If you go
What: REO Speedwagon
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Foellinger Theatre, 3411 Sherman Blvd.
Admission: $39 to $99; call 427-6000 or go to www.fortwayneparks.org
Even after more than 40 years, the rock band REO Speedwagon still can’t fight that feeling.
The band that originated in Champaign, Illinois, continues to tour across the country today and make new music, whether the radio is ready for it or not.
With the band performing at Foellinger Theatre on Tuesday, bassist Bruce Hall says he and his band members are far from finished.
“We are very dedicated to our music; we always have been. We always try to get better at what we do,” Hall says from his home in Davenport, Florida.
“We know that people have a lot of choices to make with their hard-earned money, and if they are going to come to our show, we want to put on the best show we can.”
“We still have a passion, and we still love it so much that we don’t want to get rusty or not give it 100 percent.”
REO Speedwagon, named after the vintage automobile, was one of the first few bands to emerge from the Midwest, making a path for bands such as Kansas and Cheap Trick.
Starting as a college band that toured in a station wagon, REO Speedwagon – even through a few lineup changes – became one of the leaders in mainstream rock with 22 million albums sold in the U.S. and 40 million sold around the globe.
Keyboardist/founding member Neal Doughty and lead vocalist Kevin Cronin have been with the band since the early ’70s. Hall joined the band in 1978, but he first co-wrote the band’s track “Lost in a Dream” in 1974. He penned several other songs for the band, including “Someone Tonight,” “Girl with the Heart of Gold” and, more recently, “Born to Love You” in 2007.
The “new guys,” lead guitarist Dave Amato and drummer Bryan Hitt, joined the band more than 20 years ago.
“We still love all the songs we play. People ask the question sometimes if we get tired of playing the same songs all the time, and I say, heck no,” Hall says. “For one, there are parts of the songs that we play different every night; it’s never exactly the same. You put into it what you feel at the time.
“I love the Eagles, but when I saw the Eagles play, they played everything exactly like the way they did on the record. That’s cool, but I don’t know if I could do that. I like to have a little more breathing room and be able to express myself a little bit more.”
With a career that has spawned nearly 20 original albums and several live and compilation records, REO Speedwagon’s crowning jewel is its certified-nine-times-platinum release, “Hi Infidelity.” With singles “Keep on Loving You” and “Take It on the Run,” the 1980 album spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
The band would have another three-week reign on the charts with its 1985 hit “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
Hall says the band continues to write and record music but finding an outlet for its new music has been the challenge.
“Kevin is writing better songs than he ever has, and that includes myself, too. We still record, but the avenues for getting records out for classic rock bands – I guess that’s what we are now – is kind of hard,” he says.
“You can get people to play our old material quite a bit, but when you hand them something new, they don’t really know what to do with that. Our fans seem to want it, but we don’t know where to give it. We’re all kind of waiting around.
“A lot has changed about the music business since we first started, but you just got to keep trying,” he adds.
The classic rock classification may have its challenges, but it also has its advantages. Hall says the friends the band has made along the way keep classic rock on the road.
REO Speedwagon, which has toured with rockers Styx, Pat Benatar, Ted Nugent and 38 Special, will co-headline a tour with Chicago beginning in August. Chicago performed at Foellinger last summer.
“We have never toured with them before, and we’re not even sure it’s going to be great, but I have a feeling it’s going to be awesome,” Hall says, laughing.
“We are two different bands, but that’s the way radio used to be – one minute you could hear Chicago, and the next minute you could hear the Beatles. I don’t think there’s going to be any problems. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The band may be trying to find its niche in today’s music market, but as long as fans keep on loving the music, Hall says the stage is the best place to be.
“The benefit of being a classic rock band right now is that you have proven to yourself that we’re capable of being worthy of making records that people love.
“There were times in the early days where we were trying to communicate with people, and you didn’t know if you were getting through or what.
“But then we had a couple big albums, some top 10 singles, and people seemed to really enjoy our music. I think we connected, and it was a beautiful thing.”
“I love our fans; I love to see them sing our songs back at us. It’s magic.”