Formed in Champaign, Illinois in 1967, REO Speedwagon is a rock band that gained popularity in the United States during the ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s. During their career, REO Speedwagon sold over 40 million records and spawned several hit songs such as Keep on Loving You and Can’t Fight This Feeling. Even if their popularity decreased in the late ‘80s, REO Speedwagon remains to be a popular live act that’s why in this article, we are going to find out the how REO Speedwagon became one of the most memorable artist in the ‘80s music scene.
When Neal Doughty was studying electrical engineering at the University of Illinois as a junior, he met Alan Gratzer. The two held an impromptu jam session at the basement if their dormitory which soon led to forming their own rock band. They recruited Joe Matt and Mike Blair into their group and they named their band REO Speedwagon from the REO Speed Wagon truck that was designed by Ransom Eli Olds. Instead of pronouncing the word REO as a single word, the band chose to spell out the name with the individual letters like R-E-O. During this time, the band performed cover songs in fraternity parties, campus bars, and university events. The original lineup of REO Speedwagon consisted of Joe Matt on guitars, Mike Blair on bass and vocals, Alan Gratzer on drums and vocals, and Neal Doughty on Keyboards.
In 1968, Bob Crownover joined the band to replace Joe Matt as the guitar player. They also added Terry Luttrell to become their lead vocalist. Mike Blair also left the band and he was replaced by Greg Philbin. REO Speedwagon added Marty Shepard to play the trumpet and Crownover left the group in the summer of 1969. He was replaced by Bill Fioro who eventually departed the group in late 1969. Steve Scorfina also briefly joined the band on their live performances and helped to compose songs but he eventually left in late 1970 and he was replaced by Gary Richrath.
Gary Richrath brought fresh and original material to REO Speedwagon. In fact, he drove over 100 miles just to see the band and become a part of it. Richrath seemed to be the band’s lucky charm because since he joined the group, their popularity in the region grew tremendously.
After several line-up changes and gigs, REO Speedwagon eventually landed a record deal with Epic Records in 1971. The original line-up of the band when they made their first album was Doughty, Luttrell, Richrath, Gratzer, and Philbin
REO Speedwagon’s released their self-titled debut album in 1971. It featured the song entitled 157 Riverside Avenue which refers to the address where the band stayed while they were recording their first album. On their first three albums, REO Speedwagon had to switch lead vocalist three times. In 1972, Luttrell left the band to become a vocalist for another band called Starcastle. He was eventually replaced by Kevin Cronin who recorded one album with the band which was their second album called R.E.O/T.W.O. During the recording of their third album, Cronin decided to leave the band because of internal conflicts. In 1973, REO Speedwagon released their third album called Ridin’ The Storm Out which featured Michael Bryan Murphy on lead vocals. Murphy recorded two more albums with the band namely Lost in a Dream and This Time We Mean It which was REO Speedwagon’s fourth and fifth album respectively before he decided to depart from the group. Kevin Cronin returned as the band’s vocalist in 1976 and they recorded their sixth studio album called R.E.O which was released later that same year.
In 1977, REO Speedwagon released their first live album called Live: You Get What You Play For which became certified platinum. That same year, Gregg Philbin left the band because he was disenchanted with the new corporate-structure in the band. He stated that Richrath and Cronin earned more money compared to the other members. He was replaced by Bruce Hall who recorded with the band for their seventh studio album entitled You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish which was released in 1978. The album peaked at the 29th spot of the Top 40 charts and sold over two million copies in the United States where it achieved double platinum in the United States. And in 1979, REO Speedwagon released their eighth album called Nine Lives which peaked at the 33rd spot of the Billboard 200 charts and went gold that same year.
In 1980, the band released their ninth album entitled Hi Fidelity which has a different approach compared to their previous records because the band went from hard rock to pop-oriented music. Hi Fidelity produced four hit songs such as Keep on Loving You, In Your Letter, Take It on the Run, and Don’t Let Him Go. The album remained on the charts for over 65 weeks and it sold over 10 million copies worldwide. REO Speedwagon followed up this success by releasing their tenth studio album called Good Trouble in 1982. However, it was not as successful as their previous album. It featured the hit songs The Key, Keep the Fire Burnin’ and Sweet Time. Two years later, they released another album entitled Wheels Are Turnin’ and it featured the number one hit single Can’t Fight This Feeling and other hit songs like One Lonely Night and me Do Wanna Know. In 1987, their twelfth studio album called Life as We Know It saw a decline in sales but it still spawned two top 20 hit songs namely In My Dreams and This Ain’t Love.
In the late 1980s, the band’s popularity began to decrease and it was during this time when their original drummer, Alan Gratzer left the band because he wanted to retire from the music industry and open a restaurant. A year later, Gary Richrath also decided to quit the band because tensions between him and Cronin started to take a toll on them. That’s why the band decided to recruit Miles Joseph to play the lead guitar and Graham Lear to play the drums. They also added Melanie Jackson and Carla Day to be their back-up singers.
Their thirteenth album entitled The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog, and a Chicken was released in 1990. Unfortunately, the album was a commercial disappointment. It only managed to produce one and considered to be the band’s last, Billboard 100 Single entitled Love is a Rock. In 1996, the band released their fourteenth studio album called Building the Bridge which failed to enter the charts and produce any hit songs.
In 2007, REO Speedwagon released a self-financed album called Find Your Own Way Home which failed to enter the charts but it managed to produce two singles that were featured on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary radio chart. In 2009, they released a Christmas album entitled Not So Silent Night… Christmas with REO Speedwagon. During that same year, the band also released an online video game called Find Your Own Way How which became the first downloadable casual game that was produced with a rock band.
In September 2015, Gary Richrath died due to complications from surgery. After a year, REO Speedwagon went on tour with Tesla and Def Leppard. And on June 2017, they toured the United States with Don Fedler and Styx on the United We Rock tour. That same year, their album, Hi Fidelity achieved a Diamond Award for selling over 10 million copies in the United States.