REO Speedwagon is happy to oblige fans by playing the hits

January 11, 2019

Not that they need any help, but REO Speedwagon recently got a little boost thanks to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Golden Globe-winning film about Queen.

During a scene in which Queen is considering whether to play Live Aid, the band is told acts like Paul McCartney, Elton John, the Who and REO Speedwagon will be there.

No one reached out to REO Speedwagon beforehand, so they were just as surprised as the REO fans who told the band about the film.

“Some of our fans saw the movie and go ‘Oh my god, did you see the new Queen movie? … They talk about REO Speedwagon!’ ” bassist/vocalist Bruce Hall told The Spokesman-Review in December. “I said ‘Really?’ So I went, sat in the theater and boom, there it was. They threw our name in with Dylan, all these others. That’s amazing.”

The shout out has made Hall reminisce about the band’s time at Live Aid, calling it an amazing event to be part of.

It’s up there with getting to meet Dan Rather when REO Speedwagon recently appeared on his “The Big Interview,” and being voted the best music act to come from Illinois in a contest hosted by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield for the state’s bicentennial celebration last year.

Alison Krauss and Nat King Cole placed second and third, respectively.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hall said. “It was against people like Nat King Cole, Chicago, Styx, Cheap Trick. The people that voted, they chose us, so that was a big honor.”

If Hall was able to look at REO Speedwagon from an outsider’s perspective though, he might not be so surprised.

After the band’s self-titled debut album spawned the fan favorites “Sophisticated Lady” and “157 Riverside Avenue” in 1971, REO Speedwagon wrote at a blistering pace, releasing one album a year for a majority of the next decade.

But REO Speedwagon’s career went into overdrive in 1980 with the release of “Hi Infidelity,” the quintet’s best-selling album thanks to singles “Keep On Loving You,” “Take It on the Run,” “Don’t Let Him Go” and “In Your Letter.”

Seven albums have followed “Hi Infidelity,” including “Not So Silent Night… Christmas with REO Speedwagon,” an expanded version of which was released in 2017.

But Hall and the rest of REO – guitarist Dave Amato, lead singer Kevin Cronin, keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Bryan Hitt – know fans want to hear the hits, and they’re happy to oblige.

“Folks want to hear songs that they’ve heard on the radio,” Hall said. “That’s where we have to start. They want to hear the hits, the songs they grew up with so we have a lot of those and we’re lucky to have those.”

But the trouble is, after such a lengthy career, that once the band gets through playing the hits, they often don’t have much time for anything else.

So this year, the band is thinking about performing most, if not all, of the songs from the diamond-certified “Hi Infidelity,” plus an acoustic song or two.

They’ll then circle back to other hits like “Roll With the Changes,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Back on the Road Again” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”

Hits aside, REO Speedwagon isn’t afraid to throw a new song into the set list.

“Once in a while we’ll throw in a brand new song that they’ve never heard before, and most people, they’ll sit there through it,” Hall said with a laugh.

Writing new music isn’t a problem for the band, but releasing it is.

According to Hall, when the band has released a record in recent years, the album sits untouched in stores because people didn’t know it was available.

“We tried to get airplay for singles like we did in the old days, but classic rock bands have a hard time getting radio play with the new stuff,” he said. “They’ll play the heck out of the old stuff, but they won’t play the new stuff very much.”

It’s not entirely new music, but the band will release “REO Speedwagon: Classic Years 1978-1980,” a nine-disc box set via Cherry Red Records, on March 1.

The box set features “You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish,” “Nine Lives,” “Hi Infidelity,” “Good Trouble,” “Wheels Are Turnin’, ” “Life as We Know It” and “The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken,” all in full.

The box set, which follows the October release of “REO Speedwagon: The Early Years 1971-1977,” will also include live tracks, radio mixes and edits, unreleased demos and live songs originally released promotionally to radio.

Challenges aside, Hall wouldn’t change anything about his time in REO Speedwagon, expressing gratitude for a decades long career in music, all the people he’s met and places he’s seen.

“I couldn’t have asked more for,” he said. “It’s been everything I’ve ever wanted.”

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