I have no problem considering the 80s version of Speedwagon a joke because that’s when douche bag lead singer Kevin Cronin turned the band into a Peter Cetera-esque treacle producing crap factory. They deserve the non-success they’ve had since Cronin took control of the band. It was Cronin who, for all intents and purposes, forced Richrath to quit the band in 1989 because Gary wanted to return Speedwagon to being a ROCK band and Cronin wanted to write and sing more brain melting ballads.
REO Speedwagon’s 1979 album Nine Lives remains one of my favorites. Back then local rock radio station FM 104 would play a new release in its entirety every Friday at midnight. I remember lying on my bed and listening to Nine Lives and loving it immediately. The album was filled beginning to end with Richrath’s attitude and great guitar playing. I went out the next day to the Music Merchant and bought my copy which I still have.
REO Speedwagon started changing to a more pop oriented sound as the decade rolled over into the 80s and had their biggest selling release with Hi Infidelity. I like the album to a certain extent but this was the first record where Richrath’s rock n’ roll soul was being subdued. Each subsequent release over the years moved farther and farther into what Bart Simpson calls “wuss rock”. Suddenly the band that Gary Richrath had put on the map with his hard edged political protest song Golden Country had turned into Bread.
After leaving REO Speedwagon, Richrath put an eponymous band together which released one CD in 1992 and toured extensively. Another CD was started in 1998 but never finished. Since then he’s disappeared from music. Apparently drugs and alcohol have played a large part in his becoming a ghost and while this is all too common in the music industry, it’s still sad. I have to admit that I paid money to see the current touring version of REO Speedwagon a few years ago and now I’m kind of sorry I did. I helped perpetuate the fraud that Kevin Cronin is passing off. I believe it was just him and Bruce Hall as original members with a bunch of 20-something hired hand musicians surrounding them.
Without Gary Richrath there is no REO Speedwagon. Pick up your guitar again Gary. Rock n’ roll needs people like you.