This summer’s United We Rock Tour features three juggernauts of classic rock: REO Speedwagon, Styx and former Eagle Don Felder.
These artists have provided rocking summer soundtracks for the past four decades—and they share a uniquely rich history; REO and Styx have toured together many times over the years and Styx and Felder just completed a five-night residency in Las Vegas. For United We Rock, Felder will open the show with a 45-minute set of Eagles classics along with a few surprises and special guests, while REO Speedwagon and Styx will alternate headlining sets.
But don’t expect the United We Rock triple-bill to be a “hits only” event; REO and Styx have added new material to their set, with Styx supporting their new album, The Mission, and REO performing their rocking new song, “Whipping Boy.”
I recently spoke with REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato about the United We Rock tour, his gear and more.
With a tour loaded with guitarists, I suppose the first question is, who gets to perform “Hotel California” with Don Felder?
Well, Styx recently did a residency in Las Vegas, so Tommy [Shaw] has the seniority [laughs]. Actually, Tommy said he was going to play with Don on “Take it Easy.” He plays a Strat for the first half of the song and then switches to banjo. It’s phenomenal. I still remember when Don first asked me to play “Hotel California” with him; I got goosebumps. I’m not as nervous about the REO set as I am about Felder, because you can’t screw up that solo!
How did REO prep for the United We Rock tour?
We had a few warmup gigs on the weekends for a few months and used those gigs to change the set list around, figure out how to transition into songs and try to do something different. After 28 years, it’s still fun challenging yourself.
Styx has a new album, The Mission, and there’s a new song in REO’s set as well, “Whipping Boy.” What can you tell me about it?
It’s always good to have new music to keep going forward. That was Kevin [Cronin’s] song, and we each added our own two cents to it. We worked on the song on the weekend gigs to get it sounding really tight. It’s actually not even recorded yet. We might record it sometime in the fall.
You can read the rest of my
Interview with Dave Amato by Clicking Here!
REO Speedwagon are set for another amazing year. The group, which consists of Kevin Cronin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Amato (guitars), Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards) and Bryan Hitt (drums), has set out on what will be an extensive 55-city North American summer tour with fellow rock legends Def Leppard and Tesla.
For Amato, there’s something else to be excited about: his long-awaited signature Gibson Les Paul guitar, which will be available soon.
I recently caught up with Amato at an REO performance to get the goods on his new Les Paul as well REO’s tour and his time subbing for guitarist Doug Aldrich in the Las Vegas show Raiding the Rock Vault.
How did your relationship with Gibson begin?
I’ve always wanted a Les Paul with a Floyd Rose. I had one that Sammy Sanchez built for me in Los Angeles. I loved the guitar for years, but the contour on the Floyd was way up there. Eventually, Gibson started working on one for an Axcess guitar, and I when I saw it at a NAMM show, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in. They gave me a few guitars and I started promoting and playing them while I was out on tour. It led to me having my own model. They were originally going to do a Collector’s Series but decided they want to put out a new line. So we came up with a new model for me, based on the Axcess model.
What do you like most about your new signature model?
There’s really only so much you can do to a Les Paul, but I wanted to make it a souped-up hot rod. It’s not a Junior but it’s based on one. I like the fact that it’s really light. I also wanted to incorporate one of my favorite necks into the design. I had a ’58 Reissue I loved that I sent to them. They specked the entire neck and did an incredible job. It’s got a white ebony fretboard and an HD-TV finish. It really rocks.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Dave Amato by Clicking Here!
I’d like to share with you my thoughts on the passing of guitarist, Gary Richrath….
When I took my first guitar lesson back in the spring of 1985, one of the things I told my guitar teacher was that I wanted to learn as many songs as I could from REO Speedwagon’s album, “Hi Infidelity”.
My teacher, a musical genius as well as an astute professor in the art of all things Hendrix, Zeppelin and Sabbath, took one look at my long blond hair and started scratching his head.
“Uhm, you mean you don’t want me to teach you how to play ‘Purple Haze,’ ‘Stairway To Heaven’ or ‘Paranoid’?” he asked.
