Sadly, REO Speedwagon guitarist and songwriter, Gary Richrath, died this past Sunday, September 13, 2015 at the age of 65. The cause of death has not been given yet.
Robert has written a great tribute to this guitar legend.
My First Guitar Hero Has Passed
I was personally taken aback Monday night when I read about the death of Gary Richrath, REO Speedwagon’s original guitarist. A few months ago I wrote about Hi Infidelity, the first album I ever bought with my own money. That album and Richrath’s guitar work mark the beginning of my passionate love affair with ‘80s rock. Since those days I have never been without some form of music with me – records, cassettes, CDs, MP3s, – whatever, no matter, I need it. I owe this love of the guitar and rock ‘n roll to the amazing guitar work of Gary Richrath. It is with a heavy heart that I am listening to his guitar with REO Speedwagon as I write this.
Richrath was a founding member of the band from Champaign, Illinois. He remained the band’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter with lead vocalist Kevin Cronin (actually the REO’s second vocalist) until 1987 and the release of Life As We Know It, REO’s thirteenth studio album (not counting compilations). Richrath’s distinct, driving guitar work shines on songs like “Roll With the Changes”, REO’s first top 40 hit in 1978.
Roll With the Changes
With Richrath, REO Speedwagon produced quality rock music for nearly two decades. Songs like “Time for Me to Fly”, “Back on the Road Again”, and “157 Riverside Avenue” were mainstays in the REO live performances which became their mantra. In 1981, with the release of Hi Infidelity, REO hit the big time. After years of touring and producing moderately successful rock albums, this one soared to the top of the album charts and was declared the top selling album of the year. Richrath’s precise solo could be heard on the massive hit “Keep On Loving You”, REO’s first #1 single that helped launch the power ballad genre. That same album contains Richrath’s most famous song “Take It on the Run.” In an interview, Richrath said this about his classic song, “When I wrote that, I woke up one night, half asleep, and sat down in front of the TV. There was a soap opera on it. I was just sitting there, strumming a guitar, thinking, ‘God, these guys’ relationships are worse than mine.’ I just sat there and sang vocals about the effects of gossip and relationships breaking up, which was what was on the tube and all that was similar to what was going on in my life.” This song quickly became a second huge hit from Hi Infidelity reaching #5. As great as all of Richrath’s guitar work is, give this one another listen – the length, the tempo, and emotions of this solo makes it nothing short of a masterpiece.
Take It on the Run
On the REO Speedwagon official website, lead singer Kevin Cronin wrote, “I feel so sad. Gary was both a unique guitarist and songwriter, and the embodiment of the tough guy with a heart of gold. I learned most of what I know about being in a rock band from Gary Richrath. The entire REO family mourns his death and shares in the grief of his family, friends, and fans. These words do not come close to expressing the depth of emotions I am feeling at this time.” Cronin reflects the true relationships that emerge in long lasting bands. Despite leaving REO in 1987 and being replaced by Dave Amato, the connection with the rest of the band is clear.
The follow up to Hi Infidelity, 1982’s Good Trouble, did not reach the same heights, but 1984’s Wheels are Turnin’ marked REO’s return to the top of the charts. Once again, Richrath’s guitar was as the center of more classic REO songs. “I Do’ Wanna Know”, “I Can’t Fight This Feeling”, and “Thru the Window” all featured excellent guitar work. Richrath’s last album with REO was 1987’s Life as We Know It. Predictably, Richrath’s guitar shines once again, giving each song a distinct rock edge with plenty of solid solo work.
Keep the Fire Burning
I Do’ Wanna Know
That Ain’t Love
As great as all of the recorded albums were, Richrath truly shined onstage. His work during REO’s live shows was nothing short of amazing. His tireless rhythm guitar and soaring solos always took center stage at an REO show. My very first concert was an REO show in Offenbach, Germany in 1985. This show was in support of the Wheels are Turnin’ album – and I was completely blown away. Maybe it was because it was my first concert, but I had never heard anyone play a guitar like that! I was riveted from the opening notes of “Don’t Let Him Go” to the last warbles of “Riding the Storm Out.” Richrath’s last appearance with REO Speedwagon was in 2013 in his home state of Illinois where he joined his former bandmates in a concert to benefit victims of a recent tornado.
157 Riverside Avenue (Live)
Richrath did release one solo album, 1992’s Only the Strong Survive. I purchased it right away, but quickly realized that is was not quite the same as having the entire lineup together. It was good, but something was missing. REO has carried on and continued to be a very successful touring band. I had the pleasure of seeing them in concert in May and it was excellent – they sounded great – but deep inside I missed Gary’s guitar. As excellent as Amato played, it was not the same as it was in 1985.
The rock world has lost a fantastic, and for some reason, underrated guitarist. Gary Richrath’s songs with REO Speedwagon will never fade from my memory and I will never stop playing them and telling my children how great he was. Gary, I will truly miss your music. I will always remember to keep on riding the storm out and, “If you want to go, let me go along / I’d never walk that road alone / I heard it was hard, I heard it was long / But we’ll come back alive because only the strong survive.”
Riding the Storm Out
Only the Strong Survive
Rest in peace, Gary. I will miss you.