Interview: REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin Discusses Latest Tour, Guitars and "Hi Infidelity"
Powered by the vocals and songwriting prowess of guitarist Kevin
Cronin, REO Speedwagon continues to bring their brand of Midwest rock
and roll to the masses. The band tours with an arsenal of hit songs,
many of which can still be found in regular rotation on classic rock
Cronin briefly departed the band during sessions for Ridin' the Storm Out
but rejoined in 1976. Together with guitarist Gary Richrath (whose
Gibson Les Paul sound became synonymous with the band's biggest hits),
REO Speedwagon broke into the mainstream in 1980 with Hi Infidelity, an album that sold more than 9 million copies and gave the band its first No. 1 hit, "Keep On Loving You."
Richrath left the group in 1989 and was replaced by Dave Amato, whose
resume includes stints with Ted Nugent and Richie Sambora.
I spoke with Cronin about this year's Midwest Rock 'n Roll Express
Tour, which includes veteran rockers Styx and Nugent. We also discussed Hi Infidelity and Cronin's recent encounter with Richrath.
GUITAR WORLD: Where did the idea for the Midwest Rock and Roll Express tour originate?
We had always been toying with the idea of taking a little bit of our
Midwest culture and bringing it around the country. So last year I
called my buddy Tommy Shaw, and he told me he was in. Then, to find that
third piece, Tommy mentioned Nugent (from his Damn Yankees
relationship). The idea worked out so well that we decided to do it all
again this year.
Nugent has made some controversial statements lately. Was that a concern?
You know, it's America and everyone has a right to their own opinion.
But I don't see Ted as this polarizing political figure. When I think
of Ted, I think of one of the greatest lead guitar players around. He's
just got that incredible tone and attitude. Back in the day, he and
[Gary] Richrath were the guitar heroes from the Midwest.
Let's talk about Hi Infidelity. What personal relationships inspired that album?
Hi Infidelity was one of those records where the stars just
all lined up. The fact is, we had either been in the studio or on the
road for a long time, and the nonstop process was starting to take its
toll on all of our relationships. It all came to a head in 1980, when we
started working on songs for the album. As a songwriter, you write
about what's happening in your life. At the time, my marriage was in bad
shape and so was Gary's. Neal [Doughty, keyboardist] actually came home
from the tour to find a letter on the kitchen table from his wife
saying she had split. That's actually where the song "In Your Letter"
Another pivotal moment was the song "Keep On Loving You."
That was the song no one wanted to record. Everyone thought it was
this sort-of "wimpy" piano ballad, but I kept playing the melody over
and over in the studio until everyone was sick of it [laughs]. Then one
day, Gary decided to plug his Les Paul into a double stack of Marshalls.
He turned it up as loud and nasty as possible and started playing along
with me trying to drown me out. But once I heard the way the song
sounded with the sweet piano melody and the gnarly guitars, the
lightbulb went off, and I said, "This is it!"
People like to think that it was some secret formula we discovered to
get a hit single, but the truth is it was an accident [laughs].
What was it like for you growing up and playing?
Guitar saved my life. I really wanted to be the point guard on our
basketball team, but unfortunately I wasn't given that gift. So I
started taking guitar lessons but wasn't really sure why I was taking
them. Then on a night in 1964, I saw the Beatles play on Ed Sullivan and
everything changed for me. They were the first band that played their
instruments, sang their songs and wrote their songs. They encapsulated
everything I wanted to do and from then on, there was no other option.
Tell me how you came up with "Roll With The Changes."
When I rejoined the band, they were all living in LA and I was in
Chicago. I wasn't too keen on living there but eventually decided to
relocate to LA. At the time, I remember feeling the need to feel the
Earth roll beneath me as I moved from Chicago to LA, so I decided to
drive it. I hooked a little U-Haul trailer up to my Ford Pinto station
wagon and headed west. Somewhere between Denver and Albuquerque, I had
this idea that a lot of things were changing for me and I was "rolling."
I was driving at the time and couldn't pull over, but I had this
brown paper bag from when I had stopped earlier at a truck stop. So as
I'm driving, I started writing the lyrics down on this brown paper bag.