“Nope.” I replied. “I want to learn how to play ‘Take It On The Run,’ ‘Keep On Loving You’ and ‘Shakin’ It Loose’.” I then presented him with my copy of the Hi-Infidelity album to prove my intentions were valid.
Little did my instructor know was that just prior to that first guitar lesson I saw REO Speedwagon perform in a college gymnasium on the south side of Bethlehem, PA. Getting to witness a guitarist at the top of his game was a spiritual awakening. It became one of the main reasons I decided to pick up the guitar and start playing.
And so for the next few weeks, in addition to learning chord basics and scales, my teacher and I dissected songs written by Kevin Cronin and Gary Richrath. Immersing ourselves in the sweet sound of a Les Paul guitar while studying every nuance of the power ballad.
Gary Richrath was an inspiration to me as a guitarist and writer. His tasty songs not only included “Take It On The Run,” and “Shakin’ It Loose” but a plethora of others the band still regularly includes in their set. “Golden Country,” “Like You Do,” “Only The Strong Survive,” “Son of A Poor Man” and of course, “Ridin’ The Storm Out”. A track the band closes their show out with each night and one that will now have extra meaning.
Although Gary left REO Speedwagon more than 25 years ago, he joined the band in 2013 for a surprise performance to help raise money for tornado victims in the Midwest.
This is how I choose to remember Gary Richrath. As an artist who used his time and talent to help others and in the process, left an invaluable mark on the music world as well as a teenage guitarist who first learned his songs thirty years ago.
Oh, and in case you don’t believe my story, I did keep all of my material from those early years of guitar lessons….
Since REO Speedwagon’s arrival on the scene 40-plus years ago, the band has seen a lot of musical changes. Touring relentlessly through the Midwest in the 1970s, they finally broke through, scoring a pair of No. 1 hits in the 1980s. They also had the bestselling rock album of 1981, Hi Infidelity.
Some might even say they were the originators of the term “power ballad.”
And although the band also has gone through a few personnel changes over the years, they never cease to bring their lineup of hits to eager fans every year.
The band, which includes Kevin Cronin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Amato (guitars), Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards) and Bryan Hitt (drums), performed 96 shows last year and are on pace to do an equal amount in 2014, including a summer co-headlining tour with Chicago.
I caught up with Amato, who recently celebrated 25 years with REO Speedwagon. I asked him to reflect on his career with REO and his affection for guitars and vintage gear. He also told me about an important lesson he learned from his early years working with Ted Nugent.
GUITAR WORLD: Twenty-five years with REO Speedwagon. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about that?
I think brothers. We’ve been together for 25 years, and these guys are my friends and my brothers. It’s great playing with them every night.
Can you tell me the story of how you joined the band?
My friend Jesse Harms was a keyboard player in Sammy Hagar’s band and was also writing songs with Kevin [Cronin]. Gary [Richrath] wasn’t with the band anymore and they were looking for a guitar player. They didn’t want to put out a “cattle call” for people in LA, so Jesse mentioned me to Kevin and they gave me a few songs to see what I could do with them. I remember I went in on a Friday around 1 p.m. We played a few of the songs together and then played a little basketball. Then we went back in and jammed again until around 5. That was when they offered me a spot in the band. It’s a good story and was just meant to be.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Dave Amato by Clicking Here!
It didn’t take long for REO Speedwagon front man Kevin Cronin to make the announcement. After completing the band’s third song of the evening – the monster hit “Take It On The Run” from their ten-million selling “Hi Infidelity” album – Cronin took to the mic to announce that the band had recently been self-anointed the Kings Of Classic Rock.
Although obviously made in jest it’s hard to argue the fact, based upon the evidence that was presented at last night’s SOLD OUT show at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA.
REO Speedwagon has always been notorious for bringing one of the most magical, high-energy shows around, but the band’s performance last night seemed more like a musical revival than a typical rock concert – and REO preached the gospel as fans were treated to music spanning the length of the band’s 40+ year career.
Front man Kevin Cronin’s vocals never seemed to waver – singing the same songs he’s been performing since the mid 1970’s with both gusto and perfection. For a man who has written an arsenal of classic rock favorites over the years, he’s still at the top of his game.
