Classic Rock

Buyer’s Guide

REO Speedwgon

- paul Elliott

The best from the Illinois rockers who in the golden age of AOR had hits that have gone down in power-ballad history.

The Illinois rockers were giants in the golden age of AOR with hits that have gone down in power ballad history, and more besides.

In 1981, the loudest band in the world scored a momentous victory. Motörhead topped the UK album chart with No Sleep ’til Hammersmit­h. But on the other side of the Atlantic, a more refined form of rock music dominated. It was the golden age of Adult Oriented Rock, and among the albums that hit No.1 in America that year were Journey’s Escape, Foreigner’s 4, Pat Benatar’s Precious Time, Paradise Theater by Styx, and the biggest of them all, holding the top spot for 15 weeks (released November 1980), REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity.

Success was a long time coming for

REO Speedwagon. The band was formed way back in 1967 in Champaign, Illinois, and named by keyboard player Neal Doughty after a vintage delivery truck. The debut album – confusingl­y titled R.E.O. Speedwagon – was released in 1971, with Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer the only remaining founder members, plus Gary Richrath on guitar, Greg Philbin on bass and Terry Luttrell as lead singer. Even more confusing were the line-up changes that followed.

The second album, R.E.O./T.W.O., featured a new singer in Kevin Cronin, but after blowing his voice out on tour, Cronin was replaced by Mike Murphy for 1973’s Ridin’ The Storm Out. It was only after two more albums with Murphy, both of which tanked, that Cronin was reinstated. And from that point, it was he and Richrath who steered REO to glory.

Hi Infidelity was the career-defining album, with Cronin’s Keep On Loving You a No.1 single, and Richrath’s Take It On The Run another smash hit. Cronin repeated the trick in 1985 with the ballad Can’t Fight This Feeling. But the good times could not last forever. The hits dried up soon after Gratzer left the group in 1988, and Richrath a year later. Ever since, REO’s line-up has remained unchanged, with Cronin, Doughty and bassist Bruce Hall, present since 1977, alongside guitarist Dave Amato and aptly named drummer Bryan Hitt.

There is a sad postscript to their story: the death of Gary Richrath on September 13, 2015. Two days later, Cronin began an REO concert with a eulogy, but as he recalled:

“It struck me that Gary was up there somewhere, and he’d be looking down at me saying, ‘Cronin, shut up, and rock these people!’” It was both poignant and funny: a fitting tribute from Cronin to the man with whom he had created so much great music.

 ??  ?? Wagons roll: (l-r) Alan Gratzer, Neal Doughty, Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrathan­d Bruce Hall, circa 1977 in Detroit.
Wagons roll: (l-r) Alan Gratzer, Neal Doughty, Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrathan­d Bruce Hall, circa 1977 in Detroit.

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