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Three bands were the undisputed arena rock kings of the early '80s -- Styx, Journey, and REO Speedwagon -- yet all weren't overnight success stories (in fact, each group began pursuing different musical styles originally -- prog rock, fusion, and straight-ahead hard rock, respectively, before transforming slowly into chart-topping mainstream rockers). REO Speedwagon first formed in 1968, via a pair of University of Illinois students, keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer. After graduation, the group signed on with then-unknown manager Irving Azoff (who would later guide the careers of such multi-platinum acts as the Eagles and Steely Dan), which led to the outfit building a devoted following in the Midwest due to nonstop touring. By the early '70s, Doughty and Gratzer had welcomed aboard guitarist Gary Richrath, who would soon prove to be the group's spark plug (and one of rock's more underrated players), in addition to bassist Gregg Philbin and singer Terry Luttrell. It was this lineup to be featured on the quintet's 1971 self-titled debut recording for Epic Records.
The debut failed to break REO through to the mainstream, as the band's future was thrust into uncertainty shortly thereafter, when Luttrell left the band. Newcomer Kevin Cronin got the gig, he was a folksinger/guitarist beforehand, with little to no experience fronting a loud rock & roll outfit. The Cronin-led lineup appeared to be headed in the right direction though, judging from 1972's R.E.O. T.W.O., but the other members grew impatient with their slow progress toward a commercial breakthrough, and gave Cronin his walking papers. Up next as REO's frontman was Mike Murphy, whose debut with the band, 1974's Ridin' the Storm Out, was their first album to chart on Billboard and spawned a concert standard with the rocking title track. Murphy stayed onboard for a couple of more releases -- 1974's Lost in a Dream and 1975's This Time We Mean It -- but neither managed to push REO to the next level.
Once more, a frontman change was required, and instead of searching for a fresh new face, REO welcomed back Cronin. The move paid off almost immediately, as REO found their niche by streamlining their sound and focusing on melodic rockers aimed at radio, as well as power ballads aimed at teenage girls' hearts. Released in 1976, R.E.O. signaled the beginning of the veteran group's winning streak, as both 1977's Live: You Get What You Play For and 1978's You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish were REO's first to earn gold and platinum certification. Another live album, Live Again, was also issued in 1978, followed up a year later by another gold-certified hit, Nine Lives. Although REO was slowly inching their way to big-time success, no one (not even the band) could have predicted the massive hit that their next album turned out to be, Hi Infidelity. Issued at the tail end of 1980, it became one of 1981's biggest albums -- spawning one of the best-known power ballads of all time, "Keep on Loving You," as well as such popular rock radio hits as "Don't Let Him Go" and "Take It on the Run." Hi Infidelity would eventually go on to sell more than nine million copies -- catapulting REO to arena-headlining status.
REO Speedwagon continued to score further hit albums (1982's Good Trouble, 1984's Wheels Are Turnin') and singles ("Keep the Fire Burnin'," the number one hit power ballad "Can't Fight This Feeling," etc.), but the hits dried up shortly thereafter. Issued in 1987, Life as We Know It managed to go gold, but their fans' sudden disinterest coupled with turmoil between certain bandmembers led to the exit of both Richrath and Gratzer by the end of the decade. REO opted to soldier on, however, with replacement members Dave Amato (ex-Ted Nugent, guitar) and Bryan Hitt (ex-Wang Chung, drums) in tow, as their 14-track 1988 compilation The Hits proved to be a steady seller over the years. Further underappreciated studio releases followed, such as 1990's The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken and 1996's Building the Bridge. With interest at an all-time low, REO was set to pack it up for good, until a sudden wave of renewed interest in classic rock bands of yesteryear began to sweep the U.S. during the late '90s, resulting in REO launching successful co-headlining tours alongside such acts as Styx, Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Peter Frampton, Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bad Company, among others.
The '90s saw the emergence of countless REO compilations, including such titles as The Second Decade of Rock n' Roll: 1981 to 1991, Only the Strong Survive, The Ballads, and a specially priced three-disc set of Live: You Get What You Play For, You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish, and Hi Infidelity. Additionally, further in-concert releases cropped up -- Live: Plus, Extended Versions, and a 2001 live set, Arch Allies: Live at Riverport, split 50/50 between REO and touring mates Styx. In a 2001 episode of VH1's Behind the Music series that focused on REO Speedwagon, Cronin and Richrath cleared up any misconceptions of ill will existing between either camp and voiced approval of a possible reunion in the future. When REO returned to the studio later in the 2000s, however, it was without Richrath. Find Your Own Way Home, the band's first studio album of new songs in more than ten years, featured Cronin along with founding member Neal Doughty on keyboards, longtime bassist Bruce Hall, and '80s additions Amato and Hitt. This lineup also released an unabashed record of Christmas songs in 2009, titled Not So Silent Night.
