Monday, September 14, 2015

Passings: Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (1949 to 2015)

Gary Richrath, who played guitar for REO Speedwagon during their most popular years along with writing the classics Ridin' Out the Storm and Take It On the Run, has died from an undisclosed ailment at the age of 65.

Kevin Cronin confirmed Richrath's passing on REO Speedwagon's Facebook page:

Hi friends, kc here. My longtime friend and collaborator Gary Richrath passed away earlier today. 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...kc 
Richrath was a guitarist from Peoria, IL who came to the still fledgling REO Speedwagon in 1970 with a history of songwriting for his bands. They singed with Epic Records the next year and their self-titled debut album was released in October 1971. The band changed vocalist over each of their first three albums, finally settling on Kevin Cronin who was a member of the band for their 1972 album R.E.O./T.W.O. but left until their sixth outing, R.E.O. (1976).

The key to the band's slowly building success was their live shows and, in 1977, they were finally able to convince Epic to release a live set, You Get What You Play For. The album eventually went platinum and led to a string of major hits including You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish (1978 / #29), Nine Lives (1979 / #33), Hi Infidelity (1980 / #1), Good Trouble (1982 / #7) and Wheels Are Turnin' (1984 / #7). It was during those years that they also turned out four top ten hit singles including two number ones, Keep On Loving You (1980) and Can't Fight This Feeling (1984). The Richrath penned Take it On the Run was also a hit, reaching number 5 in 1981.

In the late-80's, the band's popularity started to decline and Richrath and Cronin were regularly in disagreements over the direction of the band. In early 1989, Gary left the group and formed his own namesake band, Richrath, which recorded one album, 1992's Only the Strong Survive. That band lasted until the late 90's.

Richrath rejoined REO once, on November 22, 2013, for a benefit for tornado victims in central Illinois.