"FIND YOUR OWN WAY HOME" has been a long time coming.
We first performed "Everything You Feel" at a show in Wisconsin back in 2002. The response of that heartland audience reminded us of the joy we get from tapping into our creative spirit, and rekindled our desire to write and play new music. We felt reassured that our fans' appetite for new REO Speedwagon songs had not waned over the years since we released "Building The Bridge" in 1996.
But you can't simply decide to make a new record. You can't just will new songs into existence...you need inspiration, motivation and desire.
In the midst of our landmark, 2003 "Main Event" Tour, we struck a motherlode of creative energy. These songs and performances were buried deep within our collective souls, and the events which began to unfold that summer created an environment that was ripe for their uncovering. The songs began to reveal themselves as we hung out together on those long bus rides, at sound checks and in hotel bars after the shows. We jammed together, and shared our feelings and experiences to a degree which we had never before dared. Before we knew it, the record began to take shape. It all happened so organically, there was no conscious effort on our part. But then again, we do some of our best work when we are unconscious.
Call it midlife...call it a group of guys getting real with one another...call it mass insanity...call it what you will, all I can say is it has been quite a trip. The words and music on this album have created a bond within this band which we have caught glimpses of over the years, but never quite to this degree. We have been operating in an atmosphere where we all feel safe to explore our fears, as well as our dreams, and continue to have big fun all the while. These songs are a reflection of a renewed spirit in the REO Speedwagon family.
During these past few challenging, yet liberating years, a strong, soulful brotherhood has emerged. The support and counsel of Tommy Consolo and Walter Versen have been huge for us, on so many levels. Your friendship is invaluable. A series of fortuitous events led to our teaming up with the maestro, Joe Vannelli. He has selflessly guided us to musical places we have always yearned for, but until now never quite achieved. John Baruck and Irving Azoff are, as always, there for us whenever we need them, our behind the scenes gurus. All of our crew guys are members of this brotherhood; we could not do it without your hard work and loyalty. And girls are welcome too...Diane, Cerisa, Amy, Lil and Ruthie are all our brothers as well.
This album is a personification of the entire brotherhood, wrapped up into one. These struggles, triumphs, fears and hopes are those of all of us. Our journey is your journey. So enjoy the ride as we all find our own way home.
So you may ask, how is it that the loudest, fastest, rowdiest rock band in Champaign Illinois has come to release a CD called "The Ballads"? I mean in concert, these guys rock! Sure they throw in a slow song now and then, but a whole record full of ballads .. what's up with that ?Yeah we rock. We love to rock. We will always rock. But through the years another side of our band has become and equally important part of the REO story. And since I suppose I am the one most responsible for the addition of the first ballad to the REO Speedwagon set list, I should probably tell the story which led up to the release of this very special CD. You see, it almost never happened.
REO started out on the University of Illinois campus in 1967, playing obscure covers by underground bands such as Cream and The Doors. Beer and sawdust bars, "The Red Lion", and "Chances R" were home to dozens of local Champaign rock groups. But in 1970, when guitarist Gary Richrath joined founder members Neal Doughty, Alan Gratzer, Terry Luttrell and Gregg Philbin, REO emerged as the most popular band in town by far. Gary was not only a great lead guitar player and a flashy performer, but he was also a song writer. Little by little the band begun to sneak "originals" into their set among the cover tunes, and by 1971 they had enough of their own material to get the attention of Epic Records A&R man Tom Werman. The first album, chock full of REO's trademark high-energy riff rock, came out of that year.
Meanwhile, a hundred miles up Interstate 57, on the north side of Chicago, there was a vibrant folk-rock scene in full bloom. Coffee houses such as "Earl of Old Town", the "Quiet Knight" and "It's here" provided a setting for local singer songwriters to perform for attentive, song conscious audiences. I played Simon and Garfunkel and Buffalo Springfield covers, with some of my own songs sprinkled in, anywhere and everywhere I could. Gary noticed one of my flyers at a downtown Chicago guitar shop and we got together that day at my apartment in Rogers Park. Acoustic guitar in hand, I sang a few of my songs as well as my favorite Elton John song, "Holiday Inn". As luck would have it, it was Gary's favorite too, and I was the only person he had ever met who had even heard the song before. We bonded on the spot, and he invited me to join the band on that basis.
Now I had heard that REO Speedwagon was a great hard rock band, but had never actually heard their music. So when I went to the Joilet Roller Rink in early 1972 to see them play, I was impressed by their power and showmanship, but was unsure just where I fit in. There they were up on a huge stage with screaming stacks of Marshall guitar amps, wearing tight jeans and Beatle boots, and here I was in my Hush Puppy shoes and corduroy pants, strumming sensitive love songs in tiny Chicago coffee houses. But hey, the babes loved them, they had a record deal, and I got to use the band's '72 Chevy station wagon ... we would figure out the rest in time.
