26 Rock Around The World July 1977

report   

REO

L. o R. Neal Doughty, Gary Richrath, Wilbur Fruity, Kevin Cronin, Alan Gratzer and Bruce Hall

by Marty Reimenschneider

Back in the mid-60's as a freshman at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, I frequented a number of taverns that would serve you if you were tall enough to look over the bar. One of these rather raunchy establishments was known as the Midway Tavern, a shotgun type building, long and narrow. Upstairs the pinball machines were always occupied by fledgling pinball wizards who passed the time by sucking on quarts of Blue Ribbon. The dark and damp basement of the building was usually occupied by the pledge class of my fraternity and the neighboring sorority girls, all of whom iat at long tables guzzling their own quarts of Blue Ribbon. One Saturday night, after two quarts, I noticed a band setting up next to the juke box. After several adjustments in amps and a considerable amount of feedback, the young musicians started playing what amounted to nothing but a bunch of songs in three chord progression. Little did I know that I was witnessing the birth of a group later to be known as the One Eyed Jacks, which had considerable success throughout Illinois as the leading rock group of the mid 60's, from Old Town in Chicago to the high schools of southern Illinois. Eventually this group from Champaign evolved into one of the most popular acts in the midwest–R.E.O. Speedwagon. Now I can hear all you readers on the coasts asking who?

Well, troops, it's time you found out what was happening in the plain states ...

You know a lot of groups today think that blowing up amps, spitting fire and brimstone and flash powder are the only ways to get a crowd to stand up and cheer. Not so. For nine years, Reo Speedwagon has had audiences across the midwest from the Dakotas to the mid south, swinging from the rafters by doing nothing more than playing exciting, straight ahead rock and roll with passion and precision.

A lot of love for rock and roll and plenty of plain hard work has paid off over the years for R.E.O. Their reptuation as one of the most dynamic live acts in rock has developed from those early days I mentioned previously in Champaign, Illinois where their playing set bars like the Midway and later the "Chances R," on fire.

Their performing prowess grew through almost constant touring, and Reo graduated from the local phenomenon status to become a top act on the midwest concert circuit sharing bills with the Eagles, Joe Walsh, Aerosmith, Bad Company, Rod Stewart and many others. In fact they played with Joe Walsh in Evansville, Indiana a couple of years ago and the crowd reaction was much greater for Reo than for the legendary Joe Walsh!

Seven hard-hitting Epic albums, produced by such talents as Bill Szymczyk, Allan Blazek, and Bill Halverson, have won Reo an adulatory following. Their first album, "Reo Speedwagon," was a powerhouse display of late-sixties midwest rock that had a profound influence on dozens of other regional bands of that era. "Reo Two" further showcased the band's no-frills rock, set off with a mellower approach influenced by singer and songwriter Kevin Cronin (rhythm guitar & lead vocals).

Though he also wrote tunes for "Ridin' the Storm Out," Cronin left the hand before the release of the third album. His replacement was singer Michael Murphy (not to be confused with the popular solo artist and songwriter Michael Murphey),

whose vocals sparked the band through their following two records, "Lost In a Dream" and "This Time We Mean It."

Kevin Cronin's return to the band and the renewed vigor of his songwriting collaboration with Gary Richrath (lead guitar and vocals) bore fruit in "Reo," their sixth record. The album marked a return to the contrasts of flashing hard rock and melifluous warmth that made "Reo Two" such a special achievement.

Reo Speedwagon's seventh album, recorded live, is being greeted by their fans enthusiastically. Entitled "You Get What You Play For," and produced by John Stronach, John Henning, and Gary Richrath, the live set features performances recorded at Reo's record-breaking show in St. Louis and two sold-out nights in Kansas City. This LP captures the energy and commitment of a Reo concert in spectacular fashion.

Reo boasts a new member these days–Bruce Hall, who replaces Gerg Philbin on bass. A long time friend of the band, Hall hails from Champaign, Illinois. His past achievements include a stint with Joe Vitale. His combination of kinship and musicianship mesh him perfectly with the other members of Reo, which also includes

Alan Gratzer (drums and Neal Doughty (keyboards).