The truth is you never know when you're going to be inspired. Having
said that, I definitely don't recommend songwriting and cross-country
driving at the same time [laughs].
Tell me about the interesting encounter you had with Gary recently.
Gary and I hadn't seen each other in way too long and I wanted to
touch base with him and see what was going on. We finally were able to
connect and got together for lunch. It was great because Gary got some
things off his chest, and we both got to share some things neither of us
really knew about that went back twenty years.
A few days after our meeting, I got a call from him, and he said,
"Dude, I want my guitar back." We had a 1941 Martin D-28 with
herringbone binding. It's a beautiful acoustic Gary bought back in 1980.
Back then, we had always shared each other's equipment. Gary even had
one of my Les Pauls and some recording equipment that eventually was
stolen when his house was broken into. We had never "officially" traded
each other, but since I had played most of the acoustic parts on the
records, it just sort of evolved that the Martin wound up in my
This particular D-28 was the one I played on every record since Hi Infidelity.
It's a very special instrument, to say the least. So when Gary told me
he wanted it back, I was like, "Dude, you want it back? Can I buy it
from you?" [laughs]. He said he had been writing and just wanted it
back, so we set up a day for me to return it to him.
In the meantime though, I took another guitar I had in an old tweed
case from my collection. It was a Fender Nocaster (a 1951, before they
had settled on the name Telecaster). I knew that it was valuable, but
since I didn't play it much, I thought Gary might take it as a trade for
the Martin. So I stuck it in my car and brought it along. As I'm about
to give the Martin to Gary, I tell him about this "other" guitar I had
I open the case and Gary looks at the Nocaster and says, "Uhm, that's
my guitar too!" [laughs]. So basically, as if it wasn't already hard
enough to part with the Martin, I had to part with the Nocaster too! The
two most valuable guitars in my collection turned out to be Gary's all
the time [laughs]. It was awesome though, because they're meant to be
with him, and it felt good to give them back.
What are your best memories of working with Gary?
Gary was my rock and roll older brother. Everything I know about
being in a rock band I learned just by watching him. He was a huge
influence on me. I miss the guy, there's no question about it.
Fortunately, we found Dave Amato, who's been with us now for 23 years
and is doing an awesome job of filling those big shoes. It's
bitter-sweet for sure.
April 16, 2013
Interview: Guitarist Dave Amato Talks Les Pauls, Touring and REO Speedwagon
If you're a child of the '80s and '90s, chances are you've heard the work of guitarist Dave Amato.
Amato's six-string prowess is a major part of songs by REO
Speedwagon, and his impressive resume includes stints with Ted Nugent,
Richie Sambora, Cher and Latoya Jackson.
Amato, a self-professed gear head, has amassed a collection of more
than 100 guitars and a dozen Marshall stacks over the course of his
career (most of them vintage).
I recently spoke to Amato, who's now on tour with REO Speedwagon,
Styx and Nugent, and got the scoop on his time with the band as well as
his affinity for vintage gear and his forthcoming signature model Gibson
GUITAR WORLD: This is the second go-around for the Midwest
Rock 'N Roll Express tour. How has it been reuniting with Ted Nugent for
It's fun. I was Ted's understudy in the '80s, and we're still close
friends. And, of course, Styx and REO are like family, too, so it's a
You always play a lot beautiful guitars on stage.
I love guitars and like to show them off. When people come backstage
after the show, we can talk about anything, and that's great. But if we
start talking about guitars, I'll keep them there all night. I'm a gear
head first and foremost. [laughs]
Let's talk about the Signature model that Gibson has in the works for you.
I'm in line for a signature Les Paul, and I'm so honored to be a part
of it. I have brought two prototypes with me on tour that I'm currently
using. They have a Floyd Rose and bumble bee capacitors and are just
incredible guitars. It's kind of old school meets new school.
Tell me how you got into REO Speedwagon.
Jesse Harms used to play keyboards for Sammy Hagar, and he and I were
trying to put a band together right after Nugent. At the same time, he
was also busy writing songs with Kevin [Cronin] for REO's The Earth
record in 1990. Gary [Richrath] had gone by then and REO didn't want to
put out a "cattle call" for guitarists, so Jesse mentioned me to Kevin.
