Reo Speedwagon (L-R): Neal Doughty, Kevin Kronin, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Brian Hitt.
By Brian M. Howle
There are moments – and you can deny it all you want, but it will happen to you one day if it hasn’t already – when the undertones of a message you hear in a rock ‘n roll song will exactly parallel the events that currently find themselves steeped within the conflicts known as your life. Listen to me closely, grasshopper, because I have sage advice for you – the cumulative distillation of my years: Listen to the music.
Now, forget that is also the title of a Doobies’ tune, and concentrate back on this story … See, when a new album by one of my favorite bands hit the charts in 1980, a couple of the tunes seemed to be speaking to me – as my betrothed and I balanced on the precipice of holy matrimony. Well, as it turned out, the correct interpretation would have been, they were speaking to her.
Long story short: The album was Hi Infidelity, and the band with the reinvigorated, upgraded career was comprised of the tenured rockers of REO Speedwagon. Oh, and the song was “Time for Me to Fly”.
And now is your chance to listen and then run (after the concert), as REO Speedwagon prepares to blow the roof off the dump at House Of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Friday, March 12, 2010.
The career of this signature “American Band” is quite a tale, and it represents one of the best examples of all the right things to do for achieving an extended, viable earning career in rock ‘n roll.
They have had their own fair share of shakeups, highs and lows (but no bandmembers killed anyone or anything like that), but regardless of the background stories this band has not a missed a year of touring since they first hit the dusty road way back in 1971.
Face it, kids – listen to the music – you can’t fight this feeling anymore, and I’m back on the road again, as I tell my sweetie that “I’m gonna keep on lovin’ you.”
Hmmmm … something feels familiar about all this.
REO Speedwagon – Kevin Cronin (lead vocals, guitar), Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards), Dave Amato (lead guitar) and Bryan Hitt (drums) – rolled out full throttle with a new album in 2007, Find Your Own Way Home, their first studio collection of new material in more than a decade.
The roots of that album go back to the spring of 2000, when the band joined forces with fellow Midwest rockers Styx for a national, sold-out, co-headlining tour. The tour proved to be such a commercial success that it was recorded live and released on both CD and DVD, jokingly entitled “Arch Allies”. The bands appeared together on the Today show, VH1, and on numerous syndicated radio shows, including The Howard Stern Show.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, both bands worked together to organize a series of concerts that would benefit the New York Port Authority Police and the families of the officers who tragically lost their lives.
Over the following two years, REO Speedwagon toured non-stop. In addition to performing in all the expected concert markets, the band got back to its roots in small town America.
“These are the people who supported our music from the beginning. This is REO country”, says Kevin Cronin, describing the fans who enthusiastically sing along every night to the songs he has written such as the number one hits, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Keep On Loving You,” as well as the classics “Roll With the Changes,” “Keep Pushin’,” “Time for Me to Fly,” “Riding the Storm Out,” and “Take It On the Run.”
During this time, the band was honored with a Behind the Music special on VH1 and Kevin Cronin was a guest panelist on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, as well as coming in a close second place on Rock ‘n Roll Jeopardy.
In 2003, REO joined fellow classic rockers Journey and Styx for the “Main Event Tour,” a sold-out, critically-acclaimed arena tour of all the markets that they had been entertaining since the late ‘70s. Music critics noted that REO had “kept their standards extremely high,” and were “thrilling their fans night after night with their incredible power, sheer energy, and songs that will live forever.”
New songs have been the lifeblood of REO since its first album in 1971, so it was natural that inspiration would strike during the “Main Event Tour” and drive REO to start writing new songs in between concert performances. The band began introducing these new songs into their live shows and the fan reaction was positive. The new album was born.
While not on the road, the band was in the studio for 2 years working on their first CD of new songs since 1996’s Building the Bridge.
“It has been an intense few years, crazy years for me, but that’s when I usually do my best writing,” says Cronin. “All of us have been going through some big-time changes, and it shows in our performances on the new record.”
The band has teamed up with producer, keyboard whiz and all-around musical genius Joe Vannelli (Gino’s brother and musical partner).
“Joe has brought a musicality to the new songs, which is thrilling,” says Cronin. “Dave is playing with such amazing versatility, using all his vast arsenal of guitars and amps. Bruce and Bryan, who have always been such a powerhouse rhythm section, have never played tighter or stronger together. And Joe’s keyboard ideas are taking our music to places we’ve never been before, and will allow Neal to take those ideas to our live shows.”
The buzz in the REO camp is unmistakable. It is a familiar feeling for this band, one they felt in 1978 during the sessions for their classic album You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish (hey kids, make our old friend up in heaven, Jeff, proud and go find this one, and then enjoy some real rock n’ roll) and again three years later when they released the 10-million-selling monster, Hi Infidelity.
“We have been through it all and you just feel it when the pieces seem to be coming together,” says Bruce Hall, “and I felt it big time on Find Yor Own Way Home.”
“With some records it feels like you are swimming upstream and others just have a flow,” says Cronin. Find Your Own Way Home was conceived out of turmoil, but as these songs have evolved there is a momentum that is seemingly unstoppable. It is cool that it is all coming from this music. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
As REO webmaster (and Paul’s little sister) Ruth McCartney put it, “This record is both fresh and old-school.
“I guess unconsciously that is what we were going for,” adds Cronin. “We do some of our best work when we are unconscious.” “We love to play live,” says Hall, “it just keeps getting better.”
In 2008 they teamed with Styx and Def Leppard for another major tour headlined by Def Leppard to promote its latest album. They teamed up with Styx to record a new single entitled “Can’t Stop Rockin’”, released in March 2009.
On December 2, 2009, REO Speedwagon released an online video game, Find Your Own Way Home, produced by digital design agency, Curious Sense. The game was the first “downloadable casual game” produced with a rock band and was cited by numerous publications including the New York Times as an innovative marketing product for a music act.
One of the standard offerings from frontman Kevin Kronin during the last several REO shows at HOB contends with his – and his bandmates’ – total disgust and disdain for the pampered, self-indulging narcissists that now grace the entertainment and sports headlines. He points out to a new generation of fans that they should question their plea that “being rich and famous is hard work.” And he then proceeds to tell you what hard work is, and who the people are who actually do it, day after day, for the benefit of all.
And for all you longtime REO fans, here’s a little something to scare ya good and proper – this marks the beginning of the 30th Anniversary of the release of Hi Infidelity. Feels like a mere blink, don’t it now?
And if you think that too many analogies and parables about life are used to describe these guys and you want to take it on the run, then my friend, you especially need to roll with the changes and keep pushin’ on down to HOB at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, SC, as REO Speedwagon shows the faithful workforce of the Grand Stand what hard work sounds like (and what’s the best way to ride the storm out) on Friday, March 12, 2010. Doors open 7:30 p.m. For info call 843-272-3000; for tickets call 1-877-598-8497; or visit http://www.livenation.com .
This article was also published in Alternatives NewsMagazine, Page 25, January 28 – February 5, 2010 issue, as well as online at http://www.myrtlebeachalternatives.com under “Nightlife & Entertainment”.