REO Speedwagon ‘Early Years’ Box Set Coming

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Although best known for their classic rock hits from the early 1980s (which included the #1 singles “Keep On Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling”), REO Speedwagon‘s long history goes way back to their formation in Champaign, Ill. in 1967. Initially a covers band playing bars and frat houses, the initial line-up of Neal Doughty on keyboards, Alan Gratzer on drums and vocals, Joe Matt on guitar and vocals and Mike Blair on bass and vocals, named themselves after the R.E.O. Speed Wagon, a model of American flat-bed truck.

By the time they came to record their self-titled debut LP for Epic Records in 1971, the line-up had settled around Terry Luttrell on lead vocals, driving force Gary Richrath on guitar and Gregg Philbin on bass, joining Doughty and Gratzer.

Although Richrath had established himself in the songwriting and musical direction of the band, by the release of their second LP, R.E.O./T.W.O., the band had been joined by Kevin Cronin on lead vocals. Cronin’s initial tenure with REO was cut short when he was replaced on lead vocals by Mike Murphy for 1973’s Ridin’ the Storm Out (the band’s first album to chart), 1974’s Lost In A Dream (which reached #98) and 1975’s This Time We Mean It (which peaked at #74), the latter co-produced by future Eagles producer Bill Szymczyk.

On Oct. 5, Cherry Red Records will release REO Speedwagon: The Early Years 1971-1977, a 8-CD clamshell box set. (The title arrives on Sept. 28 in the U.K.) The set features bonus tracks as well as extensive liner notes from Malcolm Dome.

[REO Speedwagon are on tour, with dates into December; tickets here]

By 1976’s R.E.O, Cronin had returned, making a significant contribution to the songwriting alongside Richrath. Produced by John Stronach, R.E.O would also be the last studio LP to feature Philbin, who’d be replaced by Bruce Hall following 1977’s double concert album, Live (You Get What You Play For). The album, recorded at venues in Kansas City, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Atlanta, went Platinum the following year, reaching #72 on the sales chart.

Related: Our feature on REO Speedwagon’s breakthrough

CD1 features 1971’s self-titled debut album R.E.O. Speedwagon plus mono single versions of “157 Riverside Avenue,” “Lay Me Down” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

CD2 offers 1972’s R.E.O. T.W.O. plus a mono single cover of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” CD3 includes 1973’s Ridin’ the Storm Out with bonus mono single versions of “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” “Open Up,” plus “Ridin’ the Storm Out” and “Son Of A Poor Man” featuring Cronin on vocals.

Listen to one of the band’s covers

CD4 offers 1974’s Lost in a Dream and a mono single version of “Throw The Chains Away.” CD5 includes 1975’s This Time We Mean It and mono single versions of “Reelin’’’ and “Out Of Control.”

CD6 is 1976’s R•E•O with the mono single version of “Keep Pushin’’’ and a live take of the same song. CD7 and CD8 contains 1977’s Live (You Get What You Play For), restoring the record to its original full-length double album by including both “Gary’s Guitar Solo” and “Little Queenie,” which were omitted from the original single CD release.

Related: The Epic Records exec who signed the band spoke to us about them, upon Richrath’s death in 2015

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