Label Exec Reflects on Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon

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Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon

Time has passed since REO Speedwagon‘s 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.” Richrath was born October 18, 1949.

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. He has a book about his days as a producer for some of the biggest recording artists of the ’70s and ’80s. Turn It Up!: My Time Making Hit Records In The Glory Days Of Rock Music (Featuring Mötley Crüe, Poison, Twisted Sister, Jeff Beck, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, And More) arrives November 21, 2023, via Jawbone Press.

“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 executive 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.”

Watch REO perform “157 Riverside Avenue” in 1971

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

Watch REO Speedwagon perform a song co-written by Richrath and Kevin Cronin on The Midnight Special in 1978

Related: Listings for 100s of current classic rock tours

After REO’s Cronin had a few days to reflect on Richrath’s passing in 2015, 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.”

Related: REO Speedwagon’s breakthrough

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

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When REO Speedwagon tours, tickets are available here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

11 Comments so far

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  1. BK
    #1 BK 18 October, 2019, 11:33

    Grew up with rock music. Have seen hundreds of bands. But he is still the best guitarist I ever saw, which was about a dozen times. Rest in peace Gary!

    Reply this comment
  2. Cal Vid
    #2 Cal Vid 19 October, 2020, 11:50

    Check out this iconic, rare REO 1976 performance with Gary

    Reply this comment
  3. James R. Poissant
    #3 James R. Poissant 19 October, 2020, 13:32

    This was a shock to me when Gary passed. Those early days of REO Speedwagon were awesome and they knew how to ROCK!! I went so far to dig up everything they did and shelled out some big bucks on Ebay because I had to have everything by that band. Gary really was one of the best!!

    Reply this comment
  4. Kfall
    #4 Kfall 19 October, 2020, 16:29

    Gary one awesome guitarist who is really missed

    Reply this comment
  5. Howie
    #5 Howie 19 October, 2020, 18:19

    Gary was terrific live …. 1972 at Milwaukee Club “Humping Hannah’s”… they tore it up and everyone knew they were destined for success. Loved the old REO Speedwagon actual fire truck they used for a prop at various shows! Cool stuff back then!

    Reply this comment
  6. BB-8
    #6 BB-8 19 October, 2020, 22:56

    RIP troubled soul. There’s no denying REO when they came on the scene. Saw them several times back in the day when times were simpler

    Reply this comment
  7. Jacques Auff
    #7 Jacques Auff 19 October, 2020, 23:40

    I saw REO open for a Kinks/Rory Gallagher show in 1973. They held their own against those two heavyweight bands. Gary was front and center, shredding tastefully thruout.

    Reply this comment
  8. Michelle
    #8 Michelle 20 October, 2020, 19:08

    Seen them many times when life wasn’t so fast paced. But the best time ever was when a friend of a friend got us back stage passes to meet the band. Gary was so kind. Such a beautiful soul. Very sad to lose such a talented down to earth person. Rest in peace Gary Dean Richrath

    Reply this comment
  9. CB170
    #9 CB170 21 October, 2020, 13:31

    What a ridiculous thing for Kevin Cronin to say. It wasn’t like Gary was back in the band. He had been gone and not acknowledged for a long time. The truth is that Gary was the band. He was the heart and soul of REO and when he was forced out, that band is not REO any longer. I saw REO sixteen times before Gary left and twice after. Nothing was the same after he was gone. He had more natural God given talent and ability than 99% of the lead guitarists in the world. He was underappreciated and never given the accolades he deserved thanks to Kevin Cronin and his “ballards”. If Kevin cared so much about Gary things wouldn’t have ended they way they did. Such a shame.

    Reply this comment
  10. bob holliday
    #10 bob holliday 23 October, 2020, 14:59

    Gary was the heart and soul of REO

    Reply this comment
  11. Bob
    #11 Bob 17 March, 2021, 09:07

    Love the album, You Can Tune. Piano, But You Cannot Tuna Fish”. Great song “Roll with the Changes.” With their 8 th album in 1978, everybody, including me, knew who the REO Speedwagen was.

    Reply this comment

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