Dennis Quaid lets gospel music fire his soul and 'Reagan' film fuel his politics

The actor-turned-singer will be in Chicago to play the Athenaeum Center on July 19 and plays the title role in the movie.

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Dennis Quaid performing during the Academy of Country Music Honors  last year in Nashville. The actor-turned-singer plays the Athenaeum Center on July 19.

Dennis Quaid performing during the Academy of Country Music Honors last year in Nashville. The actor-turned-singer plays the Athenaeum Center on July 19.

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Dennis Quaid is having one helluva 70th birthday year.

An avid golfer, if he isn’t running off to his next tee time, Quaid’s headed to the studio, where he’s recording material to follow up last year’s “Fallen,” his No.1 Christian/gospel album.

And, of course, there’s the much-anticipated film “Reagan,” being released Aug. 30 via ShowBiz Direct, in which he plays the lead in the first full-length feature on Ronald Reagan, with some suggesting that the role might get Quaid his first Oscar nomination.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Hollywood wasn’t so kind to Reagan.”

Quaid says he was first offered the role of his “favorite president” in 2018, “and it took me awhile to make up my mind. I didn’t think I looked like him and thought there were other people that might be better suited.”

DENNIS QUAID

When: 7:30 p.m. July 19

Where: Athenaeum Center, 2936 N. Southport Ave.

Tickets: $35+

More info: athenaeumcenter.org

That also was around the same time that Quaid was focused on getting his music career going with his band, the Sharks, releasing the debut rock-roots album “Out of the Box” in November 2018, inspired by his long love of “story-songwriters” like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

The Emmy Award-winning performer might be best known for his roles in “The Rookie,” “The Long Riders” and “Great Balls of Fire!” in which he serendipitously played Jerry Lee Lewis. But Quaid says, “Music came first.”

His grandfather — a cousin of singer-actor Gene Autry, the “singing cowboy” — bought him his first guitar when Quaid was 12.

“He bought it at Western Auto,” Quaid says, laughing. “It was $14.”

The first song he tried to learn was the Doors’ “Light My Fire” “because it was No. 1 at the time.”

He soon moved on to the easier chords of Johnny Cash, his “first real musical hero,” he says. “Growing up in Texas, country was king.”

That influence eventually helped him connect with the late “Cowboy” Jack Clement, a Cash cohort and Sun Records figurehead, who eventually led Quaid to heralded recording engineer and Cash go-to David Ferguson for “Great Balls Of Fire!” Later, Quaid started working with Ferguson in the studio.

Dennis Quaid: The first song he tried to learn on guitar, when he was 12, was The Doors' "Light My Fire." He soon moved on to the easier chords of Johnny Cash.

Dennis Quaid: The first song he tried to learn on guitar, when he was 12, was The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” He soon moved on to the easier chords of Johnny Cash.

Getty Images

Their latest collaboration is Quaid’s “Fallen: A Gospel Record for Sinners,” which has originals songs and hymnals that were a part of his Baptist upbringing in Houston, recorded in Quaid’s newly adopted hometown of Nashville.

“The title is from wanting to have the biggest possible audience,” he says.

On July 19, he’ll play songs from that album and others from his movie songbook in a solo performance at the Athenaeum Center on the North Side.

Quaid says the idea to make a gospel record started when he wrote the song “On My Way to Heaven” decades ago, informed by his struggles with addiction, a song featured in his faith-focused 2017 movie “I Can Only Imagine.”

“Really, I wrote it for my mother, when I got out of what I call cocaine school back in the ‘90s,” he says. “As time goes by, I was asked by Gaither [Music] to do a gospel record and thought it would be a great idea. It turns out to be a story of my spiritual life, I guess.”

Quaid says that, after becoming disillusioned in his teens with what he calls “churchianity” — organized religion — he began searching for what the rest of the world believes.

“I read Hermann Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha,’ which turned me on to Eastern philosophy and religion, and I read the Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita and the Quran,” he says. “But in the end, I came back to the red words of Jesus in the New Testament.”

His spiritual journey primed Quaid to host the History Channel’s “Holy Marvels,” which documents sacred relics and religious treasures around the world. It airs at 9 p.m. Mondays.

Quaid’s faith also brought him closer to playing Reagan on screen. He set aside any of his early hesitation about doing so because, he says, “I realized that we are rather alike.”

The film features Penelope Ann Miller as Nancy Reagan, Mena Suvari as Reagan’s first wife Jane Wyman, Lesley-Anne Down as Margaret Thatcher and Kevin Dillon as Jack Warner.

Quaid says it “covers everything” from when Reagan was 11 growing up in Illinois to his open letter to the American people after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994.

The actor — who recently told interviewer Piers Morgan he plans to vote for Donald Trump in November — says he thinks the movie will carry a special meaning coming out ahead of November’s election.

“The times now are very much like they were in 1980,” Quaid says. “The country had lost its confidence. There didn’t seem to be a rudder. And Reagan came along and really set a direction that was based on principles, not the politics of the day, and was a very steady hand.

“It’ll be interesting coming out at this time to remind people who were living then what America was and also inform people born after 1985 what we can be as a nation.”

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