Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

A Conversation with Chicago and REO Speedwagon – Part 2

Chicago & REO SpeedwagonI recently took part in an interview with Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon and Robert Lamm and Lee Loughnane of Chicago. Below is the second part of this 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 one here.

ON ADVICE FOR ASPIRING MUSICIANS:

Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • Practicing is definitely part of it. You’ve got to be able to play the instrument. If you expect people to come and spend their money to see you play, you’ve got to know what you’re doing to a certain degree.
  • I think that everybody wants to be a rock star, everybody wants to have that part of it, but I think it’s more about you having the need to express yourself. I know for myself that making music, writing songs, performing, it’s like breathing, it’s like water, I have to have it. There was never a plan for me, there was never another alternative for me.
  • I always tell young people that you’re going to have people who are going to tell you that you suck 100 times. Until the 101st, you to have to be willing to put up with a lack of discouragement, and have you have to believe in yourself so strongly that you can withstand it. 
  • I’ll tell just a quick anecdote: I was in Clive Davis’ office … Clive Davis was, still is, one of the biggest names in the music business. At this time he was new. I went in with my little  demo tape, and I sat in his office and played him the tape, and he turned it down. He said, “This just isn’t me, I don’t hear this.” That would have been enough to make a lot of people give up. I swear to god, I walked out of the meeting, and in my mind, there was something wrong with his tape machine.
  • It turns out that on that tape were two number one songs, two songs that became number one records: “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Time for Me to Fly.” You can’t give up, and you’ve just got to keep believing in yourself.

Lee Loughnane (Chicago): 

  • I think as far as being a musician, there’s a sensitivity that is, in a sense, in being a musician. Along with that sensitivity, once you get into a band, performing for people, you have to come to grips with making mistakes and failing. Being able to get back up and say, “You know what? I’m going to do it better this time.” Figure out that most people hadn’t heard that mistake. They hear the overall sound of the song and the intent, and the feeling that you’re putting out there. That’s what people connect with.
  • You have to get by the personal, “Oh my god, that wasn’t good enough” stuff, and just keep going.

Robert Lamm (Chicago): 

  • I agree with everything that I’ve heard so far. A couple of thoughts came to mind for me. I think a lot of young musicians get into it for what they perceive the result will be, whether monetary, or fame or glory. All of which are fine if they happen, but that’s really not the reason most musicians really spend their lives learning their instrument and listening and exploring music. Music has got sort of an infinite end line. The more you do it, the more you realize you don’t know, which leads to my second point.
  • A really important component to being a musician is to be able to listen – be able to listen to the other players in your band, be able to listen to music in general. There’s music now that we have access to on the web from every corner of the world, every culture in the world. It’s really important that we remember that music is a communication. Listening to music and being willing to use music on a personal basis for communicating with other people is really what we’re doing.

CHALLENGES YOUNG MUSICIANS FACE WHEN IT COMES TO TECHNOLOGY: 

Robert (Chicago): 

  • You certainly can sit in a room in Muscle Shoals, or any place else, and just run the tape recorder, if that’s what you’re doing. But by the same token, you could do the same thing, do the same piece of music in the same room in Muscle Shoals but just record it on a hard drive. You’re still capturing the ambiance, and you’re documenting, or you’re creating the song, or documenting the performance. It’s just that the media has changed, that’s where they all assume it’s different.

Lee (Chicago):

  • Also, a lot of the hardware that is used to create the sounds in Muscles Shoals, and in LA and Paris, wherever the studio might be, and Abbey Road, all of those hardware items are now called plugins: they’re digital plugins. The companies that made those hardware pieces have signed off on the plugins. When you start using them, you can create sounds … you can have the API board, the API mic, and create that sound anywhere that you want in the world, in your hotel room.
  • All of this stuff is available and out there ready for purchase and use. Every musician is on the same playing field now.

Robert (Chicago): 

  • I don’t think you lose anything in terms of the emotional content, it’s just a matter of how you capture it.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • I agree with that. At the same, I’m friends with some young band, a young guitar player/singer named Tyler Bryant from Texas, lives in Nashville now. He’s got a band called The Shakedown. We’ve known this young kid since he was about 17. He’s just an amazing player. Picked this great band, and they’re traveling around in a station wagon the way we used to in the early ’70s.
  • They’re at a different place in their career. For them, they’ve never experienced going into a studio like Muscle Shoals, or going into a studio like The Record Plant in LA, like we all have. For them, to walk in and feel the vibe in that room and get inspired by it, that can be a really important part of the growth of a band, to bring them together and to feel those vibes.
  • There’s a place for that in the world. I think those studios are really important, and I hope that they stay in business and continue to prosper.
  • But at the same time, we’ve been there, we’ve experienced those things. They were all great experiences that got us where we are. Nowadays, our band … Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, they all live in the same house. With us, and I’m sure with Chicago, we’ve got band members living all over the country.
  • The new technology allows us to … For example, for our last record, Bruce’s dad plays the clarinet. Bruce was able to take his dad into a studio in Florida, and we’ve sent the files for the song that we wanted him to play on over the internet somehow. Bruce went in, his dad, who was in failing health, played this clarinet part, sent the file back, we put it into the song and it was beautiful. His dad passed away about two weeks later. 
  • This was an amazing thing for Bruce and for his family to have his father play this wonderful clarinet solo on this one song of ours. It could never have happened any other way except with this new technology.
  • I agree with Lee and Robert, it’s a matter of how you use the technology, and you capture the vibe. The vibe is there, it’s just a matter of how you capture it, and I don’t think it matters.