I remember going down to Kevin's house and playing a couple of REO
songs and a few of the demo songs they were working on. A few hours
later, we were all hanging out playing basketball on Kevin's court when
he offered me the spot in the band. It's a good story and was just meant
Tell me a little about your guitar collection.
I have close to 100 guitars. I sell a few and trade a few, but always
end up getting more; 1950s and '60s Gibsons and Fenders are the ones I
really love to collect. Les Pauls, SG's, Juniors. I love Strats too. In
Nugent, I leaned more toward Strats. In the beginning, I tried using a
Fender for some of the REO songs, but it just didn't work. The real
sound of this band is the Les Paul.
What about your amps?
Marshall told me once that I have one of their biggest collections in
the US [laughs]. I bought my first one in 1970 and have never looked
back. I was a big fan of the JCM800 series Marshalls. I have about 15 of
What do you like most about vintage instruments?
I love the vibe about the old guitars and grew up with them. There's
just something about the pickups, the sound and the aging of the wood
that makes them so cool.
Is there any one particular REO song that you enjoy performing every night?
I love them all. Some songs, though, like "Back On The Road Again,"
are a little more free-fall, whereas a song like "Keep on Loving You" is
pretty much a note-for-note solo. But "Back On The Road Again," "Roll
With The Changes," "Ridin' The Storm Out"; those are the kinds of songs
where I get to go off a little more.
What was it like for you growing up playing?
I've always had a passion for guitar. When I was 8 years old, I
started taking lessons. But it wasn't until the time when the Beatles
came to America that things really changed for me. That's when I started
growing my hair and calling friends about putting a band together. Back
then, everybody wanted to be in a band and be the next Beatles.
Who were some of your influences?
I saw Richie Blackmore in Deep Purple playing his Strat through the
Marshall. He did crazy shit. I remember watching him smash Strats and
pieces of them would just go everywhere [laughs]. Then there was Eric
Clapton and Cream, Hendrix and Rod Stewart and the Faces. I've also
always been a Jeff Beck fan from the '60s right up until now. Jeff Beck
is a god to me. There's no other guitar player on the planet that's as
good as him. He makes you want to quit. [laughs]
Any advice you can offer to up-and-comers?
Do anything and everything you can to fit in. Expose yourself to
everything. I've worked with Ted Nugent, Kim Carnes and even the band,
Player. I've also worked on a few of LaToya Jackson's early records too
(I played synthesized guitar on there). It's the experience of meeting
people and getting involved in different styles of music that makes it
all worthwhile. Also, don't try to be an "American Idol." I think
there's something to be said about working from the ground up. Go into
the clubs and work on your craft, and try to give 100 percent every
night. If you really want to do it, it takes all of your life. I'm still
working on stuff. The key is to never stop learning.
What's the best thing about what you do with every night with REO Speedwagon?
Just playing with these great guys is amazing. We all hang out on the
bus and are all good friends. We really work hard on our music and
putting on a good show. I love these guys and I thank my lucky stars
every day. The other thing is, when we come off the stage and hear
people say that we really rocked, that's such a great feeling. That's
really what REO Speedwagon is all about.
Interview with Bruce Hall: Midwest Rock-N-Roll Express rolls into the Ralph
After 30-plus years of touring with one of America's best-known rock bands, bass guitarist and songwriter Bruce Hall of REO Speedwagon still speaks with feeling about the magic and power of making rock 'n' roll music.
"To tell you the truth, I still find it amazing," Hall said in a phone interview with the Herald.
REO Speedwagon, Styx, Ted Nugent and his band will team up to bring their Midwest Rock-N-Roll Express tour to Grand Forks at 7 p.m. Thursday at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Tickets range are $27 to $101.
The 2012 Midwest Rock-N-Roll Express was recognized as one of the 10 hottest summer package tours of last year by Rolling Stone magazine. This years tour will kick off Thursday in Grand Forks, moving to the Minneapolis Target Center on Friday night and continuing through May in cities across the country.
REO Speedwagon, Styx and Nugent all hit their stride in the 1970s during what was a golden age for rock bands, with groups such as Steeley Dan, Head East, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey, Foreigner, Kansas, KISS, Three Dog Night and many more making hits and dominating rock culture.
