REO Speedwagon stays faithful to ‘Hi Infidelity’

03/13/2014 3:58 PM

03/13/2014 3:59 PM

REO Speedwagon can’t leave a venue without rendering the hits from its mammoth 1980 album, “Hi Infidelity.”

“That’s the way it goes,” vocalist-guitarist Kevin Cronin said. “That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Prior to the release of “Hi Infidelity,” which sold more than 10 million copies, the Midwestern band had built a pretty strong following.

The band’s 1978 curiously titled “You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish” sold more than 2 million copies. REO Speedwagon was on par with other heartland rockers, such as Styx and Ted Nugent, during the late ’70s.

But “Hi Infidelity” arrived and everything changed. Goodbye theaters and hello arenas.

The album generated four hit singles including “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On the Run.”

“Hi Infidelity” was on the charts for 65 weeks. It was in the Top 10 for a staggering 32 weeks, including 15 weeks when it was on top of the Billboard charts.

“It’s incredible how well things worked out when I look back at that album,” Cronin said. “All of the stars just lined up for us. What happened is that our songs were impacted by our lives. My marriage was bad and so was (former REO Speedwagon guitarist) Gary Richrath’s marriage. (Keyboardist) Neal (Doughty) came home and discovered a letter from his wife. She left him. All of that had an effect on this album.”

“Keep On Loving You,” which changed the band’s life, almost didn’t make “Hi Infidelity.”

“Nobody wanted to record that song,” Cronin said. “None of us wanted to do the wimpy piano ballad. But things had a way of working out. One day while playing it, Gary started playing this really nasty guitar, and it worked. That in-your-face guitar worked with the sweet piano and we had our song.”

And REO Speedwagon, which will perform Friday at the Stiefel Theatre in Salina, is happy to play “Hi Infidelity” cuts as well as other songs from its massive canon.

“We try to be diverse when we play,” Cronin said. “We just don’t pull from one era. We have a lot to draw from, and we have fun with it. I’m just glad I found what I love to do.”

Like many of his peers, Cronin found his career path by watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964.

“That changed everything for me and so many others,” Cronin said. “They were the first band that played, wrote and recorded their songs. When I saw that, I knew I wanted to do the same thing. There was something magical about the Beatles. They inspired me. I continued my guitar lessons that I started before they played ‘Ed Sullivan.’ I’m glad I did. It’s led me to a wonderful life.”

The current REO Speedwagon lineup, which also includes guitarist Dave Amato, bassist Bruce Hall and drummer Bryan Hitt, have been together since 1989.

“For a while, it was as if there was a revolving door for this band,” Cronin said. “But it’s been a long time since we’ve had a personnel change. That (a quarter century) is a big number. But we love playing together. We’re friends first and that’s a big reason nobody has left this band. We get along really well and we have no problem playing the hits, particularly the songs from ‘Hi Infidelity.’ The fans still love those songs, so why not give the fans what they want?”

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