Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

A Conversation with Chicago and REO Speedwagon – Part 1

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I recently took part in an interview with Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon and Robert Lamm and Lee Loughnane of Chicago. Below is the first part of the interview. It features their thoughts on a variety of topics, including their summer tour together, which is one you don’t want to miss. You can read part two here.

ON TOURING AND PERFORMING TOGETHER:

Lee Loughnane (Chicago): 

  • It’s pretty much inexplicable why we haven’t done this before, but I’m very happy and excited that we are doing it now. Also, yes, we will be playing an encore together on stage.

Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon):

  • It doesn’t make any sense that we haven’t played together, considering both bands come out of Chicago. But it’s kind of cool that we’ve never played together, because it makes this tour that much more special for fans of both bands.
  • As far as us playing together on stage, I think that is probably, for me, the most exciting part of it is that we’re going to be able cross pollinate for a while at the end there. I’m just very excited to have the great musicians in Chicago playing along on some of our songs. To hear the Chicago horns section on “Roll With the Changes” is something that I’m really looking forward to doing. It should be a very exciting tour.

ON MUSICAL INFLUENCES: 

Lee (Chicago): 

  • I’m not sure what their influences were, but I know that our influences were classical composers as well as rock ‘n’ roll and The Beatles, Frank Zappa. Many, many different artists were our influences as we came up.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • Lee just kind of nailed it. The Beatles are a common denominator for many bands that followed them. I’m guessing that both of you guys were probably sitting in front of the television set when the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show. 
  • I know for me, I’d been taking guitar lessons for a couple of years, and I didn’t really know why I was playing the guitar, I was just playing “On Top of Old Smoky” and “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” Then all of a sudden The Beatles came on, man, and at the opening chords of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I was sitting there, it just blew me out of my chair. It changed my life so dramatically that day. 
  • I went from the week before I would be walking to my guitar lesson and getting my ass kicked by guys who were just looking for someone to beat up, “Oh there’s a guy with a guitar, let’s psych him out.” The next week, after The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, those same guys wanted to be in a band with me. The Beatles were it for me.

Robert Lamm (Chicago): 

  • My thought was that I think that for me it was jazz, it was definitely The Beatles. I think The Beatles are probably the reason everybody who’s in the music business today is there, because they heard The Beatles and they said, “I would love to do that.”
  • For me it was jazz, it was Brazilian music, definitely The Beatles, definitely Motown, as far as I’m concerned. All those things tended to really influence my song writing. It kind really skewed me towards a certain direction musically. Then I found these knuckleheads, that I’ve been playing with for 40-some years, who had similar tastes, and that was great.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • Yeah, the great thing about The Beatles … and it’s kind of why REO Speedwagon and Chicago makes sense, kind of what Lee was talking about … The Beatles really showed the world that rock ‘n’ roll music could be such a wide variety, musically. The Beatles had horns on some of their songs, The Beatles had … some of their songs were like folk songs, little acoustic guitar songs.
  • The Beatles encompassed all these different … The Beatles had jazz, The Beatles had Motown, The Beatles were rock, The Beatles were folk. They were just so open to all the different influences of music. They soaked it all up and then put it out from their perspective. They really showed that rock music could encompass all different kind of styles.
  • That’s what we’re talking about. The Beatles are what make this combination of REO and Chicago make sense. Like I say, I can’t wait to hear what happens when we all get on stage at the same time and start playing. It’ll be fun for us as well as for the fans.

