For Lionel Richie, pairing with some of country biggest names for his new album 'Tuskegee,' provided a fun way to revisit and reinterpret some of his classic songs. As an unexpected bonus, he made lots of new Nashville friends. "We started off not knowing anybody" at the beginning of recording, he said Friday night (Jan. 20) at a party at his gorgeous Beverly Hills mansion, which is adjacent to a golf course and Hugh Hefner's home. "This is the best bunch of brand-new old friends I've made in my life."
During the three-hour soiree, attended primarily by radio program directors, a congenial Lionel casually sat on the steps of his atrium and played the entire album, punctuating each song with often hilarious stories about the nine-month recording process. Of Blake Shelton, with whom he sang 'You Are,' Lionel joked, "I'd never seen a plaid shirt on someone that big."
Darius Rucker threw the Commodores founder for a loop when he wanted to sing Lionel's original part on 'Stuck On You.' "What you hear is Darius Rucker singing like Lionel Richie and Lionel Richie hanging on for dear life," joked the music legend.
Richie fully expected Kenny Chesney to pick the good-timing 'All Night Long' to cover, so he was stunned when Kenny expressed his admiration for the ballad 'My Love.' Chesney's adoration was so ardent, "he drunk dialed me at 2:00 AM and said he was going to sing the song to me," Lionel recalls. He added that Kenny's mom, who Kenny claimed had never attended one of his recording sessions before, dropped by to hear her baby sing with Lionel.
Both Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles kept Lionel on his toes vocally. The male trio picked 'Dancing on the Ceiling,' a tune Lionel joked "is about as country as 'Mona Lisa'." "Every time I'd think I was kicking ***, Gary would go four octaves higher."
Lionel also told a touching story about recording 'Endless Love' with Shania Twain at his house in the Bahamas, as they gently worked through her fears about beginning to sing again following her long hiatus.
Speaking exclusively to The Boot following the playback, Lionel stressed that he tried to put each act at ease by telling him or her to "make [the song] yours, please." When the country artists worried that they might overshadow the legend, Lionel told them that was the plan all along.
"What I've found in artists sometimes is there's an ego that happens [where you think] 'I have to out-sing you or out-perform you.' That's if you're purely a singer. I'm purely a writer. My ego is the fact that Darius Rucker said to me, 'I'm singing your part.' Can you imagine telling Frank Sinatra, 'I'm singing your part?' You're out of here. So immediately, I had to stop and go and say, 'OK guys, come in and make this song yours and I'll scat in between. I'll be around'."
'Tuskegee,' which also features duets with Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Billy Currington, Tim McGraw and Jason Aldean, comes out in March.