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REO Speedwagon still Rollin’ with the Changes

Drew Carr

REO Speedwagon is playing the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park with co-headliner Styx and special guest star Don Felder, formerly of The Eagles. The concert—part of the United We Rock U.S. Summer Tour— is set to take place on July 31, and the tour is already receiving great reviews for its high-energy rock numbers, soaring power ballads, and outstanding showmanship from the rock legends.

Originally formed in 1967, REO Speedwagon— which is comprised of iconic lead vocalist Kevin Cronin, keyboardist and founding-member Neal Doughty, guitarist Dave Amato and bass player Bruce Hall— has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, and captivated crowds across the globe with anthems like “Keep on Loving You” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” We talked with REO Speedwagon keyboardist and founding member Neal Doughty about the band’s history, touring and how much they enjoy playing together to this day. According to Neal, REO’s story began by chance, while he was studying at the University of Illinois. 

“The band started by accident in my dorm room,” said keyboardist and founding member Neal Doughty. “Our first record was 1971, but we had about four years before that when we just kept changing people all the time. Guys would graduate from college, and we weren't worried about doing that.” 

Neal, who never took a keyboard or piano lesson, first began playing on his mom’s piano in their basement—he even had to glue some of the hammers back on to play it. Neal began teaching himself Beatles songs, and when he moved on to keyboards, the first song he learned was “Light My Fire” by The Doors, which took a great deal of patience. Decades later, Neal has been named one of rock’s best keyboard players, shining on countless classic songs including “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” 

“Kevin had written that song on piano,” said Doughty, on the iconic track. “And he wanted me to you know take it home and see what I could do with it.” 

While Cronin originally intended to play piano on “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, he liked Doughty’s rendition so much, changed his mind. 

“The stuff I came back with, like the little melody line and stuff as an intro, [Kevin] just said ‘I like that better than what I was doing. You're playing you're playing the piano,’” said Doughty. 

Doughty added that with REO Speedwagon, his experience as a keyboard player is particularly unique. 

“There is probably a different story behind every song, but I've definitely been given a lot more opportunity as a keyboard player than a lot of bands.” 

For many bands, fame has come and gone at lightspeed. For REO, the road to success involved doing the speed limit, and Neal said the band’s first reality check came once the Champaign, IL-based band first arrived in Los Angeles. 

“It was it was really a cultural shock,” said Neal. “We’d been pretty much big shots back in Champaign— there were only one or two bands that had a record deal, and at that time, our first songs were starting to be played on the radio, so we were pretty much bigshots back there.” 

Doughty said the experience was different in LA almost became a new starting-off point for the young band. 

“We got to Los Angeles and realized that we had been big fish in the small pond, and now we were in a gigantic ocean,” said Doughty. “And it took some getting used to. It was a little depressing at first, because we realized that we weren't as far along as we thought, and we still hadn't had an album that really hit yet.” 

It was also during this time that REO Speedwagon first became friends with a band called The Eagles. 

“We were hanging out with the guys in The Eagles,” said Doughty. “We had the same manager, and here they are, at the time the biggest band in the world, and we are these kids right off the train from Illinois.” 

The two bands also got to spend time together on tour, and even at the same recording studio in Miami, FL. 

“We had big studio [in Miami], and we were in the room right next door to them,” said Doughty. “We'd all come out into the lounge area together, comparing notes on what were up to.” 

Doughty added that REO’s early years of hanging out with The Eagles—who were the biggest band in the world at the time— and seeing their lifestyles and success made the band want it for themselves. 

And the lifestyle and success would come, thanks in part to hard work, patience, and a wildly successful rock album. The album, High Infidelity catapulted REO Speedwagon from fame to iconic staus, originally spending 15 weeks at number one, and currently approaching 10-times platinum status in the U.S. For the REO, the album was not just a huge success, but a game changer that remains impactful to this day. 

“I used to call us the most famous opening act in the United States, because before High Infidelity we were on big tours all the time,” said Doughty. “And so we went from the most famous opening act to actually being the headliner with that one record.” 

And according to Doughty, High Infidelity didn’t just take REO to the top of the charts, it took them around the globe. 

“It definitely put us on the map,” said Doughty. “We had always been a regional group, and all of a sudden, since High Infidelity, we've been everywhere— Japan, England, most of Northwestern Europe, South America, and all over New Zealand, which is such a great place.” 

Naturally, the worldwide touring brought an immense level of demand and attention. 

“We couldn't believe it,” said Doughty on Hi Infidelity. “The amount of craziness because of having a record that big is almost sensory overload.” 

Doughty said it’s even nicer these days, as the band can focus on pouring all their energy into rocking crowds with their favorite REO songs. The current lineup of Cronin, Doughty, Amato and Hall has been together going on three decades, and Doughty said they still love every show. 

“We like playing together,” said Doughty. “We actually concentrate on being very precise, and there’s almost mind-reading going on onstage.” 

Doughty said that as long as people still love their songs, REO Speedwagon will keep going out to play them. As REO is known for their non-stop touring and unrelenting drive, the band is right at home co-headlining the United We Rock tour with Styx, and joined by opening act Don Felder, former guitarist for The Eagles. The show is sure to rock the socks off Cedar Park on July 31, and while REO is still ‘rollin’ with the changes’, one of the thing that remains unchanged is their love—for music, for the fans, and for playing together. 

“We want to be there,” said Doughty. “And we’re still giving all our energy for every show.” 

Tickets for the United We Rock concert are available now at www.ticketmaster.com, the H-E-B Center box office or charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000.