ChicagoON THE SETLISTS: 

Lee (Chicago): 

  • Even when we play shows on our own, we play a two hour show and can’t get all of the songs that have become hits into the show. We’ve had to pare it down to, I think, to an hour set. Each band is going to play an hour set.
  • Picking the songs is difficult, but we will weather the storm and figure it out, and pick out three songs for each band to play in conjunction with each other in the encore. We’re excited about it.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • We have a core of songs that if we don’t play them, there’ll be an angry mob waiting for us outside right around the tour bus. There are those songs that people buy tickets to come and hear.
  • I’ve always adhered to the theory that people are spending their hard earned money to come and see us play, so we’re going to give them the songs that they want. To me, there’s nothing worse than going to a concert to see a band and they leave out some of their bigger songs for some reason. I’ve never understood why people do that. It makes me mad when I go to a show and that happens.
  • I feel like Lee and Robert are saying the same thing, there’s certain songs that … If Chicago doesn’t play “25 or 6 to 4,” it’s like of course they’re going to play that. If we don’t play “Ridin’ the Storm Out” it would be silly. We’re going to give the people what they came for, and then some. The encore, it’s going to be songs on steroids. I think everybody’s going to hear the songs that they want to hear.

ON PERFORMING SONGS TOGETHER DURING THE ENCORE: 

Kevin (REO Speedwagon):

  • To me, as a songwriter, there’s nothing better than when you take a song and just take it outside the comfort zone, turn it inside out. The thought of having these … Chicago, these guys are like real musicians; we’re just a bunch of knuckleheads with guitars. To have the Chicago horn section, and have the … Robert and I were communicating over the past few months, and I was thinking about Robert singing a verse on “Keep On Loving You.”
  • The more you think about it, the more you come up with ideas. There’s so many possibilities because of the fact that the bands are so different. It really gives us both a chance to get outside of our comfort zone.
  • Like I said, having the Chicago horn section on “Roll With the Changes,” that just sounds like a ton of fun to me.

Lee (Chicago): 

  • I just wanted to add that once we get together and actually start performing, we will rehearse for a couple of days before we start the tour. Once we hit the stage and play the songs, we’ll start seeing which things work and which things don’t. When we perform in front of a live audience, if something doesn’t work, we’ll change it up a little bit as we go. This thing is malleable, and we will keep going until it becomes a real great event.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon):

  • Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I was thinking that it’s probably, as all these things do, they start in place at the beginning of the tour, and over the period of shows involved, because like Lee said, there’s nothing like walking in front of a live audience. You know things that you thought might work in rehearsal, sometimes they do, and sometimes  they don’t. To me, that’s going to be the fun of this tour. It’s going to be a real living organism, that every night things are going to change, it’s going to evolve, it’s just going to get better and better as the tour goes round.

REO SpeedwagonON USING MOBILE APPS FOR RECORDING MUSIC:

Lee (Chicago): 

  • We’re using Pro Tools for our recordings on the road. In fact we have a whole rig, and we have recorded our entire album this last year using it. We’ve recorded in hotel rooms, conference rooms, ballrooms, the bus, on stage, anywhere you can record, we have. We’ve put together the album, and it’s coming out the first week of July: Now: Chicago XXXVI.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • I found a really cool app, it’s called Songwriter Pad, and it really helps when you’re writing songs, especially on the road. Sometimes you get an idea, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with some melody, or some lyric idea, and I’ve just got my cell phone next to the bed. You sing into this thing to remember an idea, and it’s also got a thing where when you’re writing lyrics, you can move verses and bridges around and stuff like that. It’s just kind of a cool little song writing tool.
  • There’s so many apps that have come out that really help you, if you choose to use them, in songwriting and in recording. It’s pretty amazing.
  • I’m still a little bit old school. I still use a pen and a legal pad from time to time as well, but it’s nice to have the app when you’re … because now hotel rooms no longer have pens and pads of paper any more, which is really kind of annoying.

ON THE NEW CHICAGO ALBUM, NOW: CHICAGO XXVI:

Robert (Chicago): 

  • I can tell you quickly that my favorite version of Chicago is the original version that recorded Chicago Transit Authority through Chicago XI. Certainly, we’ve had success with ballads and things like that.
  • When we actually finished this album and let our manager hear the final mixes, he said, “Hey, these songs are pretty long, what’s going on here?” I said, “This is a true Chicago album. This is not necessarily the outwardly radio friendly attempt of albums from the ’80s and ’90s.”
  • I think that that’s a side of Chicago that has been missing, that many people, both young and old, prefer. Chicago really was a progressive rock band when we started. There’s a whole slew of young people who appreciate that genre of music.
  • These sort of songs that I contributed, that’s what I think we were going for.