For reasons still unknown to me, it was determined that we would record the REO/TWO album in Nashville, and it turned out to be a great idea. We were the only rock group ever to make a record at the famous Columbia Record Studios, home to country music greats such as Merle Haggard and Marty Robbins, but somehow we felt right at home there. Nashville was the only place I had ever been where you could tell people you were a songwriter and nobody asked what your "real job" was. The band had already worked up such future REO classics as "Golden Country" and "Like You Do", and inspired by my new gig, I wrote a few rockers on my own. "Music Man" and "Let Me Ride" had never been played with such intensity. I was loving the combination of my little folk songs and REO's powerhouse rhythm section. The marriage of our radically different styles came together very naturally in that studio, and REO/TWO remains one of our favorite albums to this day.
Then after a short lived split up, which found the band recording two albums with Mike Murphy on lead vocals, and me going to Colorado to "get my head together", Neal, Alan, Gregg, Gary and I got together for a jam session in Los Angeles. I had kept in touch with the guys, and sent them demo tapes of my new songs from time to time. One of those tapes contained a shuffle called "Keep Pushin'" and a slow song I had written in Boulder called "Time For Me To Fly". The guys loved "Keep Pushin'" and we worked it up during that first session in LA. "Time For Me To Fly" was another story.
We were all very excited about being back together, in LA, recording a new album at the infamous Record Plant studios. We once found Brian Wilson wandering through our control room singing to himself in the middle of our session. I met my first Beatle, George Harrison, in the hallway outside studio B. One night, Don Henley came in and listened to our mixes, which we thought was very cool. Everything was going great, and I was ready to start working on "Time For Me To Fly". I felt it was one of my strongest songs, but our producer John Stronach, just sort of ignored it. He finally offered the following explanations: "It doesn't sound like REO, REO has never recorded a slow love song, and it only has three chords, it's too simple". In 1976, "REO" or as we call it "The COW album" was released without "Time For Me To Fly". As much as I disagreed with Stronach, he was right, REO was a rock band, and rock bands didn't play ballads .. at least not yet!
We told our friends at Epic Records that we felt our strength was in our live performance, and that we could best capture the true spirit of our songs by recording a double live album, and that we should produce the record ourselves. Amazingly, they bought the idea, and next thing we knew, we were in London receiving our first gold album for "Live: You Get What You Play For" in 1977.
With the success of the live record under our belts, we decided to raise the stakes a bit by suggesting that Gary and I produce our next studio album. The band was convinced that an outside producer would only lead us away from the sound we had discovered on the "live album". Incredibly, Epic went along with us, and at that point, the inmates were firmly in control of the asylum! The REO sound was our to create and define.
The making of the "Tuna" album was a time of incredible learning and fierce growth within the band. Bruce Hall took over on bass guitar, and with him came his vast talents as a singer and songwriter. Bruce shared my love of folk rock music, and all of our love for the Beatles. With this lineup we felt a new energy and versatility, so we revisited "Time For Me To Fly". We combined my acoustic guitar strumming with Gary's power chords, added Neal's melodic synthesizer work and Bruce's McCartney-esque bass lines, brought Alan's big rock drums for the chorus, mixed in our newly strengthened vocal harmony, and in doing so opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the future of REO Speedwagon's music. "Time..." was a pivotal song for us, it paved the way for what was to come.
We considered "You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish" an artistic triumph. I firmly believed that our musical direction on "Tuna" was the way to go. And although the album went gold, and "Roll With The Changes" became our first Top 40 single, it fell short of our extremely high expectations. I was confused and a bit disheartened, and it showed in my songwriting output for the "Nine Lives" album. Gary wrote "Only The Strong Survive" and Bruce added "Back On The Road", but I came up creatively empty handed. The momentum we had begun with the live album came to a screeching halt, until one day in March of 1980 ...
With our constant touring and recording studio schedule came the problems one might expect on the home front .. we were getting more nuts and the band wives and girlfriends were getting more and more pissed off. There were affairs going on left and right, and numerous numbing agents were at work in all of our blood streams. It was a crazy time, but our of this craziness, some interesting songs began to emerge. Oh yeah, the infamous day ...
I woke up at 4:00 AM, found my way into my studio, sat down at the piano, and listening as the verses to what would become our first number one song kind of wrote themselves. At band rehearsal later that day I sat at the piano again, came up with the title "Keep On Loving You" and finished the song on the spot. The guys weren't sure what I was up to with this "slow song", but deep down I think there was a feeling that we were on to something special. It didn't take long before Gary cranked up his Les Paul, Neal went instinctively to his Hammond organ, Bruce and Alan found a strong rhythm groove, and together we fell upon what would become known as the "REO power ballad".
Within a few days Gary remembered a slow song he had never played for anyone called "Don't Let Me Down", which he had written about the same painful subject matter as "Keep On Loving You". He played me the song, I immediately loved it, suggested a few changes including a new title, and within a couple of hours we had "Take It On The Run". We now officially had our momentum back. We spent a week at Crystal, a funky Hollywood recording studio, making the demo tapes which would become our next album. Named for the out of control status of our collective personal lives, "Hi Infidelity" would go on to become the number one album in the US for six months in 1981, and sell ten million copies around the world. Not bad for five boneheads from the Midwest!
