Neal Doughty gets the blame for REO Speedwagon. While at the University of Illinois, he joined a band with his co-founder, drummer Alan Gratzer that needed a name. "One day we decided to advertise in the campus paper to see if anyone would hire us," says Doughty, "So we needed a name fast. The very next day I walked into an engineering class and saw 'REO Speedwagon' written on the board in giant letters. It was a milestone in the history of transportation: a high-speed, heavy-duty truck. I told the guys that night and they all loved it. It was the only name we ever considered."
As it turned out, people wanted to hear REO and they were hired to perform on-campus, as entertainment for the party...and a food fight!. Neal recalls, "It was a frat house that had invited a sorority over for a dinner. We walked in and saw heavy paper covering all the walls. We kinda thought something was up, but it was too late. The evening ended with mashed potatoes everywhere. Alan spent the next whole day cleaning them off the drums. But we made forty dollars." From those humble beginnings, REO Speedwagon eventually became a household name, yet massive success eluded them for over a decade.
REO has recently released Live at the Moondance Jam, which features all of the band’s biggest hits recorded at America's premier classic rock festival, The Moondance Jam in Walker, Minnesota. In the interview that follows, Doughty speaks openly about the Moondance Magic, as well as the bands past, present and future.
MUNCIE - He can't fight this feeling. Kevin Cronin loves his job.
You can hear it in his voice as he talks about traveling the country, meeting new people and, of course, rocking out. Cronin, you see, is the frontman for REO Speedwagon, a band that has been doing that rock thing since the 1970s.
REO will rock Emens Auditorium on Feb. 7.
The band and its hits like "Keep On Loving You,","Can't Fight This Feeling," "Roll with the Changes" and "Take It On the Run" is still packing them in. And it's not just fans who have been there since Day 1.
"It's great seeing young people who are discovering our music, whether it's listening to their parents music in the car or finding classic rock stations, or hearing it on a TV show," he said. "Somehow these songs have just kind of infected the fabric of our country. When I think about it, it's really quite humbling. I couldn't be luckier."
Formed in 1967, signed in 1971, and fronted by Cronin since 1972, REO Speedwagon has sold 22 million albums in the U.S., 40 million around the globe.
Cronin, admittedly, has a soft spot for audiences in the Midwest, where the band got its start.
"It does feel good when we come back to places like Muncie that we've been playing since the very beginning," he said. "It's in our own backyard. We've come a long way, but at the same time, we are still so connected to those days."
The Muncie show will benefit Rock To The Rescue, which recently raised more than $400,000 to benefit victims of the Midwest tornadoes and storms.
At these shows, a portion of proceeds will benefit the charity; plus, the band will hold memorabilia and instrument raffles or auctions, and donations will be accepted.
Cronin said that since the band played Live Aid in 1985, charitable efforts have always been a big focus of the band. The band recently helped raise $400,000 for charities in the area of Bloomington, Ill., after a recent tornado.
"There is so much power in music," he said. "It raises money and people's spirits."
He added that the band's power comes, ultimately, from the fans.
"Any power that our music has is a result of the support that we got from the people in small towns of the heartland," he said. "These people gave us this power. It only makes sense to use this power they have given us to come back and support them when they need it."
Cronin said fans of the band should expect to hear all of the hits during the Emens concert. That's what the people come to hear, after all, he said. And he said he honestly still enjoys playing every one of them.
The band has been "messing around with new music"lately, even trying them out during sound checks before concerts.
"Maybe we will break one out during the show," he said, adding that smaller shows like the one at Emens gives the band a chance to "stretch out a little."
One thing is certain, he said. "It will be a good time."
For years now, I've agonized over a gnawing question: which is the all-time greatest rock and roll band: REO Speedwagon or Cheap Trick? Tick tock, tick tock -- c'mon dude, pick one! And although it's a question with which I continue to wrestle, tonight I had the distinct pleasure of basking in the presence of both bands. Sorta.
Decked out head-to-toe in full-on rock regalia -- leather pants, t-shirt, leather jacket, boots, and a stylish "stars and stripes" scarf -- Cheap Trick's vocal powerhouse, Robin Zander, took the King Center stage at 8pm with his newly-formed collective, The Robin Zander Band.
With his face almost completely hidden by his low-riding, cream-colored top hat, the iconic frontman led his band of merry music vets through an hour-long set that featured a fistful of Cheap Trick ditties as well as a slew of staples from the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and AC/DC.
A rock solid contingent, RZB also features one-time Robert Plant guitarist Mark Hitt, former John Entwistle drummer Steve Luongo, bassist Larry Hobbs, longtime Cheap Trick keyboardist Phil "Magic" Cristian, and Zander's son, guitarist Robin Taylor Zander.
Despite experiencing intermittent audio glitches, equipment malfunctions, and tuning delays throughout the set, the band ultimately overcame and conquered. Musical highlights included compelling recreations of The Beatles' "Golden Slumbers," The Who's "Bargain," and an engaging new arrangement of Cheap Trick's "Love Comes." Accompanied by a miniature-size "Energizer" monkey, Luongo delivered another one of the evening's "wow" moments with his show-stopping drum solo. Props also are owed to Zander Jr. Wearing a rather chic gray suit and tie with a matching skully, the twenty-year-old guitarist not only had the musical goods, but also brought a noticeably youthful, fresh factor to the festivities. For his part, Zander (senior) looked fabulously hippy-dippy-rocky-rolly and was vocally spot-on all night. In sum, RZB knocked out a stellar ensemble performance.
The pulsating power of U2 blasted from the monstrous sound system as the house lights dimmed at precisely 9:30, alerting the revved-up regiment of nearly 3,000 that the evening's feature act was ready to rock!
