REO Speedwagon means different things to different people.
For some, it's the rocking almost-jam band of the early 1970s, while many others remember the pop rock icons from the late '70s and early '80s, and still others think of the power ballads. For bass player Bruce Hall, the Champagne, Illinois-based band is all those things.
"I played in a band with (former REO guitarist) Gary Richrath before he joined REO Speedwagon," Hall said. "REO in the early days were a great band. They had these extended sections in the middle of songs that were fun to listen to, but as far as AM radio and a song that could last, they weren't doing anything with that." Hall joined in 1977 just as the band was beginning to hone its songwriting to get the attention of radio stations.
"The ('You Can Tune a Piano but You Can't Tuna Fish') record, the first I played bass on, they started making the songs a little bit tighter,"Hall said. "Songs had more verse-chorus. They were getting better, more serious at the songwriting."
That tighter songwriting led to the band's chart-topping success and, arguably, its most famous work, the 1980 album "Hi Infidelity." "That one just fell together," Hall said. “All the songs, we were all on the same page as far as our writing and our playing. I didn't see it coming, but, boy, it changed our lives for sure. We started headlining the Boston Garden, the Forum in L.A., the Superdome...we were having a ball with that."
Along the way, the group even managed to stake its claim as one of the founders of the power ballad. "One thing we all had in common was we loved the Beatles, and they could do everything," Hall said, recalling the band's decision to experiment and evolve musically."(Lead singer Kevin Cronin) started the song 'Keep on Loving You' on piano - it was just these little chords. We made a demo, and Gary said, 'What am I supposed to do with that?"
That song was key to the burgeoning popularity of the power ballad in the 1980s, and Hall said REO deserves credit as one of the pioneers of that particular style.
"That's kind of where we started the power ballads," he said. "We started sitting on these big chords behind a ballad. 'Keep on Loving You' was one of the first songs that did that." Hall said those in attendance for the band's Toadlick set can expect some songs from all the band's phases, including some songs from the days before he joined.
"It's a good old time, and almost every song we play, everybody knows the lyrics to the songs," Hall said.
He also said the band is "sitting on a lot of new"songs, but hasn't yet decided how to debut and distribute them.
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The keyboardist and only original member of the rock band REO Speedwagon effortlessly rolled out a series of jokes during a phone interview from his home in Minnesota. Doughty was born on July 29, 1946, in Evansville, Ind. From his dorm room at the University of Illinois in 1967, he formed the band that, several decades later, is still touring the country.
REO Speedwagon -- Doughty, Kevin Cronin (singer and guitar and keyboards), Brian Hitt (drums), Dave Amato (lead guitar) and Bruce Hall -- will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 13 at the Kalamazoo State Theatre. Doughty said while every member of the band is now in their 60s, they are healthier now than in the party-throwing heyday of the '80s.
"We can still walk up and down stairs to get to the stage," he joked.
Later he added, "We're still going quite a ways into the future. There's no one in the band who doesn't want to keep doing this. We'll keep going until one of us just drops and I hope it's not me. We are all very healthy, happy and ready to keep going. Plus, it's not like we're playing football and have to take body shots during our concerts --at least not on our good nights."
REO Speedwagon boasts a slew of sing-along-friendly ballads and rock songs, including "Keep On Loving You," "Take It On The Run," "Time For Me To Fly," "Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" and "One Lonely Night," among others.
Doughty reminisced about how the band signed to Epic Records in 1971 and stayed on the label for almost a decade until it produced a major hit --something he says wouldn't happen in today's music industry.
During the late '60s and '70s, REO Speedwagon built up its fan base playing college bars around the Midwest where a "select group of beautiful people would be invited afterwards to keep it going for hours."
After the success of the 1980 album, "Hi Infidelity," the band took off. Parties followed.
"I don't know how we are still alive. We weren't not the No. 1 party band in the world, but we tried to do our part just for the sake of the art form," he said."There's a lot I don’t remember at all and those are probably the best stories."
He quickly touched on the story of a band member -correction, a member of the road crew - who tossed a television out of a hotel room in Japan and nearly got them kicked out of the country. REO Speedwagon has several tour dates throughout the summer, including some with the band Chicago in August.
When the band gears up for another tour, Doughty flies from Minnesota to Los Angeles, Calif., for rehearsals, as he did recently for this last stint on the road.
"I just hate going to Los Angeles for two weeks of rehearsals during a Minnesota winter," he said.
During those practices, the band figures out ways to keep the live show "fresh." They work on a few "surprises and transitions" while also playing the hits their fans expect. The group takes cues from Kevin Cronin, the band's frontman since 1972 and its principle songwriter.
"We still look to him for musical direction. He's kind of the quarterback, you could call it. He's always one to keep it fresh. He's always looking for new ideas," Doughty said.
Everything from the setlist to the production requirements must meet Cronin's standards--an emphasis few of their peers emphasize.
"There are a lot of bands from our heyday in classic rock still making a good living without changing anything. We're just determined not to fall into that rut, although it would be way easier," he said.
Doughty still finds performing live exhilarating, but he could do without the rigors of touring. "The travel will just about kill you. It seems like I'm on a plane every weekend."
He said his attitude toward travel is slowly improving.
"The last tour I only quit the band twice, so that's getting better. There was one a tour a couple years ago where I quit everyday," he said.
During his first couple days back from tour, Doughty said he sits on the couch for two or three days and watches HGTV to get ideas how to spruce up their house or their greenhouse "when we moved some place warmer." When he's not marveling at the dishwasher, he also plays the piano in his living room. "I'm straight and narrow, low profile," he said of being home. "My wife has to force me to have fun."
For a band with Midwest roots, Doughty and company like Michigan crowds. Doughty said they were among the first fans of REO Speedwagon outside of Illinois. He also pointed out Michigan, specifically Lansing, is the birthplace of the REO Motor Car Company, producer of the Speed Wagon, an early version of the pickup truck.
"We're always happy to play in front of a Michigan crowd. It's a high-energy show and you'll hear all the songs you want to hear," Doughty said.
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Attention REO Speedwagon fans,
As a part of a special Rock Megaticket, we will be playing in St.Louis this August (date TBD) with Chicago.
The Rock Megaticket gets you 1 GA lawn or rear reserved ticket to each of these 4 St. Louis shows for just $49.95!
Boston with The Doobie Brothers - June 20th
Sammy Hagar with Michael Anthony, Jason Bonham & Vic Johnson - July 19th
REO Speedwagon and Chicago - August date TBD
ZZ Top & Jeff Beck - August 24th.
Individual tickets for the REO Speedwagon & Chicago show go on sale on April 26 at 10AM. Stay tuned for more information and show date!