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12 Sep 2017

Radio-Friendly Rock: Thanks in Part to Its Reputation as a Great Live Band, REO Speedwagon Keeps Bringing in Big Crowds

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REO Speedwagon. REO Speedwagon.

In the early ’80s, REO Speedwagon dominated the radio waves.

Songs such as “Keep on Loving You,” “Take It on the Run” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” brought REO Speedwagon fame and success—and the band continues to ride the popularity of those hits today. REO Speedwagon has teamed up with Styx for several tours across the country; the band also toured with Def Leppard last year. The group even recently recorded a song with Pitbull, “Messin’ Around.”

You can catch REO Speedwagon at Morongo Casino Resort Spa on Friday, Sept. 29.

During a recent phone interview with bassist Bruce Hall, he said he couldn’t remember how many days this year the band has been on the road.

“In this band, we don’t really stop touring. We just take little breaks,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t like to take too many days off. We do have families and like to spend time with them, so we try to go out no more than two weeks at a time. We do take off the dates around the holidays, and we’re usually home at Christmas. Sometimes we’re playing on New Year’s Eve, but most of the time, we’re on the road working, and I think we’re pretty lucky to be able to keep going.”

REO Speedwagon remains in high demand, a fact Hall attributed to not only the music, but also the band’s reputation for good live shows.

“I honestly think (audiences) love the music, and we spend a lot of time writing and putting together our music,” he said. “I also think the people who know us and keep coming back see that we have a lot of fun. For grown men, this is a hell of a way to make a living. We still act like a bunch of kids. When you strap on a guitar, you feel like you’re 17 again sometimes. We enjoy each other’s company, and I think people see that. We try to include everyone in the show, and Kevin (Cronin, the front man) does a good job of that and talks to the audience to make them feel comfortable.”

REO Speedwagon formed in 1967, but it wasn’t until the late ’70s that the band’s popularity took off—after the members changed how they wrote and performed.

“When I joined the band, my first album in 1978 was You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish, and there was a new idea among the guys to try to get songs on the radio,” he said. “We were really trying hard to write songs that were better, because before, the band was doing good songs and had extended jam parts in them—things that weren’t really friendly to AM radio, and were more friendly toward FM radio and college radio; we were trying to get to the AM crowd more. We started writing our songs to where they weren’t over five minutes long, and (we started) being better craftsmen of our music. We were trying a tougher sound at that time with hard rock. When we released Hi Infidelity in 1980, everything took off like a rocket. I think we were ready for it, but not really ready for it.”

On July 13, 1985, Bob Geldof organized the Live Aid concert, largely a two-venue event from Philadelphia at JFK Stadium, and London at Wembley Stadium; concerts at other locations around the world were also held to raise money for the victims of famine in Ethiopia. REO Speedwagon was on the bill for the show.

“Live Aid was a great experience. We got a chance to play in Philadelphia, and it was in the early morning,” Hall said. “It was crazy. We had just gotten there, and we had flown all night to get there. … Things were a bit chaotic, but they had a handle on it and had a rotating stage to where they were setting up one band on one side, with a band playing to the crowd on the other. It was a lot of fun, and it was over real fast. We just got started, and it was done. We had another gig to get to that night. We’re still like that; we never stop playing.”

Hall said REO Speedwagon has a number of younger people in its audiences, and the members realize how fortunate they are to keep reaching younger generations.

“There are a lot of younger people, and they know the words to all the songs, too; it’s amazing,” he said. “I think their parents raised them listening to this music, or they got turned on to it as they became older. …. I think it’s good music, and I know we take a lot of time doing the best job we can, and I really hope that’s why they come back.”

REO Speedwagon has made some new material, but Hall said the band is reluctant to release it at this time.

“It’s much harder these days to find people to play your new record on the radio,” he said. “Maybe they’ll play a song from a new record once or twice, and mostly on adult-contemporary stations. One of the things we learned to do as artists when we were younger to stay competitive was learn how to write good songs. You had to learn how to record. That’s something that doesn’t go away, and we’ve gotten better at it than ever, but we don’t know what to do these days with it when we’re done recording it. We don’t want to just throw it out and let it vanish without a chance, so we’re just kind of sitting on it for a while.”

Hall hoped that people who have never seen the band perform live will come out for the show.

“If people have never seen us before, maybe they’ve at least heard of us,” he said. “If they like the music, they should come. They won’t leave disappointed. We take a lot of pride in our live show. For us, traveling around is the hard part; rocking is the easy part.”

REO Speedwagon will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 29, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $59 to $169. For more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit www.morongocasinoresort.com.

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