REO Speedwagon keeps pushin’

Published on March 24th, 2021

By Jim Dail

REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin has lived the life of the rock star. He’s had gold records, topped the Billboard charts, played to sold-out arenas, partied with the best of them, just about everything imaginable.

Now, he’s even played Broadway. And the idea that he would be interested in that isn’t a real surprise, at least not to him.

“I get asked a lot if there are dreams that I’ve had that have not come true,” he said. “I’ve pretty much done everything I hoped to do when I was a 13-year-old jumping around in front of my parents singing. But I grew up around Broadway music. I listened to “Bye Bye Birdie” and “West Side Story,” all those things. It hadn’t occurred to me until I got the offer to work on ‘Rock of Ages.’”

“Rock of Ages” is the Tony-nominated Broadway show that features an arena-rock love story told through the hits of ‘80s bands. And tonight, three of the bands that featured prominently in that era, REO Speedwagon, Styx and .38 Special will perform at Ontario’s Citizen’s Bank Arena.

“We’d been a part of it from the beginning and it has got great reviews,” he said. “Tommy (Shaw) and I went on stage with the band after one of the shows. It was a trip. Here we are in a Broadway theater playing and they are serving beer to the people in the seats and rocking out. It was like they turned a Broadway theater into the Whiskey.”

It has been a long journey for Cronin and the band.

“I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show,” he said. “I was in junior high and I saw them and that was it. I was born in the perfect time.”

The legendary journey for REO is well known – playing tons of small clubs, selling just enough records to keep a recording contract until the phenomenal success of 1981’s “Hi Infidelity,” which sold more than 10 million records and featured the chart-topping song “Keep on Loving You,” as well as live standards “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Tough Guys” and “Take It On The Run.” Since then the band has played to sold-out venues all over the world.

With songs such as “Time for me to Fly,” “Roll with the Changes,” “Keep Pushin’, and “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” the music seems just as vital today as it did when it was recorded.

“The songs like ‘Keep Pushin’’ are therapeutic,” Cronin said. “We all go through periods where you feel like giving up. Things happen in a personal and occupational level. I write them to deal with it and then others find meaning in it for themselves. If someone is true to himself then words ring true to others.”

In a way it helps that there is no longer massive pressure from a record company to release albums that will sell 10 million copies and songs that will race to Number One.

“I think our last record [“Find Your Own Way Home”] is one of the best records that I’ve ever done,” he said. “It is nice not having an A&R man breathing down our necks telling us what we need to do. We did that record the way we did it in the old days, for the joy of it.”

Actually, the album almost never made it out.

“Everyone liked the songs, but it wasn’t until we made the deal with Wal-Mart that it got out,” he said. “The only tension that was there was when we were recording it and that was a good musical tension you get whenever you do a song.”

Speaking of new songs, Cronin and REO are still at work, collaborating with Tommy Shaw for the song “Can’t Stop Rockin’.”

“I still enjoy the process of writing the songs,” Cronin said. “Tommy is a great guy and so talented. We’ve both written songs that each other likes. We were friends before this but you get to know people even better when you write with them.”

And even though the song began as just a few notes, it came together quickly.

“When Tommy and I got together, it started with me having a few chord changes and within three weeks we had it done and both bands in there recording it,” he said.

Both bands will be performing the song on stage as well.

“We’re performing the song with both bands and the techs are freaking out trying to figure out how they are going to get both bands on at the same time,” he laughed. “Not only that, but there are going to be four contest winners and they get to come out and sing with us.”

Looking back at REO’s journey, Cronin is both fascinated and nostalgic about the band’s music.

“It’s very cool hearing your songs,” he said. “I still remember the first time I heard one of my songs on the radio. Now, I’ll be going through the airport and one of our songs will come on. You hear it and it takes you back to when you wrote it and what things were going on.”

It’s a very possessive thing for Cronin.

“I don’t care how many times you’ve heard it – and thousands are hearing it at the same time – no one knows the song better than the person who writes it,” he said.

And Cronin can be very critical, to the point – and this may stun many of REO’s devoted fans – that he thinks the songs could be better.

“Every single record I make I want to make again,” he said. “I took my wife to see ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ and ‘Keep on Loving You’ is all over the movie. I was just crouching in my seat embarrassed at how it sounded. I think I sing songs so much better now.”

Of course, the “original” versions have more than a few fans since classic and satellite radio regularly feature such songs as “Roll With The Changes,” “Time for Me to Fly,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and “Back on the Road Again,” as well as the hits from “Hi Infidelity.”

It seems that all of the songs are focused on coping with life issues, whether being strong in tough situations, dealing with relationships or just having a good time.

“These are troubled times but that leads to hope, hope leads to change and change to recovery,” he said. “People can dig down and make it through whatever they have to deal with and realize they are not alone. There is strength in numbers.”

And for REO Speedwagon, there is a connection to the everyman.

“The great thing about the Internet is that fan mail comes in email now, and I try to respond to all of them,” he said. “And I get them saying, ‘You had to have written this song for me.’ I tell them I did, and that is really true. It’s for the spirit in all of us.”


Comment guidelines, edit this message in your Wordpress admin panel