REO Speedwagon keep spinning
Rockers continue to amaze crowds 50 years into careers, will play Honeywell on Oct. 12
Last year, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin traveled a few miles from his Southern California home to catch Foo Fighters at a club with a capacity of 600.
“It was so inspiring,” Cronin said during a phone interview. “When I took that opportunity to see what they did, they were playing really loud and really fast in this small place.”
It conjured up memories of the past.
“It brought me back to when REO Speedwagon was playing clubs,” he said. “We weren’t called REO Speedwagon for nothing. Seeing the Foo Fighters playing fast and loud inspired me to go back, and there are now a couple songs from the early days in the set.”
That’s the set that REO will play this fall as the band follows up a summer co-headlining tour with Styx. The fall tour makes a stop at Honeywell Center in Wabash on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
working way up
The band’s earliest days were in 1967, when a bunch of University of Illinois students put together a group that took its name from the REO Speed Wagon, a 1915 truck designed by Ransom Eli Olds.
Playing around Illinois, then throughout the Midwest, REO, which had a shifting lineup, got signed to Epic Records in 1971. But that didn’t immediately send them into arenas, not even close.
“We played bars,” said Cronin, who took over as REO’s singer in 1972. “We had a 1972 Impala station wagon and a truck for the equipment. We played bars, worked our way up to bigger bars. Then there were small theaters and we got to be an arena band. I always got the feeling that people in the Midwest were rooting for us, because we were underdogs that finally made it. Our first hit song was from our ninth album.”
That was 1980’s “Keep on Lovin’ You,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 40 chart. It’s one of four top-10 songs REO had from 1980-84. But if all the band’s earliest charting singles are counted, its run reaches back to a live version of “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” which made the bottom reaches of the chart three years earlier.
playing what fans came to hear
Those songs, Cronin said, keep people coming back to REO shows year after year, decade after decade.
“We had a 10-year run between 1977 and 1987 where we had nine platinum-plus albums and the big one, Hi Infidelity,” he said. “There are a number of songs that got into people’s bloodstreams. At a certain age, you get connected to music and those songs stay with you.”
No matter how many times the band has played them, those songs will never be left out of REO’s set.
“We don’t do that,” Cronin said. “If we did, there would probably be an angry mob waiting for us when we got to the tour bus. If you’re buying a ticket to an REO Speedwagon show, know there are songs we are going to play.”
That said, REO does switch things up every night as Cronin calls frequent “audibles” around the core songs.
“I’m the quarterback of the band,” he said. “I kind of get a vibe from the crowd. Going from city to city, I don’t know why, but I remember which tracks off of the albums did well there. It’s different in every area of the country and I’ll call them out.”
Appreciation for break from road
Like every other band in the world, REO was off the road for more than a year during the pandemic. That was bad for business, but for Cronin, it had some unexpected positives.
“I’d never been home for that long in 50 years,” he said. “I got to see the seasons change at my home. All my kids moved back in, colleges closed down and all that. I had my whole family around me for a year and a half. It was the closest my family has ever been. That kind of bond wouldn’t have happened without a worldwide pandemic.”
That bonding time gave him an appreciation for the people he loves and a fair amount of realization for the time missed with them while out on the road.
“I didn’t know what I was missing before,” he said. “We can block out dates for birthdays, graduations, etc. The great gift I was given during the pandemic was being around for the little things … bump into them in the hallway and all of a sudden you’re having a conversation, a real conversation. Now I kind of know what I’m missing.”
Still, Cronin was itching to get back on the road.
“I’m raring to go,” he said. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be a singer in a rock band that’s been going for 50 years. There’s nothing like standing at the microphone in a place that’s full of people and hearing them singing along with every song, seeing them.”