Originally created 01/19/01

Singer now enjoys Speedwagon's trip



Anyone who went to a school dance or a roller skating rink or listened to rock radio in the early 1980s remembers R.E.O. Speedwagon.

Saturating the collective rock consciousness with straight-ahead rock and lush power ballads, R.E.O. Speedwagon personified the ideals of Midwest rock with albums like You Get What You Play For and Hi Infidelity.

But lead singer Kevin Cronin doesn't consider those the glory days. In a recent telephone interview he explained that the high he gets from performing and recording now is far greater than when the band found itself living the rock-star lifestyle.

"I appreciate it a lot more now," he said. "In the cockiness of my youth I thought that of course all of our records would be hits. We all just had that attitude. Now it's different. Now, when I look out at an audience and see them all singing along to our songs, I don't feel cocky at all. I feel honored and overwhelmed."

While many of R.E.O. Speedwagon's biggest hits were sentimental, guitar-driven power ballads such as Keep on Lovin' You and Can't Fight This Feeling, Mr. Cronin said that at its core, the Speedwagon, which performs Monday with Styx at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, has always prided itself on being a great rock band.

"The power ballads are a very small part of what we do every night, so if people expect that then they're going to be surprised," he said. "I mean, the truth is the slower ones were big hits for us, and if people learned about us from pop radio, then that is probably what will be their perception. Really, though, we are a rock band that happened to do the occasional ballad."

Although Mr. Cronin is proud of what R.E.O. Speedwagon has accomplished and enjoys playing with the band now as much as ever, he admitted that there was a time when he came close to shutting the book on the band.

"It was about 1993, and we were at a real low point, playing county fairs and that kind of thing," he said. "The future of R.E.O. looked tenuous, and I wasn't sure I could do this anymore. Our manager, who has been with me since 1972, said, `Fine, we'll sell the equipment and let go of the rehearsal space.'

"That's when it hit me. If I said OK, then that was it, the end of R.E.O. Speedwagon. That's when I decided the band was worth saving."

Mr. Cronin said he is grateful every day that he didn't turn his back on R.E.O. Speedwagon because it would have meant missing the current tour and playing with a band he says sounds better than ever.

"This has ended up being the most enjoyable tour I've ever done," he said. "It's funny because I think there is a misconception in this country that people reach their artistic peak in their late 20s. Well, maybe I'm a late bloomer, but I think I'm just getting there. I mean, I have three beautiful children at home, so there is no reason for me to be out on the road unless I'm doing something worthwhile. I think that's really what R.E.O. Speedwagon is about, playing great and proving them wrong."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.