Guitarist Dave Amato, who just celebrated 25 years with REO is a force to be reckoned with. Not only does he make fellow guitarists (like me) drop their jaws at his playing and collection of Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters, but he’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
Keyboardist Neal Doughty remains the sole member of the band’s original line-up since its formation in 1967, and one of the most magical moments of the evening came when Cronin introduced him before Doughty began playing the opening intro to their smash-hit “Can’t Fight This Feeling”.
Drummer Bryan Hitt doesn’t miss a beat – literally. Whether he’s playing the intro to “Don’t Let Him Go” or wailing away on the gong while surveying the landscape, there’s no one who can deliver the back beat for REO better than Hitt.
REO is also well-known for unleashing its classic rock heavy artillery towards the end of the set and last night was no exception. Following an audience participation request by Cronin, bassist Bruce Hall took to the mic for the anthemic “Back On The Road Again”.
Following another staple of 70’s radio – “Roll With The Changes”, the band came back for an encore of their first #1 hit (“Keep On Loving You”) followed by Cronin’s infamous “Last song people” announcement before launching into a rousing finale of “Ridin’ The Storm Out” – complete with sirens!
I’ve seen REO Speedwagon more than a dozen times since the mid-80’s. From small-town college gymnasiums and theaters to large outdoor theme parks and music festivals. Each time, they just seem to get better and better. But last night’s show at Penns Peak was more than just another sold out, high energy performance by classic rock royalty. It was a kinship of music lovers celebrating the career of a band they love – and one whose songs have helped them through both good times and bad.
As one of the 1,800 loyal subjects who surveyed the REO Speedwagon kingdom last night, I am pleased to report that our future is in good hands.
Long live the kings.
REO Speedwagon Set List (Jim Thorpe, PA)
Don’t Let Him Go
Take It On The Run
Can’t Fight This Feeling
That Ain’t Love
Like You Do
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (Acoustic)
Time For Me To Fly
Back On The Road Again
Roll With Changes
Keep on Loving You
Ridin’ The Storm Out
It was a cold winter’s night back in 1985 when I braved the frigid February elements and drove my beat up rickety Toyota station wagon to a local college gymnasium to see REO Speedwagon. I was just a wiry, sixteen-year old at the time. A novice of the live band brouhaha and attending one of my very first concerts.
I’m not sure whether it was REO’s performance that night, or the fact that I was in the thick of what would one day become known as the “classic rock” era of music [more likely a combination of the two], but that night still reigns as one of my favorite shows ever.
Now almost thirty years later and with 40 million albums sold world-wide and thousands of more shows under their belts, attending an REO Speedwagon concert isn’t just an event, it’s an experience [and trust me, I’ve seen many of them]. I liken it to being witness to the opening of a time capsule of classic rock goodness.
A lot of people seem to forget that it was REO Speedwagon’s mid-west work ethic in the early 1970’s that paved the way for bands like Styx, Kansas and Cheap Trick. They’re also one of few bands from that so-called bygone era who still continuously tours year after year. And why not? The band’s blockbuster album, “Hi Infidelity” sold more than 9 million copies alone and spent an astounding 15 weeks in the #1 slot. A feat that’s simply unattainable in music today.
REO’s new album/DVD, “Live at Moondance Jam” was recorded in 2010 at the annual mid-summer festival in Walker, MN and once again showcases the band at its absolute finest. A performance that begins with a superfecta of songs from the Fidelity album before bounding around the Speedwagon catalog of hits that include “Roll With The Changes”, “Time For Me To Fly” and “Ridin’ The Storm Out”. Every song on this live album package was at one time or another burned out on a vinyl turntable or cassette deck.
Consisting of lead singer/guitarist Kevin Cronin (who’s penned not one, but two #1 hits; both of which are performed here), Neal Doughty (founding member of the band); Bruce Hall (Bass); Dave Amato (Lead guitar/Vocals) and Bryan Hitt (Drums), REO Speedwagon continues to prove that real rock is alive and well and hard work pays off.
