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REO Speedwagon mourning guitarist with music, memories
REO Speedwagon concerts have become "a complex situation" for the veteran rock group these days. And understandably so.
Gary Richrath, the group's guitarist from 1970-89 and a co-writer and co-producer of most of REO's bit hits, passed away on Sept. 13 at the age of 65, news that frontman Kevin Cronin shared with fans via his Facebook page. Since then Cronin has been paying tribute to Richrath with a short acoustic set at the start of REO's concerts, while the band has slotted the Richrath-written favorite "Golden Country" back into its shows and is planning to add his autobiographical "Son of a Poor Man" as well.
"We were extremely fortunate that when we found out about Gary we were on the road, so the band was all together," says Cronin, 63, who Richrath discovered singing in Chicago clubs and invited to join REO in 1972. "It was nice to be in the REO Speedwagon world, 'cause obviously a lot of emotions were flowing.
"It's been a roller coaster. One minute I'm OK, the next minute I'm sitting there with tears in my eyes. I"m trying to put most of my energy into thinking about all the fun we had, 'cause we had a lot of fun. Gary was a fun guy, and the five of us together was a fun group."
Cronin goes so far as to say that "none of us would be where we are today without Gary. He was the guy that got the REO Speedwagon ball rolling, without a doubt. There's no way the band would have gotten signed without him. It was his initial thrust of energy that put this band on the map, and we'll always be indebted to him."
Cronin says that though Richrath's departure from REO was acrimonious, the two men had made peace. They last saw each other at the December 4, 2013 Rock To the Rescue benefit concert for tornado victims in Bloomington, Ill., when Richrath joined REO to play "Ridin' the Storm Out." And Cronin adds that "there was always a glimmer of hope in the back of all our minds" that the classic REO lineup -- including keyboardist Neal Doughty and Bruce Hall, who are still with the band, and original drummer Alan Gratzer, who occasionally makes guest appearances -- would reunite for a short tour.
For now, however, Cronin says REO will be "dedicating every show we do for the foreseeable future, probably forever to Gary. Every song we play, Gary's all over it for me; we either wrote it together, produced it together, rehearsed it together, arranged it together, fought over parts that we played. So every song that comes by, as I'm singing it I'm also seeing him in my mind, feeling those stories about Gary."
REO Speedwagon and Night Ranger
8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights.
Tickets are $25-$75 pavilion, $10 lawn.
Call (586) 268-5100 or visit freedomhill.net.
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