By the summer of 1983 we had heard it all. Critics called us one hit wonders, among other things. According to LA Times music editor Robert Hilburn, we had all but sold our rock 'n' roll souls. We needed a way to shut them all up, and the only way we knew was to make another hit record. I had started a song called "My Guiding Light" in Chicago back in 1975. I liked the verses a lot, but knew the chorus really sucked, and the title was just slightly "soap opera". Those verses laid around for years, until one morning in 1984 when it dawned on me that the key to finishing the song had been staring me in the face all along. "Can't Fight This Feeling" seemed like a lame title to me at first, but it was the heart and soul of the song, so I went with it. I took off from there, and finished the bridge and chorus in time for lunch! In 1985 we released our thirteenth album "Wheels Are Turnin" which included our second number one single. That summer you could turn on the radio without hearing "Can't Fight This Feeling".
We are very proud of every song on this CD. The raw energy of Neal Doughty's "One Lonely Night", captured me on the first listen. (You should hear his lead vocals on the demo!) The beautiful melody and delicate chord changes of Bruce Hall's "After Tonight" stood my arm hair on end the first he played it for me in 1994, in a Columbus, Ohio hotel room.
"Building The Bridge" was written for my son Paris, but found its way to the White House, where President Clinton adopted it as the theme for his re-election campaign in 1996. Kim Basinger fell madly in love with me when she heard the demo of "The Heart Survives" ... OK, not exactly, but she did ask me if she could keep a copy of the tape. I wrote "I Wish You Were There" at the kitchen table in the house where I grew up, where my parents Millie and Ted live to his day. Mom, there is no way you could possibly remember, but you were writing poetry across the table from me that night.
I have had the pleasure of collaborating with some great songwriters: Tom Kelly on "In My Dreams", Jimmy Scott on "Till The Rivers Run Dry", and popular jazz trumpeters (and former Strolling Dude) Rick Braun on "Here With Me".
In early 1998 I took a little trip with the idea of writing with my long-time buddy, Jim Peterik ("Eye Of The Tiger", "The Search Is Over"). We had so much fun and wrote some exciting music during those sessions in Chicago. But it wasn't until Jimmy dropped by my house in LA a few months later that we wrote the song which opens this album. Jim was playing something on the piano in the living room while I was in the kitchen with my wife Lisa and our infant daughter Holly. The beautiful sight of my wife and daughter together, combined with the beautiful sound on the music being played by my close friend, was full on inspirational. The lyrics to "Just For You" came to me so naturally, and from an atmosphere of such true love and friendship that I knew we had something very special in this song. Jimmy and I finished it up over the next few days, and the result is maybe the most personally rewarding song I have ever written.
Even though Dave Amato's guitar and Bryan Hitt's drumming were not with us during the "power ballad" glory days of the 1980's, they locked right in with Neal, Bruce and me during the recording of "Just For You". Our aim was to make a record that paid homage to that era, but took it up a notch musically and technically. The combination of Peter Aster's production and David Campbell's string arrangement, with the revitalised REO line-up, worked out great. I am proud and happy to share this, and all of these songs with you now.
This is not meant to be a complete history of REO Speedwagon by any means. Rather it is meant to trace the evolution of the ballad as one part of the REO story. I have obviously written this from a songwriter's perspective, but turning simple songs into hit records takes many people with various talents.
This story could not have been told without the constant support of our close friends and managers, John Barrack and Tommy Console who have been there from the beginning and will be there to the end.
The story might have ended in 1990 if Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt had not so skilfully taken over on lead guitar and drums. Although they will always be "the new guys", they are now important members of the band, and we have all become great friends. I feel REO today is as strong as ever.
We thank all our friends and collaborators who are listed in the credits. Special thanks to our recording engineers/co-producers Paul Grupp, Kevin Beamish, David DeVore, Tom Lord-Alge, and Greg Ladanyi .. we could never have done it without you guys.
The have had some great road crews through the years, and our current group is up there with the best. To Ira Siegal, Michael (Beef Buy) Garrigan, Tony (T-Byrd) Byrd, Danny Schuss, Harold Denker, Charlie Terrell, Kevin (Z) Zarrara, thanks so much for your loyalty.
Thanks to Mitch Rose, Rod Essig and Rob Light for keeping us on the road. To Judi Gordon for keeping us in the air. To Richard Fincher for keeping us on the web. To Ken Kraus for keeping us legal. And to Chuck Shapiro, Diane Ricci and Peter Malick for keeping track of the numbers.
Thanks to our beloved Cerisa, who is always there and always knows the story.
We have a twenty-eight year history as part of the Epic Records family. We have had tremendous success, and made some long-time friends along the way. We thank you all. We have also made some new friends at Sony Music during this project. Thanks to our Art Director, David Coleman, our Production Co-ordinator: Leslie Langlo and to Jeff Jones, Joy Gilbert and the staff at Legacy.
And of course, we send our special thanks to you!
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