Lee (Chicago):

  • In my mind, I disagree with Robert a little bit in the fact that as we have recorded throughout our entire career, every one of our albums has been … Yes, we have gone towards trying to come up with something that would be radio playable, especially as the years went on, however, the type of music, and the strength of the music, and the integrity of the music has never changed. We’ve also never tried to do one specific style. Every one of our albums has many, many different styles, and that has never changed.
  • When we started looking to record, and we began building the web platform four years ago, the initial idea was to have a platform that we could record and release original music from. That’s why I put the recording equipment together, so that we could actually do that while we were out traveling around the country or the world.
  • We approached it as just writing music. It had no specific idea as to what was going to be the final outcome, or how the songs would fit together. We were just writing, and that’s what we plan on continuing to do from here on in.

ON VOCALLY PREPARING FOR A CONCERT: 

Robert (Chicago): 

  • On a off day I don’t talk, and I’m not a really talkative guy anyway, so I guess I have a leg up on actual concert days. Definitely warming up. Over the years I have developed a routine.
  • Once in a while, a very great once in a while, is a rehearsal or something before the show. I find that if I sing at the rehearsal, I’m already warmed up by the time the show hits. Warming up is the key.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • Yeah, and I agree with Robert. It really is about disciplining yourself. If the drummer has a cold, the concert goes on. If the singer has a cold, it’s a little bit of a different situation. Robert and I walk around with our instrument 24 hours a day. When you think about it, there’s these two little hunks of meat in our throats, basically the whole organization rests upon it.
  • It’s definitely a little bit of a pressure to be a lead singer, and so you’ve got to respect that, and you’ve got to try to get a good night’s sleep. I’m the same as Robert, I talk as little as possible on show days, and even on days off. It’s a little more difficult for me, I am kind of a chatty guy. Really, I almost have to hide out, because if there’s anybody around I’ll end up talking to them.
  • You do it, and the payoff is that when you walk out on stage, there’s nothing better than when you walk out and you sing the first song, and you feel like you’re in a really good voice. I can tell right away if it’s going to be one of those special nights or not. The work and the discipline pays off when you walk out there and give it your all.

ON WHETHER OR NOT A NEW REO SPEEDWAGON ALBUM IS IN THE WORKS: 

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • It’s tough. I’ve got three teenage children at home, and a wife that actually kind of likes me these days.
  • It’s kind of tough, because we tour about half the year, and the commitment to go in the studio and make a record, it’s a huge commitment, especially because I’m kind of in charge of writing and co-producing the records. It takes a lot of energy to make a record. 
  • I want to spend as much time with my wife and my kids as I possibly can now, because they’re all in high school, and I see the writing on the wall: Pretty soon they’re going to be going out on their own, and I’m going to miss them horribly.
  • But what we can do, and what this new … what we’re calling the Wild, Wild West of the music business allows, is that we don’t necessarily have to record 20 songs. There’s all kinds of different ways to do it these days. Kind of what you were saying, I think for us, it looks like it’s probably going to be record one or two at a time.
  • I don’t know what we’re going to do. Maybe we’ll put them out on the website, maybe we’ll put them on iTunes. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but I think that as musicians and as artists, it’s not really our job to worry about how we’re going to do it.
  • It’s our job to write the songs and come up with songs that have meaning, and lyrics that can touch people’s souls, and melodies that can get into people’s heads, and grooves that can make people want to move.
  • If we can do that, if we can write songs and record songs that just get to people, then people will find them. I feel like I’m less concerned with how we’re going to get them out there than just … That was kind of getting in the way, because it got a little frustrating, because our last record didn’t go on the radio. It’s like, well geez, if are record’s not going to get on the radio … it can be deflating,
  • Recently, I’ve just been inspired. It’s just about writing and playing and having fun.

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