What’s the secret to REO Speedwagon’s long-lasting popularity?
If you ask bassist Bruce Hall, it’s the optimistic nature of the music. That’s evident in titles like “Roll with the Changes,” “Keep Pushin’” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”
“We write songs that help people make it through tough times, I think,” Hall said. “That’s why they come to the concerts. That’s what they like REO Speedwagon for: the fact that we help them be happy, bring them up, make them feel like if there’s any problems in the world, they don’t think about it for the next couple hours.”
Formed in Illinois in 1967, REO Speedwagon has produced 16 albums and sold 40 million copies internationally.
The band’s last release was a Christmas album 10 years ago. New music is always in the works, Hall said, but it’s hard to get radio play because the focus has remained on the classics. Still, he hopes to release a new collection one day.
In the meantime, he hopes everyone has a good time and sings along when the band stops at Wenatchee’s Town Toyota Center Tuesday night.
“A lot of times the people that are more our age or even 15, 20 years younger — who were in college or late high school in the ‘80s — they’re the ones we’ve got to become part of their life, fabric of their life,” he said. “So when they come and listen to us, it’s like they go back in this memory machine and they can remember where they were when they first heard the songs and who they were with.”
REO Speedwagon has toured with many other classic rock bands and artists, including Chicago, Styx, Huey Lewis and the News, 38 Special, Cheap Trick and Melissa Etheridge. The Wenatchee show will feature Great White.
It works because the performers share the same fan base, Hall said. And, unlike when the songs were first released, competition is no longer an issue.
“You always wanted a high number on the charts — at least in the Top 10 if you could make it — and so everybody was in competition with each other,” he said. “You weren’t always friendly to each other, but now, that part of our life is over. We still love to play our music, but we can play it together and now we’re like best of friends with all these guys.”
Despite the lengthy discography, fans can be sure to hear their favorites like “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Take It on the Run” and “Keep on Loving You” at an REO Speedwagon show. The band also plays older material like “157 Riverside Avenue” and tracks from its best-selling 1980 album “Hi Infidelity.”
Hall said he likes everything.
“People ask us all the time, ‘Aren’t you tired of playing that music?’” he said. “Hell no, I’m not tired of it. It’s good stuff.”
It helps that every show is a little different from the last, he said.
His most memorable performance was with The Beach Boys and Paul Shaffer in the 1985 Live Aid concert at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.
“It was kind of surreal in a weird way, and then the crowd was so enormous,” he said. “The whole place was packed.”
The band’s been lucky to have a good relationship with its fans, Hall said. They weren’t quite like the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads or Jimmy Buffett’s Parrotheads, but a group of fans used to follow REO Speedwagon on the road, he said.
Along with Hall, who also does vocals, the current lineup includes Kevin Cronin on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Dave Amato on lead guitar and vocals, Neal Doughty on keyboards and Bryan Hitt on drums. Doughty is the only remaining founding member.
It’s been a long run for the guys, who are now in their 60s and 70s. Like many bands, they lived hard and fast; but between the physical toll and losing friends over the years, Hall said he’s mellowed out since joining in 1978.
“We were young and stupid,” he said. “We were being rock stars. We were young and we had lots of money and we did a lot of things that we shouldn’t have done. We finally grew a brain and stopped all the madness.”
Being in a band has been Hall’s dream since childhood. His father was a musician, and his brothers and daughter also play.
“I don’t think we can help it,” he said. “I have to be in a band — I think I’d go nuts if I wasn’t in one. ... (Paul) McCartney’s still out there playing, the Stones are still out there playing. If they can still do it at their age, that’s kind of where the bar’s at. I don’t know if we’ll go as long as them, but I have a feeling we will.”