REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin on Louisville, power ballads and if my wife's a slut

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REO Speedwagon's lead singer, Kevin Cronin, had a toothache. And while his dentist appointment delayed our interview for an hour, it won't have any impact on his Louisville performance this Friday--although it might have affected the content of our discussion, which ranged from learning about the rock n' roll lifestyle as a youngen in Louisville to how hot the 58-year-old Cronin's avatar looks in REO Speedwagon's new video game. REO Speedwagon and Styx, with special guest .38 Special, play the Kentucky Exposition Center's Freedom Hall (937 Phillips Lane) at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26. Tickets are on sale at Ticketmaster.com, by calling Ticketmaster Charge by Phone at 800-745-3000 or at the Kentucky Exposition Ticket Office and all Ticketmaster outlets. Reserved tickets are $35, $49.50 and $60. How are you? When someone’s delayed at the dentist, it’s usually not for a good reason. Oh man, I know. But luckily I think I’m starting to feel the pain medication kick in, so this should be an interesting interview. Will you be ok for the concert? I’ll be fine. As a matter of fact, that’s why I got this taken care of today, because we play four shows in the Midwest and [then] Styx and us are going down to play in Mexico. And I was just thinking, I’ve got to get this taken care of because I don’t want to wake up one morning in Mexico with a toothache. You guys are from not too far away from Louisville [Champaign, Ill.]. Do you have any memories from having come down to Louisville in the past at all? The first memory I have of Louisville is my dad used to work for a newspaper representative company and the first time I ever went on a business trip with him was to Louisville. We stayed in a little motel at the airport and I remember we went on – I guess he would be having meetings and stuff. I was probably – oh, God, I must’ve been eight or something; really young. And I remember taking a tour of a cigarette company and a tour of a whiskey company. So, I got the whole rock n' roll vibe of cigarettes and whiskey at a very young age. I owe it all to Louisville. My wife is a huge fan of REO Speedwagon and when I told her I was interviewing you, I asked if she had any suggestions for questions. She said, “Yes, ask him how many times he thinks I’ve made out to his music.” [Laughs] Well, okay, first tell me how old she is. 35 35? Oh, well in that case… But I think the most recent CD she has is from about ’87. I see. How big of a slut is she? I mean, she’s your wife. It’s kind of hard for me – you know what I mean? Well, we did meet at a bar. But, beyond that...what is it with the power ballad? They have this amazng staying power. You’re doing the infomercials for TimeLife's Ultimate Rock Ballads, which I have to confess is one of the few infomercials I’ve sat all the way through and watched multiple times. My manager promised me no one would see that infomercial. For us, and this is the honest to God’s truth, it happened totally by accident. I walked into rehearsal and sat down at the piano, which I rarely do because I’m a guitar player, and started playing "Keep on Loving You." This was 30 years ago now as a matter of fact. And the guys in the band looked at me like I was from another planet. They were like, “What are you…?” because we were all bringing in songs for this record we were going to make and they looked at me like I was crazy. And I’m like, “Dude, this song really means a lot to me.” [And they said] " So, dude, that’s not an REO Speedwagon song.” And I kind of was like, “You know what? I’m the main songwriter for REO Speedwagon, so if I write a song, it’s an REO Speedwagon song. It’s the band's job to turn it into an REO Speedwagon song.” I was so passionate about this song. Everyone kind of got it and sure enough, Gary [Richrath], our guitar player went over, plugged in his guitar and started playing power chords to this little love song I wrote. The next thing we knew, it was a number one record and everyone was calling it a power ballad and acted like we had this strategy for success that made this song happen when really it was just an accident. Just those guys didn’t want to play a soft song and so they took my love song and amped it up a little bit. Is anyone putting out good power ballads these days? My daughter picked a record by this kid named Justin Bieber. He’s got a song on his record called, I think it’s called "Down to Earth." It could’ve been an REO Speedwagon song from 1982. It’s great! He puts his own little youthful pop thing on it, but it’s a power ballad through and through. Keith Urban and Brad Paisley – all those great country artists are doing power ballads. It’s everywhere, man. There’s nothing wrong with a power ballad. Girls like it and when