WASHINGTON, August 19, 2013 –Part of REO Speedwagon’s success over the last three decades comes from the distinct voice and song writing of Kevin Cronin. At the age of 61, Cronin continues to “Keep Pushin’” the group on a seemingly perpetual tour that lands Friday on the Pier Six Stage in Baltimore with Styx.
What’s clear from recently talking to Mr. Cronin is his appreciation of the fans and what it means to have them enjoy the collection of power ballad and rock hits from the band’s extensive library at every show.
“There are few greater moments than standing in front of a large group of people, playing the opening chords for a song and hearing the sounds of those chords cause the energy to rise in the arena,” says Mr. Cronin. “We have a number of those songs in the set like that and as soon as people know what is coming, there is an explosion. When 10,000 people gasp at the same time, it’s pretty loud.”
It’s a reaction that he always takes very personally due to the fact that he’s written or co-written many of the band’s hits, a process that he vividly remembers moment by moment.
“I remember when I was writing ‘Time for Me to Fly.’ I remember the first inkling, the first spark that happened to cause me to write the song, the process of recording it. I know that song like it is my own child. So to have a crowd react to it is a pretty big rush on a nightly basis and that really adds to the fun of it,” he says.
Even though Mr. Cronin has played REO staples thousands of times he still really enjoys performing, understanding the band’s responsibility to the crowd each night and the continuing audience demand for classics such as “Can’t Fight this Feeling,” “Roll With the Changes,” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”
“That’s what people are coming to hear and I am not going to pull a Bob Dylan on them,” Mr. Cronin says. “If we don’t, we will have an angry mob around the tour bus.”
The current REO Speedwagon boasts a strong veteran lineup, including bassist Bruce Hall, keyboardist Neil Doughty, drummer Bryan Hitt and guitarist Dave Amato, but the years of hard work have not been without loss, particularly noted by the departure of guitarist Gary Richrath in 1989.
Mr. Richrath, a long time member of REO Speedwagon and collaborator on many of the bands hits was asked to leave due to disagreements in musical direction.
The departure was a surprise to fans as Mr. Richrath’s style was both influential and distinct to the band’s sound. More importantly, Mr. Cronin considered Mr. Richrath his “rock and roll big brother.”
“Gary was the guy who picked me up off of a street corner and taught me everything I needed to know about rock and roll, and that is an understatement,” says Mr. Cronin. “He really saw something in me, more so than what I had seen in myself at that point. He really championed me getting into the band against everybody else’s better judgment.”
The collaboration between Mr. Cronin and Mr. Richrath resulted in many a memorable song and help fuel the 1980s, 10-time platinum album “High Infidelity” and its No. 1 hit “Keep on Loving You.” It was due in part to those crunchy guitar leads played against Mr. Cronin’s melodies that made so many REO Speedwagon songs instantly recognizable.
“I think in terms of melodies and that’s the kind of solo I like, it’s not a solo of ‘look how fast I can play, look how many notes I can play,’ it’s more give me something that speaks to me,” Mr.Cronin says. “Gary fought that to a certain degree and that fight was what made it cool. If he simply played the guitar melodies I heard in my head that would have been lame but it was that fight that brought the energy to it.”
With that much honest admiration for the guitarist, the question of why Mr. Richrath left still remains murky.
“Honestly, the main reason or the root of the reason is that our partnership kind of faded and we ended splitting up, from my side of it, because the fight, friction and creative tension faded,” Mr. Cronin says. “If you run two pieces of sandpaper together enough, the sand starts coming off. At some point, we lost too much sand.”
The end came with Mr. Cronin and Mr. Richrath sitting together in the latter’s ranch in the hills of Malibu.
“It was one of the most heartbreaking, heart wrenching, anxiety ridden conversations I ever had in my life. Driving out there my heart was beating out of my chest,” Mr. Cronin says.
Mr. Cronin reflects that he thought that they would take a break, split up for a year or tow, and then regroup. That the day would come that Mr. Richrath would show up, kick down the door and say, “listen to these songs.”
Regrettably that never happened and time kept moving on.
“I love the guy, one of the greatest hearted people,” Mr. Cronin says of Mr. Richrath. “He has a thick skin with a prickly exterior but I know him deeply. His guitar playing is underrated and underappreciated and to a certain degree Gary and I never appreciated one another or what we brought to one another as much as we do now, at least from my side.”
At present day, Mr. Cronin feels he continues to evolve, pursuing his quest to be the best singer and songwriter he can.
“I feel like I am still getting better and learning how to sing better every day. I have a hunger and I am not done yet,” he says.
Recognizing that he has been very fortunate in his career, he appreciated that his drive to make and share music was self-evident at an early age.
“I think everybody was put on this earth for a reason and it’s each of our jobs to figure out that reason and do our best to fulfill the promise that we were born with,” Mr. Cronin says. “It’s certainly not important as brain surgery or discovering reusable energy. But the people doing brain surgery or finding the next scientific breakthrough need to go out and party sometime too.”
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.