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Meet REO Speedwagon [PHOTOS, VIDEOS]

REO_Group Photo
(amazon.com)

The band formed in Illinois in the mid 1960′s…ultimately naming themselves after an early 1900′s firetruck! And, they’re playing TONIGHT in New Jersey!

In the fall of 1966, Neal Doughty entered the electrical engineering program at the University of Illinois in Champaign. On his first night, he met another student, Alan Gratzer. Soon, they started a rock band.

Gratzer had been a drummer since high school, and was playing in a local band on the weekends. Meanwhile, Doughty had learned Beatles songs on his parents’ piano.Doughty started to follow Gratzer’s band around, eventually sitting in on a song or two.

On the last day of 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 put together a list of songs to learn over the break, and Doughty got a summer job to earn enough money to buy his first keyboard…

…the guys returned to school in the fall of 1967, and started rehearsing.

REO Firetruck
The firetruck that spawned an iconic band name! (Craig Allen photo)

They named the band “REO Speedwagon,” after the REO Speed Wagon, a firetruck (flatbed truck and ambulance as well) that Doughty had remembered seeing mentioned on a blackboard in his transportation history class. The initials are those of truck company founder Ransom E. Olds (for more pictures, and the history of the REO Company, click here).

REO Firetruck 2
The “REO Speed Wagon.” (Craig Allen photo)

Rather than pronouncing REO as a single word as the motor company did, the guys chose to spell out the name with the individual letters, each pronounced.

An ad in the college paper got them their first job…a frat party that turned into a John Belushi-style food fight! Go figure…

The new band continued to perform cover songs in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. Their first line up consisted of Doughty on keyboards, Gratzer on drums and vocals, Joe Matt on guitar and vocals, and Mike Blair on bass and vocals.

In the spring of 1968, Terry Luttrell became lead singer, and many members would come (and go) over the next few years, including guitarist/songwriter Gary Richrath, who joined in late 1970.

Richrath brought original material to the band including REO’s signature song “Ridin’ The Storm Out”.

With Richrath’s arrival, the regional popularity of the band started to grow. The Midwest was REO’s  original fan base, and is important in the band’s early history.

In 1971,  REO Speedwagon signed a recording deal with Epic Records. The lineup on the first album consisted of Gary Richrath, Alan Gratzer, Neil Doughty, Gregg Philbin, and Terry Luttrell.

With their equipment being hauled to dates in a friend’s station wagon, REO continues to play bars and clubs all over the Midwest.

The debut album, “REO Speedwagon,” was released in 1971. The most popular song was “157 Riverside Avenue,” referring to  to the address, where the band stayed while recording.

While the rest of the band’s line-up remained stable, REO Speedwagon switched lead vocalists three times for their first three albums. Luttrell left the band in early 1972. He was replaced by Kevin Cronin, who recorded on 1972′s “R.E.O/T.W.O.”

REO_TWO
(amazon.com)

He left the band during the recording sessions for 1973′s “Ridin’ The Storn Out,” due to internal disagreements. “Ridin’” was finished with Michael Bryan Murphy on lead vocal. Murphy stayed on for two more albums, before Cronin returned in January 1976, and recorded “R.E.O.”

In 1977, REO convinced Epic Records that their strength was in live performances. Epic agreed to let them produce their first live album, “Live, You Get What You Pay For.”

REO_Live_You Get
(amazon.com)

This album went platinum!

REO_Tuna
(Craig Allen photo)

“You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tune A Fish” came out in 1978. It was  REO’s first album to appear on the Top 40 charts, peaking at #29.

“You Can Tune A Piano…” sold over 2 million copies, meaning it went Double Platinum.

REO back
“You Can Tune A Piano…” back cover, 1978. (Craig Allen photo)

In 1979, the band took a turn back to hard rock, with the release of “Nine Lives.”

REO_9 LIVES
(amazon.com)

With the dawn of the “Big Decade,” REO was set for their most popular period…

In late 1980, REO Speedwagon released “Hi Infidelity.”

REO_HI_Front
(Craig Allen photo)

This album represented a change in the music: from “hard rock” to a more “pop-friendly” sound. In short, the hard-rockers became the darlings of the “soft rock” crowd.

“Hi Infidelity” spawned four hit singles written by Richrath and Cronin:

“Keep On Loving You” (#1/1981)

“Take It On The Run” (#5/1981)

“Don’t Let Him Go” (#24/1981)

“In Your Letter” (#20/1981)

In total, these hits remained on the charts for 65 weeks, 32 of which were spent in the top ten, including 15 weeks on top of the Billboard 200.

REO_HI_Back
“Hi Infidelity” back cover. (Craig Allen photo)

“Hi Infidelity” sold over 10 million copies and set the bar for rock bands across the country for years to come!

REO_Good Trouble
(amazon.com)

“Good Trouble” (1982),

REO_Wheels
(amazon.com)

and “Wheels Are Turnin’” (1984) were follow-up albums. Both were also radio-friendly!

“Keep The Fire Burnin’” (#7/1982)

“Can’t Fight The Feeling” (#1/1985).

Plus the mostly-forgotten : “I Do’ Wanna Know” (#29/1984), “One Lonely Night” (#19/1985), and “Live Every Moment” (#34/1985).

1987′s “Life As We Know It” saw a decline in sales, but still managed to provide the band with the hits:
http://youtu.be/P80kGS_fcNY
“That Ain’t Love” (#16/1987)
http://youtu.be/M8MlK_bsW8U
“In My Dreams” (U.S. #19/1987),
http://youtu.be/qKtF2Wvk4Yc
and “Here With Me” (#20/1988).
By the end of the 1980′s, REO Speedwagon’s popularity was on the decline. And, by 1988, Neil Doughty was the only remaining founding member of the band!
The 1990′s brought more lineup changes, and departed members forming their own bands and projects.
“Love Is A Rock” was the band’s last entry on the Hot 100 charts…topping out at #66 in 1990.
Further, REO Speedwagon lost their recording contract with Epic, and ended up releasing “Building The Bridge” (1996) on the Priority/Rhythm Safari label. When that label went bankrupt, the album was released on Castle Records, which also experienced financial troubles. REO Speedwagon ultimately self-financed the album release, which failed to chart! OOPS!
But just when all looked bleak…
REO_HITS_Front
“HITS” released in 1988. (Craig Allen photo)
Epic Records began re-releasing recordings from older albums with updated artwork and design!
REO_HITS_Back
Check out all the “HITS!” (Craig Allen photo)
From 1995 to the present, the label has released over a dozen compilation albums featuring REO’s greatest hits.
REO_Essential
REO Essential, 2004. (amazon.com)
Live albums and recorded live videos have been released over the last few years…and REO Speedwagon continues to tour regularly, performing mostly their classic hits.
http://youtu.be/jsCWW09L5J8
Enjoy them tonight at the “Quick Chek New Jersey Festival Of Ballooning,” with New Jersey 101.5!
 

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