Lee (Chicago):

  • When we started playing, we lived in the same house in 1968 when we came out to California, the whole band. Then when a couple of guys were married, they moved out to apartments that were only about a half block away. About a year, a year and half, maybe two years, we lived together and rehearsed every day. We really honed the craft. Besides playing in the clubs, just rehearsing every day and working on stuff was extremely rewarding for us.

ON SEEING THEIR FAN BASE GROW & EVOLVE:

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • I would say that our fan base, it’s kind of a multi-tiered type of thing. I imagine that Robert and Lee could concur, that you look out in the crowd and you see that people that have seen the band and been there from the very beginning, and are just longtime fans that just come and see it over and over again, they can’t get enough of it; and then I see high school and college kids out there, and they know all the words, they’re all singing along. It’s a wide range of age groups out there. It’s really great.
  • There’s nothing better than seeing people that have been there since the beginning, and then there’s nothing better than seeing young people who are turned onto the music. It’s pretty cool.

Robert (Chicago): 

  • What I’m noticing … partly because Chicago is touring more and more abroad, more than we ever were … I think that people via the internet have accessed Chicago’s early music, as well as its more recent music. Now that we are actually bringing the music to every hemisphere, we are actually seeing some of our fans for the first time, and they are certainly seeing Chicago for the first time.
  • Sometimes it’s an age thing, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s just people who would hear music when they’re ready to hear music.
  • I agree, I sense that there is … I’ll call them new millennials … who are attending rock concerts for the first time, they’ve heard Chicago on the internet or on the radio and now they’re hearing it live perhaps for the first time. I do think that the appeal is, in the case of both REO and Chicago, these are both bands that do it live, do it for real every single night. That’s become a rarity nowadays for touring artists, touring bands, to be able to replicate what they record in a live context. I think that is a big accomplishment, and I think that is a big attraction.

Lee (Chicago):

  • When we first started, our initial fans were college-age people. AM radio at the time would not play our first album because we didn’t have a hit yet, so we were in catch 22 territory. We played every college that we could find – high schools, colleges, all over the country. That’s how we built our core audience.
  • From there, we just kept making records and staying on the road. The people who initially listened to us grew up, had kids, got married, had kids, they brought those kids to shows. For whatever reason, the same music resonated with those kids as well. For a few generations now, a few decades now, that has been proliferating itself over and over again. It’s just amazing that we’re still able to do it.
  • Like Robert said, the most important thing is that we still love playing live for people, and sounding as good or better than we did on the records.

Kevin (REO Speedwagon): 

  • One of the things that I think is really exciting, at least for me personally, is that there is … REO’s music and Chicago’s music, we come from our own unique spots. The thing that unites us is a certain time period, obviously, and songs that people know: those hit songs, those songs that everybody can sing along to.
  • One of the most exciting things is I think there’s going to be a lot of people who come to see REO Speedwagon who are maybe seeing Chicago for the first time, and so Chicago is going to play for a lot of people that are basically REO fans. The same thing, there’s a lot of people there that are going to come to see Chicago regardless of who they’re playing. Now they’re going to get to see REO Speedwagon for the first time. A lot of people are going get turned on to music. To me, I love that.
  • I love the idea that both bands are going to be turning people on to each other’s music through this partnership that we’re putting together this year. That’s really exciting, and I think the fans are the ultimate winners.
  • When you get two bands who play live, and who love to play live, like REO and Chicago, what ends up happening is the bands motivate each other. We know that Chicago’s going to come out and bring it every night. You kind of raise the bar, and you get this thing where both bands are just wanting to strive to play the best show they’ve ever played every night because you know that the other guys are going to do that. At the end, we all get together for the encore celebration.
  • I think it’s going to be a really exciting tour. I would encourage any REO Speedwagon’s fans, if you haven’t seen the band in a while, or if you’ve seen us last year, this is going to be a tour that you don’t want to miss. It’s going to be something special. I know our whole band is excited about it.

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