenny Chesney or Jimmy Buffett hit the top of the country charts duetting with Alan Jackson, Lionel Richie was making fans and friends in the country community. Richie penned Kenny Rogers' chart-topping hit "Lady," Conway Twitty covered his "Three Times a Lady," and Richie's collaboration with Alabama on "Deep River Woman" was among the highlights of the 1986 Country Music Assn. Awards. Last November, Richie returned to the CMAs to preview "Tuskegee," a collection of his classic hits performed with Little Big Town, Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean and other country acts.
"I wanted to do a country album," Richie said backstage at the CMA Awards, "and found out that every country act down here knows the lyrics [to my songs] better than I do, so I thought, 'Let's change this thing around and do a duets album and give everyone a chance to give their interpretation of what the songs are all about.' Instead of getting everyone to sing the track that I created, I wanted Rascal Flatts to come in and create a Rascal Flatts track and sound like themselves, make 'Dancing on the Ceiling' sound just like them. Then Shania Twain came in with 'Endless Love' and Jennifer Nettles with 'Hello' and Willie Nelson with 'Easy Like Sunday Morning.'"
UMG Nashville executive VP/GM Ken Robold says TV will play a major role in marketing "Tuskegee," which Richie named for his Alabama hometown. "We are hoping to also have a presence on the [Academy of Country Music] Awards," Robold says. "We have several other appearances planned, spanning morning, prime time and late night. Additionally, we are in talks with Home Shopping Network about a large presale event to help supplement our retail strategy. We feel the audience for this record has a broad appeal, particularly with adult females. Two of the genres that strongly appeal to this demographic are country and adult contemporary, so clearly these two will be a focus."
The first single has yet to be determined, but Robold hears many possibilities. "Every one of the songs on this record is timeless," he says. "When you couple Lionel's vocals with an incredibly strong array of duet partners, we feel that this record can surprise a lot of people."