By ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
With more than 40 million records sold, 13 Top 40 hits and one of the 80’s biggest selling albums, “High Infidelity,” REO Speedwagon is one of rock and roll’s hardest working bands.
“We’re probably one of the few bands that has never stopped touring,” said lead singer Kevin Cronin. “It has always been about that live show. That’s how REO Speedwagon got its start. Today, it’s about embracing the present. To me, I love to play. I don’t get hung up on where we’re playing or how big the venues are. As long as the room is full, I’m OK with that. We stay busy on the road.”
Formed in Peoria, Illinois in 1967, REO Speedwagon, whose current line-up consists of founding member Neal Doughty (keyboards), Kevin Cronin (vocals), Bruce Hall (bass), Dave Amato (lead guitar) and Bryan Hitt (drums), is closing in on 50 years of history.
The band recorded some of modern rock’s most recognizable songs, a list including “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore,” “Time For Me To Fly” and “Roll With The Changes.”
Establishing themselves as a live act on the club and college circuit throughout the Midwest, REO Speedwagon caught the attention of Epic Records in 1971. The release of their self-titled debut album that year included the fan favorite “157 Riverside Avenue.”
“People from Epic Records came out to see the band in Peoria,” recalls Cronin. “It started raining, and the band stayed on stage, kept playing and the audience didn’t leave. The guys from the record company were like, ‘Wow! These guys are really into it and the fans are really into it.’ It was at that moment that the band got a big record deal. All the records the band made were an outgrowth of the band being strong live. That’s who we are.”
“We always had to make a living by playing,” added Cronin. “Really, that’s the pay off. Making records is fun, but the real payoff is taking those songs and playing them in front of a live crowd. There are few better feelings than standing there with thousands of people out there and it’s like ‘Wow! That’s just something I made up one day.’ I feel very fortunate to experience that.”
1972 introduced long time lead vocalist and current front man Kevin Cronin with the release of “R.E.O./T.W.O’s.” Follow-up releases included “Ridin’ The Storm Out” (1973), “Lost In A Dream” (1974),”This Time We Mean It” (1975), “R.E.O.” (1976), “Live: You Get What You Play For” (1977), “You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish” (1978) and “Nine Lives” (1979).
The 80s saw the band attaining massive commercial success. Their “Hi Infidelity”(1980) album sold more than 10 million copies on the strength of the Top 40 hits “Keep on Loving You” (their first number 1 hit), “Take It On The Run” and “Don’t Let Him Go,”
“You can’t deny that we have the one big record of the many records we made,” reflects Cronin. “When you have a record like “High Infidelity” that is that big for as long as it was, no one could avoid hearing it. It just made its imprint in people’s minds. Because of that record, people paid attention to the records that came before it.”
“There was a 10 year period where our music was on the radio all the time, and we were touring all the time. At that point it was really up to the band to screw it up, and we didn’t do that.”
The band’s follow-up album, “Good Trouble” (1982), performed moderately well commercially, featuring the hit singles “Keep the Fire Burnin,” “Sweet Time” and “The Key.”
The hits kept coming 2 years later with their “Wheels Are Turnin’” (1984) album, which featured the #1 single “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore,” as well as “I Do’ Wanna Know,” “One Lonely Night” and “Live Every Moment.”
The world was the stage for REO Speedwagon when they appeared at the historic “Live Aid” concert in Philadelphia on July 13, 1985, performing “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Roll With the Changes.”
With the decade coming to a close and their popularity beginning to wane, they released the “Life as We Know It” (1987) album, yielding their last top hits, “That Ain’t Love” and “In My Dreams.” They charted for the final time on Billboard’s Hot 100 with the single “Love Is a Rock” from “The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken” (1990) album.
Since the mid 90s, the band has released more than a dozen compilation greatest hits, live and studio albums. They continue to perform concerts to adoring fans around the globe, sharing the stage with Pat Benatar, Journey, Styx and 38 Special.
“We’re gearing up for a bunch of shows in the early part of this summer — evenings with REO Speedwagon type things,” said Cronin. “Later in the summer, we’re going to go out on a co-headline tour with Chicago, which I’m really excited about.”
Reflecting on the longevity of REO Speedwagon, Cronin recognizes the elements that have brought the band long-term success.
“There’s luck, hard work and great loyal fans,” says Cronin. “It’s hard to pick one thing. It’s a combination of a lot of good fortune that we don’t take for granted. We know that this is something that we gotta’ continue working hard at to keep it going, and I think our fans appreciate that.”
“When you come to an REO Speedwagon show, we want you to be able to check your responsibilities and your life at the door,” said Cronin. “We’ll take you for a couple of hours, and hopefully by the end of the show you’ll walk out of there with a smile on your face, with your batteries recharged and feeling good, invigorated and ready to go back and face the world again.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: REO Speedwagon
WHERE: American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highwy East, Lancaster,.
WHEN: Sunday June 22 at 7:30 p.m.
INFO.: Tickets can be purchased
on-line at www.amtshows.com or by calling
(800) 648-4102 or (717) 397-7700.