The Sun-Gazette recently interviewed REO?Speedwagon's keyboard player and co-founding member, Neal Doughty, in advance of the group's upcoming show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
Since the group's debut release in 1971, it has played live to millions worldwide.
Throughout the interview, Doughty discusses REO Speedwagon's history, longevity and the recently released 30th anniversary edition of the group's penultimate album, "Hi Infidelity."
REO Speedwagon will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
DAVID WHITMAN: What year did REO Speedwagon form?
NEAL DOUGHTY: Although our first album came out in 1971, technically it all goes back to 1967 and the dorm room at the University of Illinois. Alan Gratzer, our original drummer. He and I were roommates and we formed the band.
DW: Did you ever expect that all these years later you'd still be playing rock 'n' roll in the same band?
ND: It is strange. Nobody really wanted to give up. I'm not sure how it worked out because the whole thing was an accident really. Alan and I were both engineering students who started the band for fun. Then, all of a sudden, we were the most popular band on campus. Soon we were making a living at it. Just about the time things were looking a little bleak after the first 10 years, we recorded "Hi Infidelity," our biggest record. There's always been something keeping us going.
DW: The music business has changed a lot over the years. What is one way it's improved? What is something that was better in the past?
ND: Well, what was better back then a musician could make a living in a band, they didn't need a day job. REO spent a decade mainly opening for the Eagles, Doobie Brothers and groups like that - spreading the word one town at a time. I actually liked it that way. Today, someone has the advantage of making a song on Garage Band, putting it online where it can go viral. They can become famous overnight. The drawback, however, is that newer bands don't get to experiment very long to find their identity. Overnight success can quickly become overnight obscurity.
DW: What was the atmosphere going into the recording sessions for "Hi Infidelity?" Did you feel going in that you had something special with the songs you were working on at the time?
ND: The "Hi Infidelity" recording sessions were the first time I thought that every song was good. But that's not always enough. It's such a highly competitive business. At the time we finished the record, our mindset was this might be the last "do or die" moment because our record sales had not been great. The label was kind of hinting around, "This next one better be pretty good." We were making it while touring. I found myself listening to those song demos all the time and there wasn't one I didn't like. Still, we didn't know until it hit the radio and all of a sudden somebody's knocking on our door saying, "Hey, your record just went to No. 1." It was a success. That's the only truth - the audience is the final judge. So you really don't know until it gets out there.
DW: What was it like to go from being a band on the verge of being dropped from your label to becoming mega-successful literally overnight?
ND: There's an old saying, "Success will change a person," but during that time, I felt more like success changed everyone around me - even friends who weren't so interested in me before suddenly were all over me. It was like the whole world wanted to see what it could get out of you. I found the situation to be a little dehumanizing. It made me feel something like a product. At the same time, I'm glad that it happened because "Hi Infidelity" 's success is why we're still performing. Everyone still likes doing it too - there is absolutely no talk of retiring.
DW: Are you playing the entire album live in celebration of its 30th anniversary?
ND: We're playing about four to five songs in the same order as they were on the record in addition to our other hits and fan favorites. There are just certain songs you have to do. We're there to do what the audience wants. That's who we work for and why we're still around.
DW: What keeps the band going? Is it the love of the road or that you just love to play?
ND: It's not the love of the road. The road itself is the hard part. But that's the part we get paid for - getting to the show. Once we get there, it's fun though because we get bigger crowds and younger crowds than we could ever believe.
They're all singing along with the whole set. You've got thousands of people out there cheering you on, treating you like a hero almost. That just doesn't get old.
DW: Anything else you'd like to say before we conclude the interview?
ND: I just want to add that Pennsylvania is really a special place to us. Back in the early '90s we were about to break up because it seemed the music of the '80s was truly over. We played an outdoor show somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania - I don't remember exactly where it was.
That's the kind of show where the crowd was so good and so many people showed up. The audience was telling us, "We want you to go on forever." We kind of sat in the dressing room after the show and decided to try and keep it going. REO owes Pennsylvania a little bit about us still being around, to tell you the truth.