Rock Flashback: REO Speedwagon

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reo Rock Flashback: REO Speedwagon

Kevin Cronin and Bruce Hall of REO Speedwagon (Getty Images/Scott Gries)

Thirty years ago this week, “Keep on Lovin’ You” by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]REO Speedwagon[/lastfm] hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart as the album Hi Infidelity continued its run atop the album chart. For a lot of people, it was their first exposure to REO. For those of us in the Midwest, it was a breakthrough for a band we’d loved for years.

REO formed in 1968 at the University of Illinois. They had the good fortune to hook up with super-agent Irving Azoff, who would guide the careers of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Eagles[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Steely Dan[/lastfm], and constant touring helped build the REO brand in the Midwest. But their early years were rocky — original lead singer Terry Luttrell left after one album, replaced by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Kevin Cronin[/lastfm], who lasted only one album himself before being sacked. A third frontman, Mike Murphy, proved to be the right guy, and it was during his tenure that REO recorded its first classic song, “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”  But when REO failed to break big, Murphy left — replaced by Cronin in 1975.

At that point, REO began ascending the greasy pole of stardom. The 1977 album You Get What You Play For captured the smokin’ live shows that Midwestern audiences loved, and 1978’s You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tune a Fish produced REO’s second classic song, “Time for Me to Fly,” which became a modest hit single. REO’s regional stardom and national profile were sufficient by 1980 to justify a two-disc best-of album and a tour to support it. Then in 1981 came the album Hi Infidelity, which hit #1 in February, and the single “Keep on Lovin’ You,” which went to #1 30 years ago this week.

But out here in the Midwest, where I’m from, the REO songs people love best all predate Hi Infidelity: “Golden Country,” “Keep Pushin’,” “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” and “Time for Me to Fly” among them. I have a special place in my heart for “Roll With the Changes,” which cannot be improved upon in any way. And then there’s “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight” — during the time it takes to play, the song will kick your ass and the asses of all of your neighbors before coming around to kick your ass again.

Here’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” with Cronin on vocals and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Gary Richrath[/lastfm] on guitar, performed on The Midnight Special. Back in the day, this was the centerpiece of REO’s live shows, and none of us who were there when they did it live will ever forget it.

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