“Live At Moondance Jam” is a concert experience you won’t have to brave the elements to attend, but one that’s a must have for your collection.
CD: Don’t Let Him Go; Keep on Loving You; In Your Letter; Take It on the Run; Keep Pushin’; Golden Country; Can’t Fight This Feeling; Like You Do; Time for Me to Fly; Back on the Road Again; Roll with the Changes; Ridin’ the Storm Out; 157 Riverside Avenue.
DVD / Blu Ray: Don’t Let Him Go; Keep on Loving You; In Your Letter; Take It on the Run; Keep Pushin’; Golden Country; Can’t Fight This Feeling; Like You Do; Time for Me to Fly; Back on the Road Again; Roll with the Changes; Ridin’ the Storm Out; 157 Riverside Avenue. Bonus : Interview with Kevin Cronin
Neal Doughty – keyboards, organ, piano, synthesizer
Kevin Cronin – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano, keyboards
Bruce Hall – bass guitar, vocals
Dave Amato – lead guitar, vocals
Bryan Hitt – drums, percussion
If you’re a child of the ’80s and ’90s, chances are you’ve heard the work of guitarist Dave Amato.
Amato’s six-string prowess is a major part of songs by REO Speedwagon, and his impressive resume includes stints with Ted Nugent, Richie Sambora, Cher and Latoya Jackson.
Amato, a self-professed gear head, has amassed a collection of more than 100 guitars and a dozen Marshall stacks over the course of his career (most of them vintage).
I recently spoke to Amato, who’s now on tour with REO Speedwagon, Styx and Nugent, and got the scoop on his time with the band as well as his affinity for vintage gear and his forthcoming signature model Gibson Les Paul.
This is the second annual Midwest Rock and Roll Express. How has it been reuniting with Ted (Nugent) for these tours?
It’s fun. I was Ted’s understudy in the 80’s and we’re close friends. And Styx and REO are like family, so it’s a great bill.
You always play a lot beautiful guitars on stage.
I love guitars and like to show them off. When people come backstage after the show, we’ll talk about everything and that’s great. But if we start talking about guitars, I’ll keep them there all night. I’m a gear head first and foremost. [laughs]
Read the rest of my Guitar World interview with REO Speedwagon’s Dave Amato HERE
Powered by the vocals and songwriting of guitarist Kevin Cronin, REO Speedwagon continues to bring its brand of mid-west rock and roll to the masses.
Cronin briefly left the band during the recording of the “Ridin The Storm Out” album, but rejoined in 1976 and has been with them ever since.
Guitarist Gary Richrath, whose signature Les Paul sound became synonymous with hits like “Roll With The Changes” and “Take It On The Run” left the group in 1989 and was replaced by Dave Amato, whose resume includes stints with Ted Nugent and Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi).
REO Speedwagon is: Kevin Cronin (vocals/guitar), Dave Amato (guitar), Neal Doughty (keyboards), Bruce Hall (bass) and Bryan Hitt (drums).
I spoke with Cronin about this year’s “Midwest Rock ‘n Roll Express” tour which brings along veteran rockers Styx and Nugent. We also discuss the Hi Infidelity album and a recent encounter he had with Richrath.
Where did the idea for a “Midwest Rock and Roll Express” originate?
We had always been toying with the idea taking a little bit of our mid-west culture and bringing it around the country. So last year I called my buddy Tommy Shaw and he was in. Then to find that third piece, Tommy mentioned Nugent (from his ‘Damn Yankees’ relationship). The idea worked out so well last year that we decided to do it all again.
Read the rest of my Guitar World Interview with Kevin Cronin Here
It was a hot summer night almost thirty years ago when my neighbors drug my brother and I to the movies to see the third installment of the Rocky Balboa franchise. Not that we went kicking and screaming mind you. Any opportunity for teenage boys to get out of the house was most welcome. No, it’s just that we would have much preferred to see “Poltergeist” or better still, sneak into see the R-rated “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”. Looking back now though I’m glad we chose to consume large quantities of popcorn and Coke with Sly Stallone instead of Jeff Spicoli.
