Interview: REO Speedwagon’s Dave Amato discusses upcoming tour with Chicago, career highlights

Dave Amato and Me

Last year, REO Speedwagon had one of the summer’s most successful tours with United We Rock. An extensive, cross-country jaunt with fellow classic rock icons Styx and Don Felder. For REO guitarist Dave Amato, the tour was made even sweeter when he had the chance to perform The Eagles’ monster hit, “Hotel California” with Felder on stage each night.

This summer, REO Speedwagon will once again bring their infectious arsenal of hits when they join forces with Chicago for a 30-city, co-headlining run from June through August.

Combined, REO Speedwagon and Chicago have sold more than 140 million records, and in one of the year’s most highly-anticipated tours, fans will be treated to sets filled with deep cuts and fan favorites from both bands.

REO promises a night filled with monster hits, which includes songs like “Roll With The Changes,” “Keep On Loving You,” “Back On The Road Again,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” as well as a few surprises.

Chicago will be performing their historic album, Chicago II in its entirety for the first time ever along with an “encore” filled with their own biggest hits.

REO Speedwagon is: Kevin Cronin, Neal Doughty, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt.

AXS recently caught up with Dave Amato to discuss all things REO Speedwagon in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: You’ve been with REO Speedwagon since 1989. Did you ever imagine you’d still be doing this so many years later?

Dave Amato: No. My average span of doing things with someone was about two or three years. I did three years with Ted Nugent; four years with Cher; and was with Richie Sambora on his first tour. With REO, it’s a brotherhood, with a lot of love and respect. The band may be getting older but we cherish every night and give 1,000 percent. It may be almost thirty years, but it’s still as exciting as day one.

AXS: What do you think makes REO Speedwagon so timeless and special?

DA: It’s the songs. Kevin and Gary [Richrath] wrote great songs. Kevin still writes from the heart. It’s really important to him. Even today, we’ll go to a soundcheck and Kevin will have lines and chord changes that we’ll be working on.

AXS: What’s your favorite REO Speedwagon song to play in the set?

DA: Honestly? They’re all my favorites, but I get to stretch on “Back On The Road Again” a little more than any of the others. That’s always a lot of fun.

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Interview with Dave Amato by Clicking Here.

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United We Rock: REO Speedwagon’s Dave Amato Talks Monster Summer Tour with Styx and Don Felder

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.

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Interview with Dave Amato by Clicking Here!

REO Speedwagon’s Dave Amato Talks Signature Les Paul, Touring with Def Leppard

DaveAmato2
Reo Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato with his Signature Les Paul

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.

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A Tribute To Gary Richrath

Photo by: Ross Marino
Gary Richrath (1949-2015) – Photo by: Ross Marino

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….

REO Lesson

Godspeed, Gary.

Roll with the Changes: Dave Amato Talks Guitars and 25 Years with REO Speedwagon

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.

REO Speedwagon (Photo: Lisa Cuvo)
REO Speedwagon (Photo: Lisa Cuvo)

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.

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REO Speedwagon Rocks Penn’s Peak In SOLD OUT Performance

REOSpeedwagonIt 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.

Kevin Cronin surveys the kingdom. (Photo by REO Speedwagon).
Kevin Cronin surveys the kingdom (Photo by REO Speedwagon).

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.

Kevin Cronin, Bruce Hall and Dave Amato deliver the goods!
Kevin Cronin, Bruce Hall and Dave Amato deliver the goods!

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.

A dapper Neal Doughty performing 'Roll With The Changes'
A dapper Neal Doughty performing ‘Roll With The Changes’

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”.

Bryan Hitt shows 'em how it's done.
Bryan Hitt shows ’em how it’s done (Photo: Lisa Cuvo)

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
Music Man
Take It On The Run
Keep Pushin’
Golden Country
Can’t Fight This Feeling
That Ain’t Love
Tough Guys
Like You Do
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (Acoustic)
Time For Me To Fly
Back On The Road Again
Roll With Changes

Encore:

Keep on Loving You
Ridin’ The Storm Out

REO Speedwagon: Live at Moondance Jam

REOMoondanceIt 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.

REO

Tracklisting:

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

REO Speedwagon:

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