REO Speedwagon

An interview with REO Speedwagon founding keyboardist Neal Doughty
by Tommy Rage
June 2018

REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon

Sweaty palms, a Don Johnson sports blazer and 1980’s power ballads were the summary of my junior high school’s dances (and my rad mullet of course). I fondly recall my lack of coordination, swaying from side to side on the junior high school’s wooden dance floor to the #1 power ballad “Keep On Loving You” from REO Speedwagon. With 5 top 10 hits in the 80’s, REO Speedwagon staked their claim to high school dances, wedding receptions and back-seat make-out sessions. Kevin Cronin (vocals) continues to champion the classic rock hits “Roll With The Changes” and “Ridin’ The Storm Out” while guitarist Dave Amato and drummer Bryan Hitt joined in 1989 after the retirement of drummer Alan Gratzer and passing of guitarist Gary Richrath in 2015. Long time bassists Bruce Hall stays true to the band’s three decades of hits, with founding member and keyboardist Neal Doughty highlighting the upcoming REO Speedwagon concert at Breese Stevens Field on June 22nd.

I had a chance to speak with Neal Doughty about the band’s origins, REO Speedwagon’s history with Madison and a song that made people throw their pot out of car windows…

Maximum Ink (MI): Many people may not know that as an original founding member of cREO Speedwagon, you came up with the band’s name.
Neal Doughty (ND): It’s true. I was in college and studying engineering. One of the classes I was taking was the History of Transportation. The very day we decided we need a band name, I walked into class and on the on the [class] board was R.E.O Speedwagon.  It was a milestone in the history of transportation because it was the first truck that could go fast and carry a heavy load. I figured high speed and heavy-duty was rock n’ roll and I took it back to the other guys and they just loved it immediately. It was that simple, it took just one day. Some people think it’s kind of strange because they used a lot of them as firetrucks, to haul all the heavy equipment to a fire quickly, but I like to tell people that REO Speedwagon was the only thing I learned in college, but it was enough [laughter].

(MI): You guys come from Champaign, Illinois and have a street named REO Speedwagon Way. That must have been an honor?
(ND): It was a definite honor. It’s in a nice part of Champaign. We went back a few years ago to jam with the new mayor and re-dedicate it. When we drive through there, we feel like we kind of own the place [laughter]. 

(MI): You guys still play a large selection of your older classic REO Speedwagon songs. Are there any songs which are more difficult to play live or is a challenge for you still?
(ND): I wouldn’t call any of them difficult. Some of them, you really have to pay attention, so you don’t make a mistake. We’ve reached that stage in life where we try to do something a little different every night. We hear each other in our monitors, and most of the time we change it up when we are playing live. When that happens, the guys will turn around and just smile at me. The downside is that if you make a mistake, then everyone in the band hears it and you still get a smile, but it’s a crooked smile because they know you made a mistake.

(MI): Clearly you guys are still having fun. You had a lot of fun when you named your 1978 album You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish. Where did that album title come from?
I think it’s from an old movie, like a Groucho Marx movie? I couldn’t tell you the exact movie, but one night we were having a party in the studio as we wrapped up recording the album, which we didn’t have a title for yet. We invited some friends, and one of them told us about it. It was another one of those things that when we all first heard it, we agreed that was the name of the album. There wasn’t a discussion about it. The down side was the picture we took for the back of the album. We decided to go to the Joshua Tree Forrest (Arizona) at dawn. It doesn’t sound like a place to shoot a rock n’ roll cover, and I think there was only one photo we could use after a daylong photo shoot. All the other photos had us with tears running down our face from the cold wind. 

(MI): That album has some great songs on it.
“Roll With The Changes”; I think, was the first time we had both piano and organ at the same time. Kevin wrote that song on piano. That song is very old school, and it’s one of our most popular songs. “Time For Me To Fly”, I still play organ on that now. All that synthesizer stuff is expanded, and that song has evolved and isn’t quite the same as it was on the record when we play it live. It’s a cool thing we do in concert to set that song up. It’s still one of my favorite songs to play live. 

(MI): You and the REO crew are coming back to Madison on June 22nd at Breese Stevens Field. You guys have a long-standing history with Madison.
We used to come to Madison almost every weekend. Madison was very progressive. The area was kind of Berkeley east, you know with the whole flower power kind of thing going on [laughter]. It was kind of our second home. We played at a lot of bars in Madison when we first started. We would end up at someone’s house at a party afterwards. Madison has always been a special place for us.

(MI): Even after 30 years of playing concerts, you guys still get huge turn-outs for your live shows.
All the groups that had hits in the 80’s, those songs are on everyone’s play lists. But the bands that have kept up their live performances, those are the bands people want to see. We are getting just as many fans to our shows now as we did in the 80’s, just about. I think it’s the experience of seeing a band like us, who did the song, and who are doing their best on it live. Even though the songs have gotten older, we think our live performances have gotten better, and you can’t get that from a download. 

(MI): A true highlight of any REO Speedwagon concert is one which you play a huge role in, “Ridin’ The Storm Out”. Do you still enjoy playing that song live?
Absolutely. Gary (Richrath) wrote that song. Kevin helped him arrange it, but Gary and Kevin were up in the Colorado mountains and there was a storm coming up, and they were going to be stuck in a blizzard. It’s the story of our life [laughter]. Many nights it’s the last song we play just because of the opening and my old Moog synthesizer. People used to tell me about when they listened to it in their car, they thought it was the cops pulling up behind them because of my synthesizer, and they used to throw their pot out the window [laughter].

REO Speedwagon plays Breese Stevens Field on Friday June 22.

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REO Speedwagon
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