girls like something, that’s a good thing. But, it’s always got the power behind it that brings the guys along too, so it’s all good. What should fans expect when they see you and Styx in Louisville this Friday? We’ve got a core of like eight or ten songs that we’d better play or there’s going to be an angry mob waiting for us outside the tour bus after the show. So, we’ll play all those. We’re getting ready to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Hi Infidelity record, so we’re kind of concentrating heavily on Hi Infidelity material right now. But, we also throw in a couple of chestnuts. I think we’ve got "Golden Country" on the set list which is for the old-time fans. What else are we doing? "Son of a Poor Man" from the early 70s. We like to try to play music that’s spans our career and gives people a taste of the hits, but also a couple of little chestnuts for the people that are the true REO fans. How did you guys end up doing this tour with Styx? They’re our buddies. We did a tour with them in 2000, and it was the first time REO and Styx had ever played together. We hit it off so well, we ended up putting on a double live CD together [Arch Allies: Life at Riverport]. It’s just been a tremendous synergy between the bands on a personal level and on a musical level as well. Tommy Shaw [Styx's frontman] and I have become really good friends. We both have the same kind of feeling that our best years are now and what’s coming ahead. And we’ve had a lot of great years in the past. We’re always trying to grow and become better and stronger. When REO and Styx play on the same bill, one of us has to follow the other one and we take turns closing the shows. Both bands are pretty tough acts to follow, so we really do bring the best out of one another. So anyone who’s a fan of either band, this is probably a really good time to see us because we’re going to be leaving it all on stage big time because of that camaraderie and that kind of friendly competition – both bands want to be the band that people walk out the door talking about. For the encore, everybody from both bands comes out together and we play a song that Tommy Shaw and I wrote last year. 38 Special usually comes out and jams with us too. So, it’s a party, man. The video game REO Speedwagon: Find Your Own Way Home, aimed at casual gamers, was released last December. Is Styx jealous of it? You know, I haven’t seen those guys since it came out, but I’m sure they are. And there’s plenty to be jealous about too. I don’t know if you’ve seen the game, but our avatars are quite handsome and dashing if I may say so myself. It’s a bit silly, but it’s fun. NPR did a piece on it, The New York Times wrote about it. Your band is celebrating a 30th anniversary and is still being celebrated for innovation. Hey, that’s what it’s about. The minute you start sitting back and just playing the old hits and going through the motions – that’s what you get. I just finished a new song. We rehearsed last week. We worked up this brand new song and it’s going to be part of the Hi Infidelity boxed set. I look at myself. I know I’ve been around a long time, but I look at myself as a late bloomer and I feel like I’m just coming into my own as a singer. I’m just proud of what I’m writing still. I feel very, very fortunate; extremely fortunate. Everyone in the band is so appreciative of the fact that here we are, 30 years since Hi Infidelity, 45 years since the band started and we still got people who are willing to dig into their wallets and buy some tickets to come out and see us play our music and allow us to keep doing what we love to do. And I don’t take that lightly. I really appreciate that more now than I did back in the day. When I walk out on stage, I look out there at the crowd and I feel just such a sense of joy and that I want to spread that joy around for four hours on a Friday night. Let the people of Louisville forget their troubles, and revisit their youth, and get out there and have a party, and have a good time and we’ll provide the entertainment. Well, thank you very much for your time. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys on Friday. Hey, listen. Talk to Marie [his PR person]. Make sure she gets your name on the guest list. You can bring your wife back. I’m sure there’s a couple of guys on the road crew who would be happy to make out with her. That should be no problem. You also might enjoy:TARC debuts 'Way I Roll' video Photo: Courtesy Alessandro Solca
About Zach Everson
Travel news/travel buzz editor at MapQuest. Previously, I was a freelance writer, contributing to The Wall Street Journal, Air Canada's enRoute, Eater, USA Today, Condé Nast Traveller, BlackBook, Curbed, Gridskipper, Deadspin, and Fox News. I also was the founding editor of Eater Louisville and the director of content and editorial strategy for Louisville.com.
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