Hall, who grew up in Champaign, Ill., joined REO Speedwagon as its bass guitarist in 1977, making an appearance on the album, "You Can Tune a Piano but You Can't Tuna Fish," and replacing the original bassist, Gregg Philbin. He was 23 at the time.
Many a rocker from that era has spoken of or written a book about those drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll days, when being a rock star was like being a kid in a candy store where anything was possible and/or available.
"We were all young then and we were touring around the country," Hall said. "We were indestructible. A lot of that comes from the mind set of a young man. There's not too much you feel you can't do. How do I say it? We explored the avenues that were available to us." Then, he laughed and continued: "But you quickly learn those don't help at all. It takes the joy away from life. It makes the music not good."
By the time he and his band mates were heading into their 30s, he said, they were "trying to straighten up and get our heads on straight."
Formed in the late 1960s at college in Champaign and fronted by vocalist Kevin Cronin since 1972, REO Speedwagon had platinum albums and hits like "Ridin' the Storm Out" followed by the 1980s "Hi Infidelity." The band's current line-up, in addition to Hall and Cronin, includes keyboardist Neal Doughty, Dave Amato on lead guitar and drummer Bryan Hitt.
Hall has written and sung lead on a few of the band's songs, including "Back on the Road Again," and talks about songwriting in terms of coming up with an idea, staying true to the idea and then molding it like clay before it's recorded.
"It becomes a part of people's lives," Hall said. "That amazes you, when people are singing the words back to you. It's a powerful, magical force."
REO Speedwagon has been working with Styx and Nugent for years.
"We love those guys," he said. "Those guys are like our brothers." Of Nugent he said: "Ted is a unique individual. He doesn't try to be anything he's not. He's a 'turn it up to 10 and play rock 'n roll' kind of guy."
Styx, a Chicago band that became famous for its albums from the late 1970s and early 1980s, made great use of hard rock guitar, strong ballads and elements of musical theater. Its hits included "Lady" and "Too Much Time on My Hands." Its members are James "JY" Young, Tommy Shaw, Todd Sucherman, Lawrence Gowan, Ricky Phillips and Chuck Panozzo.
Nugent, known as the Motor City Madman, initially gained fame as the lead guitarist of The Amboy Dukes before beginning his solo career, and in the 1970s recorded the hit "Cat Scratch Fever," among others. Today, he's also known for his support of conservative politics, his advocacy of hunting and gun ownership and his quote before the 2012 election at an NRA event: "If Barack Obama becomes president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."
Nugent will open the concert Thursday, followed by REO Speedwagon and then Styx, according to the tour website. Tickets are available through the Ralph Engelstad box office and all Ticketmaster locations, including charge-by-phone at (800) 745-3000.
Click here to view article
April 12, 2013
Back on the Road Again: An Interview with REO's Neal Doughty
On April 18th, REO Speedwagon will hit the road with Styx and Ted Nugent for the 2nd annual Midwest Rock-N-Roll Express tour. This is a great evening of classic rock by three of the best live bands in the business.
REO Speedwagon, who is co-headlining the shows with Styx, are excited to be hitting the road. The band built their reputation as a great live act in the 1970's and they still receive standing ovations every time they take the stage.
In the interview that follows, founding member and keyboardist Neal Doughty takes us on a trip through time, beginning with the current tour and going all the way back to when he and drummer Alan Gratzer were the only two hippies in the engineer department in college.
Neal tells it like it is and details REO's colorful history in detail, from the formation of the band, through the dark times and into the glory days.
REO Speedwagon will be the featured guest on the nationally syndicated radio show ROCKLINE
REO Speedwagon will be the featured guest on the nationally syndicated radio show ROCKLINE with host Bob Coburn Wednesday April 10, 2013 at 8:30pm PDT / 11:30pm EDT. Fans are encouraged to call to speak with REO Speedwagon toll free at 1-800-344-ROCK (7625). For a station near you and for information regarding how to log onto the Internet for the broadcast go to www.RocklineRadio.com The show will be streamed on the Rockline website for two weeks beginning the afternoon after the live broadcast.