by Keith Valcourt. Photos by Dave Kapp.
*Editor’s Note* We had intended to provide coverage on REO Speedwagon’s 2020 tour based on their scheduled performance in York, Pa on July 25th. Unfortunately that event was cancelled due to COVID-19. REO’s website confirms they plan on rescheduling any cancelled dates.
Formed in Champaign, Illinois all the way back in 1967 REO Speedwagon are the epitome of American Rock and Roll. In a few short years, the band quickly went from playing bars and tiny clubs to larger venues thanks to an impressive live show and the rock radio cuts, “Roll with the Changes” and “Time for Me to Fly”.
The band hit mainstream crossover success in 1980 when they released their ninth studio album, “High Infidelity” which featured a string of hits including “Keep On Lovin’ You,” “Take It On The Run” and “Don’t let Him Go.” That album went on to sell ten million records worldwide. Several solid albums and songs followed including the number one single, “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
Away from the recordings, REO Speedwagon became world famous for their powerful and consistently amazing live shows. On average the band plays close to 125 shows a year. Chances are if you like a classic rock show then you’ve spent a summer night or two rocking out with REO.
The band’s lead singer and primary songwriter for the bulk of its fifty plus year run has been Kevin Cronin. I caught up with him recently and was impressed by his heartfelt excitement about his band hitting the road again. Cronin discussed longevity, the possibility of a new REO album and advice for young bands in this exclusive interview.
Q: I know you just did Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp in Los Angeles. What do you get out of doing that and jamming with lifelong fans?
A: It feels good. I was smiling the whole time. Whoever your favorite band is that music is so important to you. To them. To me. It’s hard for me to comprehend that we (REO) would be someone’s favorite band. I know who my favorite bands are. To see these people who all know the songs and are doing their best to fight though the arrangements. Everyone’s having a good time. I saw the effect it has on the people that come. These people just get such a kick out it.
Q: What was the best musical advice you got at the start of your career?
A: It was to watch other bands. Whenever we toured or with another band I always sat and watched their set. Every single night without fail. No matter who it was. I just watched. I kind of like watching the drummers because I’m a big fan of drummers. But I also paid close attention to the front man. Listened to them. And watched what they did. From Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas to Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad to Terry Talbot from Mason Proffit. To Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I watched all these guys do their thing. In that, certain things rub off. Certain things stick with you. That’s how you kind of form what you do that makes you unique. You’re just a collection of your influences.
Q: What advice do you give young bands coming up?
I would say get out and play live. I know this is the era of everybody making records on their computers, but there is nothing like playing in front of an audience to give you a gauge of where you’re at and what you need to work on. It will tell you whether your songs are working or not. If there are certain parts of songs that lose peoples attention. You can sit in a studio and everything sounds great. But when you walk out in front of an audience, they are the ultimate arbiter as to if things are working.
Q: What can fans expect when they come to see REO Speedwagon live on this 2020 tour?
A: By the time we get to York we will be a well-oiled machine with several months under our belt. We have worked up a couple songs we haven’t played in a while. One song we haven’t played in thirty-five years. That’ll be interesting. We are always kind of tinkering with the set list. Trying to change it up a little bit. Our band is like an old car. You are always tinkering with it. You’re always changing a little thing here. A little thing there. We like to try to keep it interesting.
Q: The band has now been together over five decades, what’s the secret to your longevity?
A: It’s the music. Whatever music is getting played on the radio when you are in junior high and high school, that music stays with you forever. We were lucky enough to have a twelve-year run of top ten records between the years of 1977 and 1989. There were a lot of people who passed through junior high and high school in those years and that music really stuck to their ribs. They want to come out and see us do it again.
Q: The last studio album for your band was your Christmas record, “Not So Silent Night” in 2009. You guys are a bit overdue for a new record.
A: We are. We are. I’ve been writing a book now. I’m into my fourth year working on that. It’s a lot longer process than I expected. Most of my writing energy has been going towards the book. So, if I ever finish the freaking book, I’ll start writing songs again and we’ll have something to talk about.
Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More
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