All dressed in classic "concert black," the members of REO Speedwagon ignited the crowd immediately with their signature opening tune, "Don't Let Him Go," as the sweet fragrance of stage smoke permeated the venue -- and from there, the full-tilt, ninety-minute onslaught ensued.
In short order, renowned ringleader Kevin Cronin led his troupe through such early set staples as "Music Man," "Take it on the Run," and "Keep Pushin'." And the crowd goes wild!
Yet, despite the cavalcade of classics, this certainly was no tired nostalgia trip. In fact, the Speedwagon of 2013 is less like your dad's '74 Gremlin sitting on cinder blocks, and more like a pimped-out '77 T-Bird - with crazy-looking spinners on the wheels, an iPod in the dash and PLENTY of gas in the tank!
Not only was the band tighter musically than Bryan Hitt's snare drum, the members oozed energy and passion. PLUS, they all looked fit and fabulous - you know, like a rock and roll band. Visually, the show was equally dazzling. Four vertical, 20-foot lit columns made for a clean-looking, yet eye-catching backdrop - positioned behind the enormous, tri-level, metallic riser that was home base for founding keyboardist Neal Doughty (stage right), Hitt (center) and a grand piano (stage left), shared by Doughty and Cronin throughout the night.
Engaging and charismatic, the leather-clad Cronin often assumed the role of a New Age preacher, inspiring the congregation with his refreshing Gospel of Rock and Roll. Equally compelling was perennial guitarist Dave Amato, whose undeniable mystique, swagger and array of vintage Les Paul's likely prompted many to ask, "Gary who?
Although the set list leaned heavily on tried and true fan faves, including "Can't Fight This Feeling," "Time for Me to Fly" and "Keep on Loving You," the (for me) surprise addition of such bona fide (and nearly forgotten) gems as "Golden Country" and "Son of a Poor Man" only further amplified the sheer awesomeness of the band, its music and its legacy. I mean, c'mon, there's not a man, woman or child alive who ever tires of hearing Bruce Hall knockin' down "Back on the Road Again," right? And the image of Cronin sitting at that piano, busting out the iconic intro to "Roll with the Changes" remains as chilling as ever. However, as a longtime Speedwagon aficionado, I gleefully would have ponied-up an additional surcharge to hear a song or two from the post-Richrath era, as 1996's Building the Bridge and Find Your Own Way Home from 2007, measure up easily against such acknowledged and much-loved records as REO and Tuna Fish.
And with Cronin's signature reminder to "always keep 'Ridin' the Storm Out' people," the REO Speedwagon juggernaut came to a dynamic conclusion. Hey, wait a second - could it be? Yes, for the first time in 30+ years, "157 Riverside Avenue" was absent from the set. But fortunately, I have a great therapist who's helping me to work through that. In sum, I laughed, I cried, I screamed, shouted and sang along. Heck, at one point during "Like You Do," I even took off my pants and danced! Gosh, I sure was relieved to have worn an extra layer of Depends. Kudos, kids -- see ya next year!
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On the phone with me is Keyboardist Neal Doughty, who I chose to call the Original Founder of the Band, a title that he says pays him nothing extra. It is here that I find out I am talking to a true professional - a kind and giving man who's been at the top of his game for 40 years.
I pointed this out to Neal, how seldom it is that I talk to a nice 'famous rocker' and he told me he couldn’t agree more. He's met a lot of uncool stars along the way.
Neal also talks about the band's beginnings, and the ability back in the '60's and '70's to take almost 11 years, under contract, to finally get a hit album. (High Fidelity in 1980). That just doesn't happen any more.
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". The band plays ALL of the hits at their shows because this is what the fans want, and want to sing along to. And, says Neal, "they're the boss, so we do what the boss wants."
Neal stays current with today's bands, and is absolutely floored by 'Foster The People' and Pink.
Listen to the whole interview here, you’re going to love this guy, and make sure you sing along with every song on Thursday night.
Click here to hear the interview.
REO Speedwagon frontman Kevin Cronin says he’s usually “not one for nostalgia.” But coming off an extended 30th anniversary celebration for the group’s nine-times-platinum 1980 album “Hi Infidelity,” Cronin has a somewhat gentler view of the past.
But, he adds, the future is still his paramount concern.
“I’m much more into looking forward and keeping the creative juices flowing,” says Cronin, 61, who has in fact been working on new material, REO’s first since releasing the “Find Your Own Way Home” album in 2007 (with a holiday album in 2009).
“I think maybe the fact I am in kind of a creative mode right now makes it a little easier to embrace the nostalgia. If all you’re doing is being nostalgic, I think that gets stale pretty quick. But when the creative juices start flowing and you’re also open to accepting the beauty of some of the things you accomplished in the past, those things can go hand in hand.
“I’m feeling really strong in both of those ways right now. And as a result we’ve got, believe it or not, people coming up to us after the show who are like, ‘You guys are better than ever right now.’ To be hearing that at this point is pretty gratifying.”
And, Cronin adds, it’s even more encouraging that some of that praise is coming from fans who weren’t even born when “Hi Fidelity” was released, much less older REO favorites such as “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” “Roll With the Changes” and “Time For Me to Fly.”
“These are young people at our shows I’m talking about high school and college kids,” Cronin notes. “We’ve got people of all ages coming to these concerts and we’re just kicking ass and we’re having fun and enjoying what we’re doing.
“It’s just another one of those great, tight periods for the band. Everyone is healthy. Everyone’s feeling the creative spurt that we’re on and everyone is embracing the beauty of what’s got us there. To have five guys all in the same mindspace, it’s a really special thing. I can’t take that for granted.”
REO Speedwagon and the Tubes perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights. Tickets are $45 and $35 pavilion, $16 lawn. Call 568-268-9700 or visit www.freedomhill.net.