Whammy Bar: The REO Man with The Six String Plan Print
Monday, 02 July 2007 04:03
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So I'm wandering about in a post-lunch haze the other afternoon, basking in the glow of an 80-degree afternoon in New York. I have my iPod on, as per municipal mandate, and I'm feeling kinda swell. I reach the "R" artists in my alphabetical romp through the device and all of a sudden, it's 1982 again.

Guitars wail in my left ear. Guitars wail in my right. The drums thunder; the bass pounds. The singer warbles in the most melodically intense manner humanly possible about either arson or a rather persistent fireplace conflagration.

And then the realization hits me like a free-falling piano: my God, REO Speedwagon kinda rocks. No, they don't just rock, they RAWK! RAWK! RAWK RAWK RAWK!

After several songs, my iPod continues on its merry way through the Rs with a selection of three from the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. And me, I'm left with the sobering realization that not only does my taste in music suck, but also that I must atone for my cultural transgressions with a public confession. So here we are.

During my retreat from that REO-fueled musical fugue state, what struck me weren't the songs' easy melodies or the radio-simpatico production. Rather, it was the guitars. This represented something of a revelation to me, especially considering that I had little idea who was playing them.

I immediately ruled out lead singer/permed-coif devotee Kevin Cronin, about whom I remember little beyond his onstage predilections for spandex. After racking my brain for a bit (Keith Scott? No, he was the dude who played with Bryan Adams...whose music I also totally never liked, honest), I conceded defeat and broke out the ol' Wikipedia.

Gary2081onstage The REO man with the six-string plan? Gary Richrath. In addition to capturing the correct spelling of his last name, I learned that he got booted out of the band some time later for having one too many girlfriends, a sad turn of events documented in the song "One Too Many Girlfriends." Ooh, that'll show him!

(I just did a quick check, purely for editorial purposes, of the REO songs available for "borrowing" on one of the file-sharing sites. Among the tunes mistakenly attributed to the band: "We Built This City," "Dream Weaver" and "I Want to Know What Love Is." That explains a lot, no?)

His early-'80s offenses against hair, fabric and facial contortion notwithstanding, Richrath was quite the guitar virtuoso in his day. He pioneered the since-forgotten art of the pre-first-verse solo in "Roll With the Changes" and refined it further in "I Do' Wanna Know." He eased into "Don't Let Him Go" with a cloud of feedback and exploded out of it with a nasty, octave-skipping burst. He crafted a solo so memorable for "Keep On Loving You" that its second half remains permanently imprinted in my brain ("weeeeeeer, wah-nah-nah-nah weeeeeer wah-nah-nah-nah NAH NAH NAAAAHHH!").

At times, one must resort to hyperbole to encapsulate Richrath's awesometudinousness. "Ridin' theImag0000 Storm Out" serves up a veritable Great Wall of Guitars. "Like You Do" out-Mountains Leslie West. "Blazin' Your Own Trail Again" sounds like "Crimson and Clover" overrun by a tidal wave of squeals and pulls.

I stopped listening to REO Speedwagon the second I heard the nu-Manilow piano dewdrops that commence "Can't Fight This Feeling," so I don't have the slightest idea what I might have missed from their latter years (a.k.a. "the unemployed era"). But during their formative and supergroup phases, REO Speedwagon kicked quite a bit of tush and Gary Richrath was the predominant reason why.

That is all.