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603093feaddcb137db71ae67f25b15aa--gary-richrath-reo-speedwagonAs I watched the Music Friday video from last week, I was surprised to see two of the original members of REO Speedwagon as part of the entourage. Which, of course, got me to thinking about one of Illinois' most iconic bands.

Interestingly, most don't think of Illinois as a hotbed of rock talent. And yet, my '80s era rock radio station would program "Illinois Rocks" weekends a few times a year; weekends where we played nothing but Illinois Rock. Think it can't be done?

Chicago, Cheap Trick, Styx, Survivor, Dan Fogelberg, Richard Marx, Head East, Off Broadway, Shoes, the Boyzz, the Buckinghams, the Ides of March, the Cryin Shames, the New Colony Six, Sam Cooke, Earth, Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, John Prine, Steve Goodman, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Koloc, Tantrum, Mason Proffit, Wheatstone Bridge, Brian Stevens, Bob McCall, Aliotta Haynes & Jeremiah...and that's just the stuff we played before I jumped to Destination Marketing.

I saw REO live before they had a record deal, in a High School gym where they made you take off your shoes (which is where the term "sock hop" came to be). Ultimately, the band co-mingled two disparate forces: the romantic folk of Kevin Cronin and the searing rock sensibility of Gary Richrath. Their early albums cooked...but failed to sell. The Hail Mary was the rock ballad "Keep on Lovin' You." Gary hated it...but went along, insisting on the power chords that made the song soar with anger and anguish.

It saved their record deal...but sowed the seeds of Gary's departure.

As I look back on my affinity for the band, it started with Gary's guitar prowess and was solidified by Kevin's vocals. And, before "Ridin' the Storm Out" became the band's de facto encore song, it was "Golden Country."

Which, sadly, is just as relevant today as it was in the '70s.

Watch Gary shred... 

And, if you want an insight into the Chicago Music Scene in the '60s, click here. everything. You didn't want to work today, anyway.


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Bill Geist

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