September 12, 2013

REO Speedwagon keeps rolling with the changes

Each hit song Kevin Cronin wrote or co-wrote for 1980s arena rock band REO Speedwagon was the result of a tumultuous personal experience.

Each hit song Kevin Cronin wrote or co-wrote for 1980s arena rock band REO Speedwagon was the result of a tumultuous personal experience.

“Keep on Loving You,” “Can’t Fight this Feeling” and “Roll with the Changes” were born out of his suffering.

“Usually, it seems like there’s a direct correlation between the quality of the song and the depth of emotional distress that I’m in when I write them,” the lead singer said in a recent phone interview. “The better the song, the crazier I am at the moment I write it.”

He’s grateful that the songs touched other people and that fans continue to want to hear them. He and the rest of REO Speedwagon will play all the favorites when they perform Monday at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto.

Cronin, 61, isn’t an original member of the band, which was founded in 1967 by University of Illinois students, but he joined only a few years later. Originally a folk singer and guitarist, it was a stretch for him to front a loud rock band. He left the band after recording just one album – 1972’s “R.E.O./T.W.O” – but returned in 1976 in time to help carry the band to mainstream success.

Cronin said he knew he wanted to become a rock star from the moment he saw The Beatles on television. “There’s something that went off inside of me that said, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do,’” he said. “For me, there was no doubt in my mind. I didn’t know the odds of that happening were so steep.”

In some ways, his love of The Beatles helped him develop his own musical style. Back in those days, the sheet music often used to come out before the recordings. Cronin remembers getting the sheet music for the song “Please Please Me” and trying to play it without hearing it. “When the recording came out, it was OK, but I preferred my version,” he said with a laugh.

Fans loved the sound REO Speedwagon created in its heyday in the 1980s. The band sold more than 40million records and produced 13 Top40 hits. While the band’s popularity faded in the 1990s, enough fans have kept the group going all these years and given it success as a classic rock band.

Cronin was excited that the band’s rerecorded version of “Roll With the Changes” was included in the recent movie “Jobs,” about Apple computer co-founder Steve Jobs.

“I was so happy they used it – it’s more powerful,” Cronin said. “It’s in a great spot in the film. They cranked it up loud.”

When REO Speedwagon originally recorded that song for the 1978 album “You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish,” the musicians spent so much time trying to get the instrumental parts right, that he didn’t have much time to record his singing.

“It’s nice to rerecord an iconic song,” he said. “It gives me a chance to sing it better than I sang it before. I’m singing it with more emotion than I did back then.”

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