Rocky III was the film that first introduced me to Mr. T, the mo-hawked muscle man who would go on to pity fools for the remainder of the 1980’s and beyond. But Rocky III also introduced me to something else: something even more powerful than Mr. T’s gold chains or feathered earrings. It was also the film where I first heard the now infamous guitar riff for a song from a band that would change my life: Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor.
Written by Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik and sung by Dave Bickler (who would later achieve great fame as the singer on the Real Men Of Genius Bud Lite commercials), the theme from Rocky III is still as popular as ever three decades later. Along with winning a Grammy the song was also nominated for an Academy Award, became the #1 song of 1982, has to date over 2.5 million downloads on iTunes and ranks as the #3 best song to workout to according to Men’s Health magazine.
The band would strike Rocky gold again a few years later when the song “Burning Heart” was released as part of the Rocky IV soundtrack. Although this song didn’t fare quite as well as Tiger, the music from Survivor continues to be both inspirational and motivating to me. As you’ll soon discover, the seed planted with Eye of the Tiger would not only begin my admiration for the band but would ultimately become the spark that would fuel my life and music for years to come.
When I first started playing guitar in 1984 a new Survivor album was already making its way up the charts. Vital Signs was the first album to feature new singer Jimi Jamison on vocals and was the very first record I ever purchased. (Jamison would later go on to sing the infamous theme from the television show Baywatch). Songs like “I Can’t Hold Back“, “High on You” and “The Search is Over” were getting tremendous airplay on both radio and the early days of MTV(back when they used to play music videos). These were songs with melodies and lyrics that really spoke to me. Words of encouragement in my love less adolescent youth. Songs I wanted to learn how to play.
So while most other aspiring guitarists were locked away in lesson rooms with their guitar teachers learning Van-Halen and Def Leppard solos I was dragging my butt in with a menacing jet black Gibson Explorer asking my teacher to show me how to play “I See You In Everyone“, the final song on the Vital Signs album, note for note.
Now that I think about it I can still recall the puzzled look on my teacher’s face when I brought the album to lesson for the first time. And I can still picture him saying: “What, no RUSH?….No AC/DC?…No Bon Jovi?” and I’d just smile and think to myself, “Nope, even better!” For how could I possibly tell a man who grew up watching artists like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin that the absolute best concert I ever saw in my life was Survivor and REO Speedwagon in 1985? But it was, and quite frankly still is, true.
By 1986 my longing for a new Survivor record was finally appeased. When Seconds Count was released and immediately consumed me. Songs like “How Much Love” and “Rebel Son” inspired a then seventeen year old boy to reach higher and the ballad “Man Against The World” made me want to track down keyboardist Jim Peterik himself and make him show me how to play its beautiful melody. By this point I think most of my friends knew that my whole Eye of The Tiger/Survivor phase wasn’t just a passing fad. In fact, one of my best memories of graduating high school was the post grad party my parents held where me and a bunch of other musician friends all set up our gear and played half of the Vital Signs record.
It wasn’t long before college came calling and once again Survivor was there with me. This time with 1988’s Too Hot To Sleep. I can’t begin to tell you how many trips across the miles of campus I made with “Didn’t Know it Was Love” and “Desperate Dreams” blaring on my Sony Walkman. Although the band themselves consider this to be their best album the fact that it didn’t achieve big commercial success didn’t bother me one bit. For me, much like them, it’s always been about the music and this one delivered the goods.
Once college life was over the job of real “work” began. While playing my part in the 9-5 crowd over the years I’d keep myself busy in the musical groove by writing and performing in various bands. All the while I’d find myself writing songs that were influenced by the amazing songs from those Survivor records. Unfortunately it would be quite a while before I would hear any new music from the band other than from compilation albums. Unless of course you count that hilarious Starbucks commercial.
Finally in 2006 a brand new album, Reach was released and listening to the first song and title track was a much welcomed slap in the face. The blaring guitars and drums told me that at long last the Tiger was back. I immediately proclaimed, to myself anyway, that this song should be the one they start every show with. This record not only featured guitarist Frankie Sullivan singing lead on few tracks but also contains the song “Fire Makes Steel”, yet another inspirational anthem which, go figure, was almost and should have been included in the film “Rocky Balboa”.
