REO Speedwagon

2014 REO Speedwagon

In the days of 1980s big-hair bands, REO Speedwagon was . . . not a big-hair band. They had been touring since 1971, with a humble start playing in the bars of Champaign, Illinois, and their solid, blue-collar approach to music allowed for long, but not 'big,' hair. By keeping the music honest and the look simple, the band ground its way to the top, and the result was a platinum single, two gold singles, and nearly 35 years of continuous activity.

REO Speedwagons were versatile 1920s trucks used as fire trucks, delivery vehicles, and in other situations that required dependable power. As this band has chugged along, the name has proved to be an inspired choice.

The original band, with Terry Luttrell on vocals, Gary Richrath on guitar, Neal Doughty on keyboards, Gregg Philbin on bass and Alan Gratzer on drums, drove to gigs in a Chevy station wagon, way down the ladder from a Speedwagon, but the kids at the bars around the University of Illinois appreciated Richrath's fast, loud guitar work.

The REO Speedwagon sound we know best gelled after the band's first album, when a Chicago singer-songwriter, Kevin Cronin, left the coffee-house circuit to become a rock singer at Gary Richrath's urging. Cronin recorded the album R.E.O./T.W.O. with the band, then took off in the middle of the band's third album. He returned in time for their first significant hit, 1977's Live: You Get What You Play For.

What had been selling tickets was now selling vinyl - the band's live sound. Band members took over production of the music, and as a result, album sales began to rival ticket sales. At that point, Bruce Hall replaced Gregg Philbin on bass and added another dimension to the vocal mix. It was not until 1980, though, that everyone caught on and started buying REO Speedwagon records. What finally brought true success was a song the band almost did not record, 'Keep On Loving You.'

'Keep On Loving You' did not fit the REO fast-rock image, but Gary Richrath's guitar solo turned Kevin Cronin's composition into the prototype power ballad. The Number One single earned platinum status, and its album, Hi Infidelity, sold ten million copies and shot to Number One as well. The follow-up single, 'Take It on the Run,' was a Top-Ten hit and a gold single.

The next several years brought consistent chart action, but it was not until 1985 that 'Can't Fight This Feeling' spent three weeks at Number One and went gold. More singles charted throughout the '80s, but with the 1990 departure of drummer Alan Gratzer and, most significantly, unique guitarist Gary Richrath, the band had to decide whether to 'Keep Pushin'' or retire.

Since you're interested in REO Speedwagon tickets, clearly they decided to do whatever it took to keep their fans happy. Dave Amato, who had played guitar with Ted Nugent and Cher, took over lead guitar, and Bryan Hitt joined as drummer. With Cronin, Hall and Doughty (the only original member left), these two have made the current version of REO Speedwagon as valid a band, both live and recorded, as any lineup.

REO have joined other top '80s acts, including Styx and Journey, on stage, and rather than compete for ticket sales as they did in their charting days, these bands have been feeding off one another's energy and putting on incredible live shows that feature both classic and new material. These shows are a dream come true for longtime fans and for the lucky young ones who still get to witness classic acts at their best.


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