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REO Speedwagon

classic rock rock 80s soft rock hard rock

      REO Speedwagon (originally styled as R.E.O. Speedwagon) is an American band from Champaign, Illinois. Formed in 1967, the band cultivated a following during the 1970s and achieved significant commercial success throughout the 1980s. Hi Infidelity (1980) contained four US Top 40 hits and is the group's best-selling album, with over ten million copies sold.

      Over the course of its career, the band has sold more than 40 million records and has charted thirteen Top 40 hits, including the number ones "Keep On Loving You" and "Can't Fight This Feeling". REO Speedwagon's mainstream popularity waned in the late 1980s, but the band remains a popular live act.

      In the fall of 1966, Neal Doughty entered the electrical engineering program at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois, coming in as a junior. On his first night, he met another student, Alan Gratzer. They held an impromptu jam session in the basement of their Illinois Street Residence Hall dormitory, and soon started a rock band. Gratzer had been a drummer since high school, and was playing in a local group on the weekends, while Doughty had learned some Beatles songs on his parents' piano.

      Doughty started to follow around Gratzer's band, eventually sitting in on a song or two. The keyboard player was the leader, but several other band members were unhappy with the situation. On the last day of the university's spring semester, guitarist Joe Matt called the band's leader and told him that he, drummer Gratzer, and bassist Mike Blair had decided to leave the band and start a new one with Doughty.

      They made a list of songs to learn over the summer break, and Doughty landed a summer job to buy his first keyboard. On his Farfisa organ, he learned "Light My Fire" by The Doors. The members returned to school in the fall of 1967, and had their first rehearsal before classes even started. They named the band REO Speedwagon, from the REO Speed Wagon, a flatbed truck Doughty had studied in transportation history, and the initials are those of its founder Ransom E. Olds. Rather than pronouncing REO as a single word as the motor company did, they chose to spell out the name with the individual letters each pronounced ("R-E-O"). An ad in the school newspaper produced their first job, a fraternity party that turned into a food fight. They continued to perform cover songs in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. The first lineup consisted of Doughty on keyboards, Gratzer on drums and vocals, Joe Matt on guitar and vocals, Mike Blair on bass and vocals.

      In early 1968, Terry Luttrell became lead singer, and Bob Crownover joined as the guitar player, replacing Matt. When Mike Blair left the band in the summer of 1968, Gregg Philbin replaced Blair, Marty Shepard played trumpet and Joe McCabe played sax until McCabe moved to Southern Illinois University. Crownover played guitar for the group until the summer of 1969 when Bill Fiorio replaced him. Fiorio then departed in late 1969, eventually assuming the name Duke Tumatoe, and went on to form the All Star Frogs. Steve Scorfina (who would go on to found progressive rock/album-oriented rock band Pavlov's Dog) came aboard for over a year, composing with the band and performing live, before being replaced by Gary Richrath in late 1970.

      Richrath was a Peoria, Illinois-based guitarist and prolific songwriter who brought fresh original material to the band. With Richrath on board, the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously. The Midwestern United States was the original REO Speedwagon fan stronghold and is pivotal in this period of the band's history.

      The band signed to Epic Records in 1971. Paul Leka, an East Coast record producer, brought the band to his recording studio in Bridgeport, Connecticut where it recorded original material for its first album. The lineup on the first album consisted of Richrath, Gratzer, Doughty, Philbin, and Luttrell.

      Richrath was a Peoria, Illinois-based guitar player and prolific songwriter who brought original material to the band including REO's signature song "Ridin' the Storm Out". With Richrath on board, the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously. The Midwestern United States was the original REO Speedwagon fan stronghold and is pivotal in this period of the band's history.

      The band signed to Epic Records in 1971. Paul Leka, an East Coast record producer, brought the band to his recording studio in Bridgeport, Connecticut where it recorded original material for its first album. The lineup on the first album consisted of Richrath, Gratzer, Doughty, Philbin, and Luttrell.

      The band toured relentlessly under guidance from early manager Irving Azoff. The band's most successful period featured lead vocalist Kevin Cronin who joined the band briefly for their second album T.W.O in 1972, and left in the middle of recording the Album "Ridin' The Storm Out" and returned in 1976, co-producing with Richrath their landmark Live: You Get What You Play For. Ridin' the Storm Out was completed with Michael Bryan Murphy on the microphone. Murphy stayed on for two more albums, "Lost in a Dream" and "This Time We Mean It", before Cronin returned to the fold in January 1976 and recorded "R.E.O.", which was released that same year.

      They grew in popularity in the Midwestern United States during the early 19 and peaked in popularity in the early 19. The band's first mid FM hit was the Richrath composed concert fave "Ridin' The Storm Out", and their first gold record was a live album, 1977's "Live: You Get What You Play For". Their hard rocking live show was so integral to their success, their label released another live album in 1978, "More Live".

      In 1977, Philbin was replaced with Bruce Hall to record the first studio album that reached platinum, "You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish", released in 1978 which received FM radio airplay but fell short of the Top 40. In 1979, the band took a turn back to hard rock with the release of Nine Lives.

      By 1981's "Hi Infidelity" they had reached a new peak, and the LP spawned several major radio hits including "Keep On Loving You", "Don't Let Him Go" and "Take It on the Run" which went to #5 on the US charts, and the Cronin composed "Time For Me To Fly, released on the "Tuna" album.

      REO Speedwagon followed up the "Hi Infidelity" LP with the "Can't Fight This Feeling" from Good Trouble in 1982, and dented the charts again with 1984's "Wheels Are Turning" album, 1987's "Life as We Know It" was the last new release to go gold, before popularity waned, and their long winning streak subsided. Founding members Richrath & Gratzer left the band, essentially ending a 20 year arena rocking run, but the band's collections continued to sell and earn & retro airplay. Richrath and Gratzer was replaced by Miles Joseph and Graham Lear, Cronin's band members from jazz ensemble called "The Strolling Dudes". And soon Lear and Joseph was replaced by Bryan Hitt (formerly of Wang Chung) and Dave Amato.

      Nowadays Reo Speedwagon remains a U.S concert circuit staple, mostly known as a crowd pleasing classic genre band. Still fronted by longtime vocalist Cronin, currently the only original member in the 21st century touring lineup is keyboardist Neil Doughty. The hired guns brought in since have had stints in band's like Ted Nugent and Wang Chung. Spurred on by numerous re-packagings of their back catalog, and successful newer live recordings, in 2007 they released "Find Your Own Way Home" the group's first new studio album in more than ten years. Though it did not chart as an album, it produced two singles which appeared on Billboard's Adult Contemporary radio chart.

      REO Speedwagon continues to tour regularly, performing mostly their classic hits. They are popular on the fair and casino circuits, but still team with other acts to play larger venues.

      REO Speedwagon's birth place was reportedly a Red Lion Inn, on Green Street near the U of I campus (Champaign-Urbana, IL).

      Principal Members (1971)
      Gary Richrath - Guitar
      Alan Gratzer - Drums
      Gregg Philbin - Bass
      Terry Luttrell - Vocals
      Mike Murphy - Vocals

      Current Lineup
      Kevin Cronin - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
      Dave Amato - Lead Guitar, Vocals
      Bruce Hall - Bass Guitar, Vocals
      Neal Doughty - Keyboards
      Bryan Hitt - Drums, Percussion

      http://www.speedwagon.com


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