I wanted to start a new series of articles on some guys who I believe are some of the finest musicians who seem to not receive the praise and adulation that they deserve. I’m naming this series “Give The Man His Props’, I hope you will come to enjoy my perspective and maybe even agree with me about some of the artists I am profiling. The first artist I want to take a look at is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time, Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon.
When most people think of Speedwagon, they think of the power ballads like “Keep On Loving You”, “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” and many of the other soft rock favorites that are a staple of the Kevin Cronin era of the band. However, things were not always this way. REO started out as a rocking band with a bluesy, hard rock sound and the man that anchored that sound was Richrath. His solid riffs and virtuoso talent made the band musicially exciting for listeners, but the band struggled to find the right voice to lead the group as three lead singers came through the band. Cronin would return for good in 76 to cement his place as the band’s lead singer.
The band spent the 70’s as one of rock’s best kept secrets, and they made their name on the road delivering every night in concert (as 1977’s double album “Live: You Get What You Play For” displays). The band made a significant dent in the chart’s with 78’s “You Can Tune A Piano, but you Can’t Tuna Fish”, with hits such as “Roll With The Changes” and “Time For Me To Fly”.
After the lackluster results of “Nine Lives”, the band would break through to superstardom with the release of 1980’s “Hi Infidelity”. Although the album would go on to sell over 10 million copies and would include the Number One song “Keep On Loving You” and a Top 5 Smash in Richrath’s “Take It On The Run”, some saw the massive success as the band selling out and leaving their rock roots.
Although the band’s follow up album “Good Trouble” was a Top 10 charting album, peaking at 7, it wasn’t as good as the previous. 1984’s “Wheels Are Turning” brought more success and another Number One song, “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore”. As Cronin continued to lead the band down the commercial path, Richrath continued to find himself unhappy in the band. 1987’s “Life As We Know It” would be his final recording with the band, as his relationship with Cronin deteriorated and he left the band. The man whose guitar work was such an integral part of the band was no longer the driving force. Richrath would be replaced in May of 1989 by former Ted Nugent sideman, Dave Amato, who has stayed with the band ever since.
Richrath would continue his career with a solo band, the self titled Richrath. They would release one album, 1992’s “Only The Strong Survive”. Unfortunately, Gary didn’t find success as soloist. Although he stayed active in music, Gary would never patch things up with Cronin enough for them to continue to work together as bandmates. In 2013, Richrath reunited with his former band at a benefit concert for a one off reunion, playing “Riding The Storm Out”.
Years of alcohol and substance abuse took a toll of Richrath, culminating in his passing in 2015. Although he never truly got the chance to reunite with the band that he carried for so many years, Gary will always be the guitar voice of REO. And no disrespect to Dave Amato, who has done an admirable job carrying on, but Richrath’s genius is what made REO special. If you’ve never really listened to REO before, I challenge you to check out their albums and take a listen.
Below are some of my recommendations for what I think is some of Gary’s finest playing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and Let’s Give Some Prop’s to Gary Richrath!
Riding The Storm Out-Riding The Storm Out
Golden Country – Live:You Get What You Play For
Take It On The Run – Hi Infidelity
I Do’ Wanna Know-Wheels Are Turning
That Ain’t Love – Life As We Know It