REO Speedwagon’s A&R Exec Remembers Gary Richrath

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Gary Richrath, 1949 – 2015

Time has passed since REO Speedwagon co-founder Gary Richrath died at 65 on September 13, 2015. Richrath was lead guitarist for the classic rock band from 1970 to 1987 and wrote its 1981 hit single “Take it on the Run.”

Tom Werman, the Epic Records Artists and Repertoire executive who signed the band, told Best Classic Bands about what initially drew him to the band and his memories of Richrath. Besides REO, his signings for the label also include such top acts as Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet and Ted Nugent – all of whom he also produced – as well as Boston. His other high-profile production work includes Twisted Sister, Blue Öyster Cult, Mötley Crüe, Stryper, Kix and Poison.

“I knew Gary from the early days of REO when they were the first band I signed after joining Epic Records,” said Werman. “I flew out to Champaign, Illinois and was met by Irving (Azoff, the veteran artist manager and music industry execustive who managed the band early in his career), who took me to the Red Lion Inn that night, where the band blew the roof off. They rocked hard back then and used to do a wonderful version of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’.

“I heard the finished Paul Leka-produced album and was immediately drawn to ‘Sophisticated Lady’ and ‘157 Riverside Avenue.’ Since I never produced them, my exposure to the individual members was limited. Gary was a shredder in the early days, when he would play barefoot. He always smiled when he played. I wish I could have spent more time with the band, since they were funny and intelligent.

“As the years went by, the band drifted a little toward the middle-of-the-road, especially when Kevin (Cronin) became the chief songwriter,” Werman notes.

He summed up: “Forty-five years on the road isn’t too bad.”

Related: REO Speedwagon’s breakthrough

After Cronin had a few days to reflect on Richrath’s passing, he told Billboard: “Everybody feels like Gary is back in the band. It’s like he’s in our thoughts more now than he’s been for years. It’s ironic and it’s sad, but it’s also joyful. All the good memories of him and all the music… As much sadness as Gary’s death has brought, the energy in our concerts since his death has been on a different level, and his spirit and his energy has actually had an energizing effect on us. It lifts us up and it lets us pay tribute to him every night.”

Cronin said that the band “will be dedicating every show we do for the foreseeable future, probably forever, to Gary.”

REO Speedwagon have dates scheduled into 2018. Click here for tickets.

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