REO Speedwagon College Band Success

REO Speedwagon was born in the fall of 1967 at the University of Illinois. The band was formed to play cover songs in the bars on the colleges campus.

The groups strange name came from a truck, the REO Speedwagon, that was made by the REO Motor Car Company. Speedwagons were often used as fire trucks and were first manufactured in 1915!

Originally formed by Neal Doughty and Alan Gratzer, Terry Luttrell, Gregg Philbin and Gary Richrath had finished out the lineup by 1971.

Little by little during their performances they’d began to do some of their own songs. By 71′ they’d compiled enough original material that they caught the attention of Epic records and landed their first contract!

Their debut album “REO Speedwagon” was released in 1971. Although, at the time the record wasn’t the success the band had hoped for, it produced classics like “157 Riverside Avenue” and “Sophisticated Lady”.

During their first few years the band went through three lead vocalists. After their debut album Luttrell left the band, replaced with Kevin Cronin who stayed through their next two recordings.

When Cronin left to pursue a solo career, Mike Murphy was brought in as a replacement. Murphy also did two albums with REO before leaving. Cronin rejoined the band in 1976 and has been a part of REO ever since!

Their second album, “R.E.O./T.W.O.” was a turning point for the band. With it’s release in 1972, the band began to attract national interest. The album was recorded in Nashville, the home of country music!

Cronin provided a lot of the content and gave it a more personal feel. His lyrics of freedom, independence and the pain of love hit home with many fans! Singles like “Let Me Ride” and “Music Man” are still favorites of many lifelong REO fans.

“Ridin’ The Storm” was released in 1973, but it wasn’t until their 74′ release of “Lost In A Dream” that REO finally broke into the Billboard Top 100!

It wasn’t until Cronin’s return and their 1976 release of “R.E.O.” however that the band finally started to realize some actual success. With power ballads geared toward teen girls, their number of fans greatly increased.

With the 1978 release of “Live: You Get What You Play For” REO earned their first platinum album. The live album captured the quality and talent that the studio productions had failed to represent.

The band was dissatisfied and took control of their sound self producing this album. A move that proved to be in the right direction and led the band into a string of success.

Before the release of their 78′ album “You Can Tune a Piano, But Your Can’t Tuna Fish”, Philbin was replaced with Bruce Hall. This album produced their first Top-40 hit with “Roll With The Changes” that later became a million selling single.

After almost a decade of recording and touring REO had sold over six million records. But, they may hold the title for selling that many records without producing a major single hit!

REO had failed to meet the expectations of the critics, but the fans knew what they liked and many REO fans today, have followed the group from the beginning. Whether they had number one single or not, they were a band that America loved!

The summer of 1979 yielded their “Nine Lives” album. Considered by many to be the bands hardest rocking album, yet considered by many others to be their last album before selling out to pop music!

Hi Infidelity” came out in 1980 with the band’s new sound. The transition proved to be a success as the album became famous around the world almost overnight! Within two years the album had brought in over 18 million worldwide sales!

Out of the 65 weeks spent in the U.S. charts, “Hi Infidelity” enjoyed 32 of those in the top ten! They finally achieved their first number one single with “Keep On Loving You” in December of 1980. “Take It On The Run” situated itself in the hit parade for 23 weeks!

REO backed up the album with intensive touring, before releasing a quickie entitled “Good Trouble” in 1982. The album was completed in less than two months and although it was a disappointment for the band, it made it to the number 7 position on the charts.

“Wheels Are Turnin'” quickly hit a top ten spot in 84′. The love ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling” gave the band another number one hit single. And, “Keep The Fire Burnin'” made it up to number 7.

Over the next several years the band saw a few more minor hits, but the end of the 80’s was almost the end of REO. Gratzer retired from the band and they also lost Richrath.

Rumors were that they’d asked Richrath to leave over disputes between him and Cronin over the direction the bands music was heading. But, Richrath’s magical fingers on the guitar along with the lyrics he’d composed had been a major part of the band’s success, often referred to as REO’s “spark”.

Whatever the reason for his departure, Richrath went on to form the Richrath band. They released “Only the Strong Survive” in 1992, but they’d disbanded by the late 90’s.

REO’s sound didn’t interest Epic records any longer. Their next album released in 1996, “Building the Bridge” was on the Priority/Rhythm Safari label which ended up in bankruptcy.

The band switched the album over to Castle Records which had financial problems of it’s own. REO ended up having to finance “Building the Bridge” with the bands own money. The album wasn’t successful and failed to even make the charts.

The band released several more albums during the late 90’s, but have never reached the success of their years with Richrath. Though, they still continue to perform on a regular basis.

In April of 2007, “Find Your Own Way Home” proved to be yet another album that didn’t make the charts. The single “I Needed to Fall” made it to number 25 on the Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart. This was their highest rating single in over 19 years!

Though REO Speedwagon may not be seeing quite the success they once had, they’ve got a devoted following. They’ll always be a huge success in the hearts of the many fans that will forever love the Speedwagon!

Written by Connie Corder, Copyright 2010

4 thoughts on “REO Speedwagon College Band Success”

  1. Excellent article! I had wondered what they had been up to lately…it’s been so long since I’ve heard anything about them. I remember my uncles talking about seeing them when they were still a bar band…and they still listen to their albums now. Thanks for the update on a classic band.

    1. One of my all favorite song is by them called Only In My Dreams. I love that song, my mom use to listen to that song allot when I was little.

  2. Actually……Kevin Cronin recorded T.W.O and left in the midst of Ridin The Storm Out and was replaced by Michael Murphy…who rerecorded Kevins vocal parts over the already laid tracks….Son Of A Poor Man appears on the “Decade Of RockNRoll” 2LP set

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