As you can see, I’m a huge fan of this band. I also know that the band has gone through several line-up changes over the years. Different singers, bass players and drummers have come and gone. There’s no need for me to know all the reasons why. I can personally attest to there being drama in every band so line-up changes are not at all that surprising. But it was unfortunate that Jimi Jamison, the voice that became synonymous with Survivor for me had left the group shortly after this record was released. Robin McAuley, most known for his work with McAuley Schenker Group would take over on lead vocals for subsequent tours over the next few years.
Flash forward to 2012: A surprise announcement was made that Jimi Jamison, who had released several well received solo albums since his departure five years ago, would once again be rejoining Survivor for a new album and tour. Having suffered for years listening to robotic voices and synthesized loops in what’s being peddled as “music” these days my prayers for real new music and songwriting from my favorite band is about to come true once again! To say that I’m excited is an understatement.
Ironically enough, it all seems to have come full circle for me. This “new” Survivor is going to happen nearly thirty years to the day since I first heard that guitar riff in the darkened movie theater. The summer night that changed everything for me. And the message of the song couldn’t be more true today:
Just a band and it’s will…to survive.
Thirty years ago at this summer a young twelve-year-old blogger (me) was busily wearing out the vinyl of one of his favorite albums: Hi Infidelity, the break-through album by REO Speedwagon, a band who had achieved moderate levels of success during the 1970’s with songs like “Time For Me To Fly” and “Roll With The Changes”.
The release of Hi Infidelity catapulted the band from a local mid western act into a world-wide arena rock sensation selling an estimated 10 million copies and spending fifteen weeks at #1 on the Billboard album charts. Powered by the songs “Take it On The Run”, “Don’t Let Him Go” and the song that started the power ballad craze, “Keep on Loving You”, which became the band’s first #1 song.
REO Speedwagon has gone through a few line-up changes over it’s 44 year history (yes they’ve been rockin’ since the 1960’s) but still holds founding member Neal Doughty (keyboards/Hammond Organ) in it’s arsenal along with long time members Kevin Cronin (vocals, guitar), Bruce Hall (bass guitar) and the “babies” of the group: Dave Amato (21 years as lead guitarist) and Bryan Hitt (20 years on drums). Gone are the original members who contributed to the Hi Infidelity album: guitarist Gary Richrath (left in 1989) and drummer Alan Gratzer (retired).
Not surprisingly, the band is celebrating the 30th anniversary of this monumental event with the digitally remastered release of Hi Infidelity: The 30th Anniversary Edition.
What sets this 2 CD release apart from most other milestone reissues is what’s also included on disc two: The Crystal Demos – previously unreleased demo versions of nine songs from the album. Here, listeners actually get the opportunity to hear the “raw” sound of what was to become the biggest selling album of 1981. In addition, the CD package also contains liner notes from Kevin Cronin and long time guitarist Gary Richrath.
Hi-Infidelity’s accolades include:
* The highest-selling rock LP of 1981
* Has sold more than 10 million copies in the US
* On February 21, 1981; the album reached #1 on the Billboard album chart and remained at #1 for 15 straight weeks; over-taking John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy” album. Not many bands can claim their record dethroned a Beatle.
* Remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for 101 weeks, unprecedented for an American rock band at the time
* The single “Keep on Loving You,” certified #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on March 21, 1981
* “Take it On The Run” and “Keep on Loving You” were one of the first videos that aired on MTV (#9 and #17 respectively)
REO Speedwagon is currently out on the road in support of their “new” record. As an bonus, in addition to all of the other hits they are known for, the band has also included at least six songs from the Hi Infidelity album into their set list. It’s the perfect opportunity for fans to hear most of this milestone record performed live.
There are plenty of reasons 80’s rock fans should revisit REO Speedwagon’s magnum opus. What’s even better: wearing out the polycarbonate plastic on this 30th Anniversary Edition is much harder to do than it was on the original vinyl. Be sure to check it out.
Article first published as 30 Years of Hi Infidelity on Technorati.