For over four decades and through various lineup overhauls, REO Speedwagon continues to roll with the changes.
Like fellow ’70s Midwest musical compatriots Styx, Cheap Trick, Grand Funk and Bob Seger, from ratty clubs to 20,000 seat venues they developed their following through years of exhaustive touring. A new DVD, Live at Moondance Jam, demonstrates that the band has lost none of its power or energy as consummate stage performers.
Rock Cellar Magazine spoke with REO frontman Kevin Cronin for a look back on over 40 years of musical magic.
Rock Cellar Magazine: REO has gone through many lineup changes over the years. What makes the band such a commanding musical force onstage?
Kevin Cronin: I think we just love what we do and it shows. There have been a number of different members of the band over the years but I think that‘s something that all of us have…a devotion to playing live. REO Speedwagon was always a live band. Our records didn’t really start catching on until the late ‘70s and the band had been playing live for almost ten years at that point. That’s kind of the way we make a name for ourselves. We weren’t one of these bands that burst onto the scene with a biog hit record, we just grinded.
We played a couple of hundred shows a year and traveled around the Midwest in a beat up 1972 Chevrolet Impala station wagon and played every little town you could find. We just played live and played live and we loved it. We met a lot of great people and we had a lot of fun and that’s where our music evolved from playing live shows. And we still have that same feeling today. We love to play live. That’s our thing. We give people a little break from their every day life. People are going through tough times and people have got a lot of responsibilities with their job and their family.
When you come out and see us play live you leave everything at home and we’ll take you away for a couple of hours and let you dance and sing and have a good time. If we can do that then we’ve done our job.
Rock Cellar Magazine: REO Speedwagon released a string of really good albums in the ‘70s but none took hold until much later.
Kevin Cronin: I think the band was searching for an identity. On the first three REO albums there was a different singer on each of them so I think the name REO Speedwagon was kind of synonymous with Gary’s guitar playing, Neal’s piano playing and Alan’s drumming. But as far as the real signature of a band, to most people it’s the lead singer and the voice kept changing. So I think the band was trying to find the right singer.
Terry Luttrell sang on the first record, I sang on the second record and Mike Murphy came in and sang on a couple of records. I think when I came back to the band there was a little bit more of a mutual respect between the band members and myself. When I was out of the band I played as a solo artist and I gained a lot of confidence and my writing started to get a little stronger. I think the band looked at the R.E.O./T.W.O. record and went, “Wow, there was something special about that album.”
To this day when we tour we play at least two or three songs off of that record. So that R.E.O./T.W.O. album as kind off special. Right around our first live album in 1977 (Live: You Get What You Play For) where I got to sing all of the songs that Murph or Terry and sung and it all brought it into focus.
Now there was one voice and that was the voice of REO Speedwagon. I’m fortunate that it record that way for me because I love the band.
The whole vibe of high energy and never giving up and believing in yourself, those real positive All-American sentiments, is what the name REO Speedwagon has always stood for. Our music has reflected that with songs like Ridin’ the Storm Out, Roll with the Changes, Keep Pushin, they’re all songs that people need to hear especially in times like these.
It’s tough out there and you come to an REO show and we sing about those basic American values. Hopefully people can leave that show and wake up the next morning and feel a little renewed or a little revitalized and get back in there and do what you gotta do.