With a new album under their belts and a new band member in the fold, Reo is returning to their old stomping grounds in the prairie states, proving again to new and old admirers alike that nobody delivers like Reo. Although their stage performance is not all that spectacular, they churn out a sound that brings people to their feet. Their most favored songs in concert include "Ridin' the Storm," "Go Little Queenie," and "Golden County," mostly off earlier albums.

Flash and fads come and go in microseconds in the rock world, but for practically a decade Reo Speedwagon has stayed at the top in the midwest by satisfying record buyers and concert goers with a might shot of hot, hot rock and roll ... simple enough, huh? So for all you folks on the East and West coasts, look out, because Reo Speedwagon is comin'!

Marty gets his mail c/o WKDQ, P.O. Box 418, Henderson, KY 42420–ed.

NEWS .... cont. from pg. 20

since 1969–his first a sweet gem. on the now defunct Ampex label–and only returned to tour in the aftermath of President Carter's limited pardon. In virtually all of his appearances, audiences cheer Winchester as a symbol of a resistence movement they admired. But curiously Winchester is uncomfortable with this type of recognition. Insiders told me that his Bearsville label went out of their way to play down any link between Winchester and the Canadian-based movement that fought so long for amnesty. I was told, when requesting an interview, not to ask him about 'politics because the record company was "uptight" and fears a "backlash." I haven't been able to confirm this effort at image-management, but if it is true, it

is an attitude that really pisses me off even though the interviews with Jesse that I did see reveal him to be quite unpolitical, and perhaps undeserving of his reputation as a rebel. If you're listening, Jesse, I wish you'd speak out. I think you'll find that your audience loves you for your music and for what we thought you represented.

FOLLOW-UP

Just to update some of the concerns that I've touched on in columns past: 1. Ratings: The trade magazines have been sprinkled with stories of more credability gaps prompted by the Arbitron (ARB) rating services. A recent Cashbox editorial speaks matter of factly of "inaccuracies and inefficiences" in surveying techniques, and hence "inaccurate ratings." The maga

zine points out that record companies know better than to rely on the ARB's for their advertising campaigns but when will radio station managements wake up and drop this pseudo-surveying service that does so much to block innovation and diversity on the airwaves? Who will join me in denouncing "the Ratings" for the farce that they are?

2. The Price of Records. As I predicted several months ago, the record companies are continuing to jack up their prices until most disks sell for 57.98. Already a number of stores in the Philadelphia area are boycotting the higher priced line. Consumer dissatisfaction has surfaced throughout the country. Record World also reports that tape sales are on the increase largely in reaction to the record price hike. Still to he heard from

is the Federal government, which is investigating the pricing policies of the major labels. These hikes do not appear economically justified, considering the jump in industry profits.

3. To Punk or Not to Punk. Apologies to readers who found it impossible to follow my comments last month on the continuing punk-rock controversy. At that time, I reported on a sharp criticism I received from a punk partisan, but the whole exchange was totally garbled because this newspaper's layout specialist appears to have been under the influence of some mind-distoring substance. Worse things are happening to the young rockers themselves. According to several reports, a number of high-energy English ptfnk rockers are finding themselves increasingly on the receiv

ing end of physical attacks--bottles and punches–from their audiences. They are seeking increased security at their concerts. On this side of the ocean, an effort on the part of the music industry is underway to legitimize this music in order to turn it into a commercial product. Seymour Stein, president of Sire Records, recently asked disc jockeys to tune in to the "new" sound which he has renamed "New Wave Music." That sounds fine, doesn't it? Very Mad Avenue. But groups that see their music as a declaration of their own outlaw status may resist this attempt to clean up their act and co-opt their image.

That's news!

Danny Schechter, the WBCN News Dissector, gets his mail c/o WBCN, 5005 Prudential Tower, Boston, MA 02199- ed.

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