Wikipedia:For the vehicle, see REO Speed Wagon.
REO Speedwagon (originally styled as R.E.O. Speedwagon) is an American rock band. Formed in 1967, the band cultivated a following during the 1970s and achieved significant commercial success throughout the 1980s. Hi Infidelity (1980) contained four US Top 40 hits and is the group's best-selling album, with over ten million copies sold.
Over the course of its career, the band has sold more than 40 million records and has charted thirteen Top 40 hits, including the number ones "Keep On Loving You" and "Can't Fight This Feeling". REO Speedwagon's mainstream popularity dissipated in the 1990s but the band remains a popular live act."Soundstage - REO Speedwagon". Pbs.org. Retrieved 2014-02-01. "REO Speedwagon | New Music And Songs". MTV. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
ContentsHistory1.1 Formation1.2 Early years1.3 Mainstream success1.4 Declining popularity1.5 Revival of the hits1.6 2000s-2010s
In the fall of 1966, Neal Doughty entered the electrical engineering program at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois, coming in as a junior. On his first night, he met another student, Alan Gratzer. They soon started a rock band. Gratzer had been a drummer since high school, and was playing in a local group on the weekends, while Doughty had learned some Beatles songs on his parents' piano.
Doughty started to follow around Gratzer's band, eventually sitting in on a song or two. The keyboard player was the leader, but several other band members weren't happy with the situation. On the last day of the university's spring semester, guitarist Joe Matt called the band's leader and told him that he, drummer Gratzer, and bassist Mike Blair had decided to leave the band and start a new one with Doughty.
They made a list of songs to learn over the summer break, and Doughty landed a summer job to buy his first keyboard. On his Farfisa organ, he learned "Light My Fire" by The Doors. The members returned to school in the fall of 1967, and had their first rehearsal before classes even started. They named the band REO Speedwagon, from the REO Speed Wagon, a flatbed truck Doughty had studied in transportation history, and the initials are those of its founder Ransom E. Olds. Rather than pronouncing REO as a single word as the motor company did, they chose to spell out the name with the individual letters each pronounced. An ad in the school newspaper produced their first job, a fraternity party that turned into a food fight. They continued to perform cover songs in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. The first line up consisted of Doughty on keyboards, Gratzer on drums and vocals, Joe Matt on guitar and vocals, and Mike Blair on bass and vocals.
In the spring of 1968, Terry Luttrell became lead singer, and Bob Crownover and Gregg Philbin replaced Matt and Blair, respectively. Marty Shepard played trumpet and Joe McCabe played sax at this time until McCabe moved to Southern Illinois University. Crownover played guitar for the group until the summer of 1969 when Bill Fiorio replaced him. Fiorio then departed in late 1969, eventually assuming the name Duke Tumatoe, and went on to form the All Star Frogs. Steve Scorfina (who would go on to found progressive rock/album-oriented rock band Pavlov's Dog) came aboard for over a year, composing with the band and performing live, before being replaced by Gary Richrath in late 1970.
Richrath was a Peoria, Illinois-based guitarist and prolific songwriter who brought original material to the band including REO's signature song "Ridin' the Storm Out". With Richrath on board, the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously. The Midwestern United States was the original REO Speedwagon fan stronghold and is pivotal in this period of the band's history.
The band signed to Epic Records in 1971. Paul Leka, an East Coast record producer, brought the band to his recording studio in Bridgeport, Connecticut where it recorded original material for its first album. The lineup on the first album consisted of Richrath, Gratzer, Doughty, Philbin, and Luttrell.
With their equipment being hauled to dates in a friend's station wagon, REO played bars and clubs all over the Midwest. The band's debut album, R.E.O. Speedwagon, was released on Epic Records in 1971. The most popular track on this record was "157 Riverside Avenue". The title refers to the Westport, Connecticut address, where the band stayed while recording in Leka's studio in Bridgeport and remains an in-concert favorite.
