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REO Speedwagon’s history with Kansas City is deep and personal, Kevin Cronin says

REO Speedwagon
REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon has a long relationship with Kansas City, one that goes back to March 1973 and its first of many shows at Memorial Hall.

But one show stands out among the more than two dozen shows REO has played here, said lead signer Kevin Cronin. It was a Summer Jam in September 1979 at Royals Stadium.

“The weather was horrible all day long,” he said. “We got on and played one or two songs and the power went out in the stadium. An announcement came over the PA that a tornado had touched down about three miles from the stadium.”

But the band withstood the severe weather and stuck around.

“We were getting soaked, and the wind was howling,” Cronin said. “We were young and crazy. I walked onstage with a flashlight and held it over my head so the fans could see we were still there. We thought people would leave. There were about 35,000 people there and most of them stayed. Then the power came back on and we ended up playing.

“It was a moment where a city and a band really showed their love for one another. In the 45-year lore of REO, it’s a big deal to us. It really bonded us with Kansas City.”

That lore includes back-to-back shows at Memorial Hall in the fall of 1976 that became part of “Live: You Get What You Pay For,” which would become the band’s first platinum album.

Kansas City has become a favorite stop for REO. Thursday’s show at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland will be its eighth KC show in nine years. Cronin said the big, energetic local crowds inspire the band to keep up the enthusiasm.

“I was thinking this morning, there is really something wrong with me,” he said. “I’m 64 years old, but I don’t feel like it. I feel like I’m 24. I’m so used to this. I have the same energy and passion for the shows that I had at any time along the way. Every time I walk onstage, it kicks in.”

“All the songs we do are songs we wrote,” he said. “We aren’t playing songs we don’t like that became a hit, songs that a label forced us to record. I have friends who have songs in their set lists that are huge hits and they dread playing them because they never really liked them in the first place. That’s where we’re really fortunate. We play a whole show of songs that we wrote and we chose and we love.”

Many of those songs were written and co-written by Gary Richrath, REO’s lead guitarist for nearly 20 years. He left the band in 1989 somewhat acrimoniously over creative issues with Cronin. Richrath died in September.

“We spent 17 years together,” Cronin said. “He was my rock ’n’ roll big brother. I learned so much from him. I was the mouthpiece of the band; Gary did all his talking with the guitar.

“I’m so fortunate our paths crossed. He saw something in me that no one else had seen. He had faith in me when I was only 19 or 20. And we became like brothers. We fought like brothers. We loved like brothers.”

Richrath rejoined the band for one show in December 2013, a benefit for tornado victims in Bloomington, Ill., the band’s home state. Cronin said that show aroused hopes for a reunion tour.

“There was always a glimmer of hope in the back of my mind that we could get the old band together and maybe do a last-hurrah tour. And play Kansas City and St. Louis and the Midwest, where we got our start,” he said.

Instead, the band dedicates a part of each show to Richrath.

“He’s part of every song we play,” Cronin said. “We still feel him with us because he was there for everything. He lives on through our shows every night. He either wrote or co-wrote or produced or played guitar on everything. In Kansas City, he will be with us in spirit for sure.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Thursday

REO Speedwagon performs at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland. Tickets are $39.50 to $119.50. Go to axs.com.

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