Marx the spot

Richard Marx remembers the man behind the Blackhawks theme: his dad.
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Photo Illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay
By Doyle Armbrust |
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For a sport in which men routinely pound each other’s faces into raspberry cobbler, a crushing stomp of a 2008 theme song by Ministry frontman and lifelong Blackhawks fan Al Jourgensen gets the requisite adrenaline pumping for Toews, Kane and co. But for generations of Red, White and Black supporters, there’s only one Chicago hockey battle cry: “Here Come the Hawks!” Chicagoan Dick Marx’s commercial music studios wrote and recorded that adorably perky, swingin’ anthem as well as many of the advertising industry’s most familiar tunes of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

“It would be an understatement to say that everything I know about film scoring, popular music and writing for commercials is a result of Dick Marx’s soulful tutelage,” says CSO MusicNOW and Civic Orchestra conductor Cliff Colnot, whose commercial scoring and arranging credits include United Airlines’ inescapable “Rhapsody in Blue.” Though he now has hundreds of tracks for companies like McDonald’s, Bud Light and Coors under his belt, Colnot was once a bassoon-toting Ph.D. student, rejected for internships at every Windy City jingle outfit save one: Dick Marx & Associates. “If it were not for his generosity, my life would be radically different,” says the DePaul and Indiana University faculty member.

Many years earlier, scampering around the studios of Dick Marx’s Michigan Avenue office was another Marx, one whose music would become as indelible as his father’s. When company writer Jim Grady overheard the five-year-old Richard Marx belting out Monkees tunes, Grady hired the young tenor to record for the WBBM-TV special “Nothing Like Us Ever Was,” launching the career of a future multiplatinum singer-songwriter.

It wasn’t long before Dick Marx had installed his son in front of the microphone, taunting Ken-L-Ration dog food’s competitors with the bouncy refrain “My dog’s better than your dog” or extolling the unrivaled crispiness of Nestlé Crunch.

While Chicago’s Jingle King churned out hit after Doublemint Gum hit, the devoted family man found any excuse to have his son and wife, Ruth, in his recording sessions. “He used to say, ‘Nepotism schmepotism. I use them ’cause they’re damn good,’” the 46-year-old Richard recalls over the phone. But once inside the recording booth, the younger Marx was expected to act like a pro. With his usual posse of fellow grade-school warblers, that wasn’t always easy. “A couple times, one of us would get the giggles and then we’d all lose it,” Marx says. “My dad would just peer at us over his glasses, and we knew it was time to start thinking of starving children somewhere and get back to the task at hand.” Being Dick Marx’s kid also meant a Wurlitzer and an office at 18 but not an innate talent for penning catchy tags. “I lasted maybe a week,” Marx says. Shortly after, with his father’s blessing, he made off for Los Angeles.

As pop-song licensing muscled jingle-writing out of the commercial music business during the 1980s, Dick and Ruth Marx left for Southern California as well. Though he landed some high-profile work, such as scoring the film A League of Their Own, the elder Marx quickly grew disillusioned with movie-industry politics. He continued to write arrangements for music heavyweights like Joe Cocker and, of course, his then-mullet-headed son, whose “Right Here Waiting” inspired countless first kisses.

Dick Marx died at 73 on August 12, 1997, of injuries sustained in a car accident. “Whenever anyone over 35 hears these jingles, they freak out. ‘Your dad did that?!’” says his proud son, now touring with Vertical Horizon’s Matt Scannell and occasionally interjecting one of the jingles between numbers.

“I always love to park on the Hawks level at O’Hare,” he says. “Just to stop for a second and smile. No matter what theme the team may use now, everybody loves ‘Here Come the Hawks!’”

The Blackhawks kick off their Stanley Cup quest this week.

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