One of the reasons Styx and REO Speedwagon continue to pair up every few years for a tour comes down to the fact that it’s just a good hang. As REO’s Kevin Cronin tells UCR, the two bands were once “rivals” but ultimately built a “long history” together, one that begins with their Midwest beginnings in Illinois.
They’ll add another chapter with their Live & UnZoomed tour, which hits the road next May. The tongue-in-cheek video released to help hype the trek, which also features Loverboy, suggests that the run is going to be a lot of fun.
We spoke with Cronin on the eve of the tour announcement to discuss what fans can look forward to in the new year.
When did you first meet the Styx guys?
I became aware of Styx before they were Styx. I’m from Chicago, and all of the original Styx guys are from Chicago. We have a long history that goes back to when I was in high school. We were kind of rivals on the south side of Chicago. They were a couple of years older than us, so they were a little bit better and their girlfriends were a little bit hotter. It’s a long and sordid tale, but it’s chronicled in my book, which hopefully will be out in time to be released with the tour.
How do you know the guys from Loverboy?
We’ve done shows with them over the years, many times. But it was in 2019 that I did a tour in Europe with Ian Gillan from Deep Purple, Mike Reno from Loverboy and Andy Scott from the Sweet. We took turns every night fronting a 50- or 60-piece symphony orchestra. They also had a [band featuring] double guitar, bass, drums and Hammond organ, piano [and a] 10-piece choir. It was one of the most amazing [experiences] in so many ways. To hear your music played by strings and horns was amazing. Reno and I got to know each other really well, because we were together for almost a month, pretty much every day. I remember one night we were somewhere in Germany, and our tour manager took Mike and his wife and Lisa and myself out to dinner. We were in this Italian restaurant. It was in a cellar. The tour manager, an Italian guy, bought this bottle of something. I don’t remember what it was called, but he started pouring after dinner and we just roared. I bumped into Reno in the hotel lobby the next day and, luckily, [we had a] day off, because there was no way we were getting onstage that night!
Reno’s great. I’ve known him forever, and he’s one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. And he’s got one of the greatest voices of rock ‘n’ roll. He walks out there, and he sings his ass off. It’s a beautiful thing. Loverboy is four out of the five guys that made all of the records. I was so happy when [we decided on Loverboy]. We were trying to figure out who [to put in that tour slot], because you need that third band on the show. I was like, “Man, it’s gotta be Loverboy.”
After the crazy year that was 2020, I know it means a lot for you to be getting back out on a proper tour.
It’s very special. I don’t take it for granted for one second. This year we’ve been trying to make up as many of the shows that were postponed because of COVID as we could. I think we pretty much covered everything, or at least we will have, by the end of December. We’ll pretty much lay low for the first half of next year. We’ll do a few shows, just because you have to, otherwise you get rusty. I’m really looking forward to this tour. On a personal level, REO and Styx, for the last 20 years, we’ve become this well-oiled machine. Everybody in the bands and crews know each other well. We get along great. Our musical approach is very different, but our peaks of popularity were in the same 10- to 12-year period. So the people that come to the shows, it’s really great. We’ve gotten into a good groove.
You’ve got to split up who is going to close the shows and who is going to go on in that middle slot every night. So we just worked that out. It’s never a problem with us. Both REO and Styx, one of the other things that we share is that we both like to put a lot of resources into the production of the shows and make sure that the sound and lights are awesome. I wish we could tour more with them, but there’s only so many times you can do it. It’s been about four years since we’ve done a proper tour with Styx, and I’m really looking forward to it. You throw Loverboy in, and that just brings it over the top.
What are you really happy to document in your upcoming book?
I tell the whole story from my first memory of life. My parents sat me on a piano bench in my grandmother’s house. She had a little baby grand. They took the picture, I was about two, and I was the first born kid in the family. I’d sit there just beating on the piano and making noise, and then I would stop. I’d look around, and I just remember all of my aunts and uncles smiling and clapping their hands. I didn’t know what I was doing. But talking to my parents later on, I think I’ve always kind of had a natural rhythmic sense. So I think I was pounding on the keys, and there must have been a little bit of a beat to it. It just kind of worked out from there.
The chapters about what happened when [guitarist] Gary [Richrath, who died in 2015] and I split and back in 1989, how the band carried forward – those were really tough chapters to write. Then there were other chapters that were joyful to write. You know, the chapter about writing the songs in 1980 and making those demos for Hi Infidelity, that was one of the most creatively fertile periods of my life. So, there’s all kinds of stuff.
You did those Camp Cronin videos on YouTube during the pandemic. How much did that kind of help to shake some stories loose for this book?
The Camp Cronin videos were being made as I was rewriting the book. I went through I don’t know how many rewrites. Every time I did a rewrite, more stories came into my mind, or as I read through I would dig deeper into some of the stories I told. Every time I peeled back the onion a little bit more. I just want this to be a true, honest, entertaining story. Who knows what it’s going to end up like. I talked to my friend Richard Marx, who just put out his book a few months back. You turn the book in [to the publisher], and then that’s just the beginning. I’m looking forward to going through the whole process. And also when you release a book, there’s no turning back. I was hanging out backstage with [Styx guitarist and singer James “JY” Young] not long ago, and he started talking about a book. I said, “Oh, JY, are you writing a book?” He’s like, “Hell, no! I don’t want to write a book!” He goes, “If anybody was going to write the story of Styx, it would be me, but man, you write a book, you are just going to piss people off, no matter what.” That’s probably true, you know? So we’ll see what happens.
Have you been writing songs at all? Is a new REO album possible?
Honestly, I’m kind of aching to get back to writing songs. This book has been all encompassing. Now that I’m putting the finishing touches on it, I hope I can remember how to write a song. It’s been a while. But I’m looking forward to just kind of dusting off that part of my creative muscle and seeing what happens. I need to be creative. If I’m not being creative, I’m just miserable. And I’m miserable even when I am being creative sometimes. But that self-expression is really important to me. So, I’m looking forward to writing some new songs. Going in the studio, it’s a major commitment. I would hate to think that we had already made the last REO Speedwagon album. I feel like we’ve still got a little more left in us. So hopefully I’ll be able to tap into that. We’ll see.
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