Although the rest of the band's line-up remained stable, REO Speedwagon switched lead vocalists three times for their first three albums. Luttrell left the band in early 1972, eventually becoming the vocalist for Starcastle. He was replaced by Kevin Cronin. Cronin recorded one album with the band, 1972's R.E.O./T.W.O. but left the band during the recording sessions for 1973's Ridin' the Storm Out because of internal conflicts. Ridin' the Storm Out was completed with Michael Bryan Murphy on lead vocal. Murphy stayed on for two more albums, Lost in a Dream and This Time We Mean It, before Cronin returned to the fold in January 1976 and recorded R.E.O., which was released that same year.
Cronin's return came after Greg X. Volz turned down the position for lead vocalist due to his commitment to Christianity and Volz would instead go on to accept an offer made by Bob Hartman to join his band Petra as lead vocalist.
In 1977 REO convinced Epic Records that their strength was in their live performances. Epic agreed to let them produce their first live album, Live: You Get What You Play For, which was certified platinum.
In 1977 Philbin was replaced with Bruce Hall to record You Can Tune a Piano but You Can't Tuna Fish, released in 1978, which received FM radio airplay. The album was REO's first to make the Top 40, peaking at #29. The album sold over 2 million copies in the US, achieving double platinum status.
In 1979 the band took a turn back to hard rock with the release of Nine Lives.
The stage was now set for the band's most popular era. In the fall of 1980, REO Speedwagon released Hi Infidelity, which represented a change in the music from hard rock to more pop-oriented material. Hi Infidelity spawned four hit singles written by Richrath and Cronin, including the #1 "Keep On Loving You" (Cronin), the #5 "Take It on the Run" (Richrath), "In Your Letter" (#20) (Richrath), and "Don't Let Him Go" (#24) (Cronin), and remained on the charts for 65 weeks, 32 of which were spent in the top ten, including 15 weeks atop the Billboard 200. Hi Infidelity sold over 10 million copies and set the bar for rock bands across the country.
The band's follow-up album, Good Trouble was released in 1982. Although it was not as successful as its predecessor, the album performed moderately well commercially, featuring the hit singles "Keep the Fire Burnin'" (U.S. #7), "Sweet Time" (U.S. #26) and the Album Rock chart hit "The Key."
The band came storming back two years later with Wheels Are Turnin', an album that included the #1 hit single "Can't Fight This Feeling" plus three more hits: "I Do' Wanna Know" (U.S. #29), "One Lonely Night" (U.S. #19), and "Live Every Moment" (U.S. #34).
On July 13, 1985, the band made a stop in Philadelphia (en route to a show in Milwaukee) to play at the US Leg of Live Aid, which broke a record for number of viewers. They performed "Can't Fight This Feeling" and "Roll With the Changes," which featured members of the Beach Boys, the REO Speedwagon band members' families, and Paul Shaffer on stage for backing vocals.
1987's Life as We Know It saw a decline in sales, but still managed to provide the band with the top-20 hits "That Ain't Love" (U.S. #16) and "In My Dreams" (U.S. #19).
By the end of the 1980s, the band's popularity was waning. Gratzer retired in September 1988 after he decided to retire from music to open a restaurant, leaving Neal Doughty as the only remaining original member.
In early 1989, Richrath ended up leaving over disagreements with Cronin regarding musical direction. Cronin had been playing in The Strolling Dudes, a jazz ensemble that included jazz trumpet player Rick Braun, Miles Joseph on lead guitar and Graham Lear on drums. Lear had already been invited to join REO in September 1988 after Gratzer's departure and Joseph was brought in as a temporary guitarist. Back up singers Carla Day and Melanie Jackson were also added in 1989 to boost the group's vocal sound onstage. This lineup did only one show, on January 7, 1989 in Viña del Mar, Chile, where it won the award for best group at the city's annual International Song Festival. After that, Miles Joseph and the back up singers were dropped in favor of former Ted Nugent guitarist Dave Amato (who was brought aboard in May 1989) and keyboardist/songwriter/producer Jesse Harms.
The 1990 release The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken, with Bryan Hitt (formerly of Wang Chung) replacing Graham Lear on drums, was a commercial disappointment. The album produced only one, and at this time the last, Billboard Hot 100 single, "Love Is a Rock" at #66. Harms was disillusioned and his tenure in the group ended in early 1991.
