It’s been another amazing year of touring for classic rock titans REO Speedwagon. The band, which includes Kevin Cronin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Amato (guitars), Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards) and Bryan Hitt (drums) has recently completed a thirty-four city tour with Chicago that went along with nearly two dozen more shows with fellow legends Styx and Don Felder.
With a tireless work ethic and a career that’s spanned more than four decades with songs like “Roll With The Changes,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” and “Back On The Road Again,” REO is the quintessential rock act.
The band is currently out on a run of sold-out, headlining shows across the U.S. to finish off the year. AXS recently caught up with guitarist Dave Amato to talk about REO’s tour, the second generation of his Signature Les Paul guitar and more in this exclusive interview.
AXS: REO Speedwagon continues to sell out shows across the country. Do you have an opinion on why fans can’t seem to get enough of the band after all this time?
Dave Amato: It’s the songs. The songs are what continue to live on. The parents who grew up with the music now have kids in their twenties who come to the shows and know all the words.People always come up to me and say, “It’s so fun to come to see you guys because you always look so happy when you’re up there” [laughs]. The truth is that even after all of this time we still genuinely like each other. This year, we played twenty shows with Styx and Don Felder and then we did about thirty-four shows with Chicago. Even now that we’re back out on our own we’ve managed to keep up the intensity. It’s like family and we’re happy to be out there.
AXS: As a guitarist, is there a particular REO song that’s your favorite to perform?
DA: They’re all fun to play. I get to do all the signature solos but I also have the opportunity to stretch out a little bit on a song like “Back On The Road Again” where it’s a little more free form. But really, what’s not to like? I get to solo on every song [laughs].
AXS: Can you give me an update on your upcoming Signature Les Paul guitar?
DA: My original HD-TV model with a single coil pickup and Floyd Rose has been doing great. So I asked Gibson about making a few in other colors and they built me one in Sunburst It was so beautiful that they asked about designing a second, two-pickup model guitar. We’re doing a few experiments now and the guitar should be ready to unveil at the NAMM show in January. Just like my original, it will be based on the Axcess model but with two pickups, a Floyd Rose, and a ’58 neck. It feels like a historic guitar but it’s a different kind of animal!
Friday, February 22nd, 1985. Musically speaking, it’s a day that’s cemented in my head, much like my wedding anniversary and the day my daughter was born. It’s one of those days where something magical happens, and for some reason known only to the musical gods, one that you remember forever. I’d recently turned fifteen, and my buddy Mike and I were eager to cash in our concert tickets at the local college gymnasium, Stabler Arena.
Acoustically, I’m sure a basketball court with a makeshift stage wasn’t the greatest of places to play, but for pimple-faced teens with little cash resources, it was a prime spot to catch a band in your hometown without having to fork over all of the lawn mowing money you made last summer just to get bus fare to the bigger cities like Philadelphia and New York.
February 22nd, 1985 was special because it was first time I ever saw REO Speedwagon, who were out in support of their recently released album, Wheels Are Turnin’. An album I had already worn out on my turntable. The first video from the album, “I Do’ Wanna Know” was already a hit on MTV, and a tasty ballad called “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was steadily making its way up the charts toward #1.
Since that fateful evening thirty-three years ago, I’ve seen REO Speedwagon more than thirty times. I’ve seen them perform at music festivals, in intimate theaters and as part of a two or three-band package at large arenas. I even traveled to Los Angeles last summer to catch them perform with Styx and Don Felder as part of their United We Rock tour. Yes, I’m one of those fans.
Although seeing them in a distant city is fun, it’s an even bigger treat whenever they come to my town, and last night it was at the beautiful Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA.
On the calendar it was the final night of summer, and as I approached the box office I noticed a large sign prominently displayed in the window — “REO Speedwagon – SOLD OUT”. That sign and what was to follow was a friendly reminder that just like fine wine the band, which consists of Kevin Cronin, Neal Doughty, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt, has only gotten better with age.
Walking on stage to the drum intro of the classic “Don’t Let Him Go”, a song that’s been the band’s staple concert opener for decades, REO launched into a blistering set of songs spanning the group’s 45-year career. Songs like “Music Man,” and “Keep Pushin’” were driving and powerful reminders of the band’s early club days, while the aforementioned “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” was both symbolic and sentimental.
Songs from the band’s monster album Hi Infidelity were also featured prominently during their hour and twenty-minute set. In addition to “Don’t Let Him Go,” REO performed “Tough Guys,” “In Your Letter,” and “Take it On The Run.”
At one point, Cronin took time out to pay homage to the band’s original guitarist, Gary Richrath, who passed away in 2015. Richrath left the band in 1989 but his memory lives on in the song “Son Of A Poor Man.” It was a song Richrath wrote about his life growing up and one which Cronin said summed it up perfectly.
“Time For Me To Fly”, another fan favorite and a song that I remember closed out the show in 1985, was featured midway into the set. It’s a classic rock staple that Cronin performs on an acoustic guitar with a unique tuning, and these days segues into Bruce Hall’s blistering bassline before the infectious “Back On The Road Again”. REO finished their main set with another round of classic rock heavy artillery – the thundering “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, complete with blaring sirens.
After a short hiatus, the band returned for an encore, with Cronin sitting at the piano telling the sold out audience about how quickly lives can change if you choose a different path at the last minute. He then told the story of waking up one night back in 1980 with a song idea in his head. Instead of ignoring it and going back to sleep, Cronin got up and recorded the idea on his Walkman. The result would become the band’s first #1 song, “Keep On Loving You.”
The band then launched into one of their most recognizable songs, “Roll With The Changes,” which features Doughty’s iconic Hammond organ and guitarist Dave Amato’s fiery guitar prowess.
The one thing I’ve noticed during every REO Speedwagon show is that there’s always some sort of surprise, and this time was no different. Before leaving the stage for the final time the band performed an inspiring cover of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart”. Petty, another hero of mine and who, like Richrath, had recently passed away, reminded me of how far I’ve come in thirty-three years and just how fragile we all are.
As I strolled out of the venue and into the final hours of summer, the fog was as thick as pea soup. Time was still moving. Tomorrow, mother nature would officially begin her process of ushering in cool temperatures, crisp morning air and changing the leaves from green to bright red, orange and yellow.
It was then that something else occurred to me, and I found myself once again drifting back to that cold February night in 1985. It was something Cronin had said during tonight’s set to the die-hard fans who’ve been with the band from their earliest of days to tonight’s sold-out show at Penn’s Peak.
Rock and roll will keep us young forever.
REO Speedwagon Set List (Penn’s Peak – Jim Thorpe, PA)
Don’t Let Him Go
In Your Letter
Can’t Fight This Feeling
Son of A Poor Man
Take It On the Run
Time For Me to Fly
Back On the Road Again
Ridin’ The Storm Out
Keep On Loving You
Roll With The Changes
Listen To Her Heart (Tom Petty Cover)
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.
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.
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.