Shortly after his departure, Richrath assembled former members of the Midwestern band Vancouver to form a namesake band, Richrath. After touring for several years, the Richrath band released Only the Strong Survive in 1992 on the GNP Crescendo label. Richrath continued to perform for several years before disbanding in the late 1990s.
Without the guitar wizardry and song writing input from Richrath, REO Speedwagon lost their recording contract with Epic, and ended up releasing Building the Bridge (1996) on the Priority/Rhythm Safari label. When that label went bankrupt, the album was released on the ill-fated Castle Records which also experienced financial troubles. REO Speedwagon ultimately self-financed this effort, which failed to chart.
Revival of the hits
The commercial failure of the band's newer material with its revised lineup demanded a change in marketing strategy. As a consequence, Epic began re-releasing recordings from older albums with updated artwork and design.
From 1995 to the present, the label released over a dozen compilation albums featuring greatest hits, including 1999's The Ballads. In 2000, REO teamed up with Styx for an appearance at Riverport Amphitheater in St. Louis, which was released as a live concert video Arch Allies: Live at Riverport. The REO portion of the show was released again under three separate titles: Live - Plus (2001), Live Plus 3 (2001) and Extended Versions (2001) (which was certified gold by the RIAA on 26 April 2006). REO once again teamed with Styx in 2003 for the Classic Rock's Main Event tour which also included another band from their common rock era, Journey.
The band released a self-financed album entitled Find Your Own Way Home in April 2007. Though it did not chart as an album, it produced two singles which appeared on Billboard's Adult Contemporary radio chart.
REO Speedwagon continues to tour regularly, performing mostly their classic hits. They are popular on the fair and casino circuits, but still team with other acts to play large venues. They teamed up with Styx to record a new single entitled "Can't Stop Rockin'", released in March 2009, as well as for a full tour that includes special guest .38 Special.
In November 2009, REO Speedwagon released a Christmas album, Not So Silent Night...Christmas with REO Speedwagon.
In summer 2010, the band — then touring with Pat Benatar — announced that it will release a 30th anniversary deluxe edition reissue of Hi Infidelity.
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.
REO Speedwagon headlined on the M&I Classic Rock Stage at the Milwaukee Summerfest on June 30, 2011. On March 11, 2012, Kevin Cronin appeared on the Canadian reality TV series Star Académie. He sang a sampling of REO's hits with the show's singing finalists.
On November 22, 2013, they announced a benefit concert with Styx titled "Rock to the Rescue" to raise money for the affected families of the tornadoes in central Illinois. The concert was held on December 4, 2013 in Bloomington, Illinois. Richard Marx joined REO on stage for a joint performance of two of his hit songs. Gary Richrath reunited with REO for a performance of "Ridin' the Storm Out" to end REO's set at the sold-out concert. Richrath stayed on stage to help with the encore of "With a Little Help From My Friends" along with REO, Styx, Richard Marx, and others. Richrath is originally from the town of East Peoria which was damaged during the storm. Families impacted by the storm and first responders sat near the stage for this special concert and REO reunion.
In early 2014, it was announced that REO Speedwagon and Chicago would be teaming up for 15 dates throughout 2014.REO Motor Car Company Sheff, David (23 March 1981). "Now It's Cheat to the Beat, as Reo Speedwagon Finally Arrives with 'Hi Infidelity'". People 15 (11). Retrieved 2010-08-19. Fishwick, Marshall William; Browne, Ray Broadus (1987). The God pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age. Bowling Green State University Popular Press. p. 143. ISBN 0-87972-399-8. Cite error: The named reference The_Great_Rock_Discography was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Artist Chart History - REO Speedwagon". Retrieved 2009-05-09. "REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin on Louisville, power ballads and if my wife's a slut". Retrieved 2010-02-24. "Styx, REO Speedwagon Team Up For "Rockin'" Tour, Single". Retrieved 2009-04-29. "Myspace". Blogs.myspace.com. Retrieved 2014-02-01. "REO Speedwagon Plans 'Hi Infidelty' 30th Anniversary Reissue, Tour". Billboard. Retrieved 2014-02-01. Elliott, Stuart (2009-12-02). "REO Speedwagon Rocks On as a Game". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-02. "Live Nation Announces REO Speedwagon And Chicago Summer Tour". AllAccess.com. 2014-01-13. Retrieved 2014-02-01.