REO Speedwagon’s High Fidelity Still Packs a Rock and Roll Punch

REO SpeedwagonAfter 10 studio albums, REO Speedwagon struck, gold and platinum with a string of 80s hit songs that have stood the test of time, including chart-topping power ballads “Keep On Loving You”, “Take It on the Run”, “Don’t Let Him Go”, and “In Your Letter” from their #1 album Hi Fidelity. This Grammy-nominated record sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

This year, Hi Fidelity celebrates its 40th anniversary, steadily leaving behind the legacy of being the most requested album in the REO Speedwagon catalog.

Formed in 1967, REO Speedwagon has sold 22 million albums in the U.S., 40 million around the globe, with a string of worldwide hit singles.

The bands only original founding member remaining, Neil Doughty, looked back on the anniversary of that legendary album with 519.

I just realized this morning that “High Infidelity” is 40 years old this year, and that music on the album still touches people the same way it did when it came out. What makes that album the quintessential REO album?
Well, for one thing, we had a theory that there were different sets of fans that bought all of our other records, and finally we made a record that all of them liked. The songs on it are like the way The Beatles made albums, at the beginning, where all the songs were short without much space in between in it. Not only were the songs good, but it was just really easy to listen to the whole thing. Now people tend to download songs and put together their own playlist, and usually there are only one or two songs off of any given record. But this is one where people liked every single song. And of course, something about the eighties, a lot of those songs have a timeless style.

There’s brand new groups, still playing new songs that have a bit of that 80s influence. We were just lucky. The timing, we made our best record at a time when the music didn’t really have an expiration date. Everything came together in the right way. Perfect storm. Probably the main reason we can still tour today is because so many people like that record. In fact, we just got the award that it sold 10 million copies, it’s up to 10 million and still going! The worst thing is to have a great big year with a hit record and then it just disappears. This thing has kept us going all this time.

That album is an important one, especially for my husband, as he was on vacation in Florida, and he heard the album playing in the record store. He bought the cassette right there on the spot, and it was his very first album that he bought with his own money. Is there a story from that album or tour that might add some special memory?

Making the record, a lot of people don’t know it, but several of the rhythm tracks on that record were actually meant to be a demo. Epic Records, they stayed with us for 10 records that just barely broke even, which would never happen today. But back then we had fans at our record labels who just wouldn’t give up on us, but they said this next one better be good or we may have to finally give up on you guys. So they wanted some demos, tapes, of what we were working on. In some of those demos, the drum track and bass track, which really have to click together perfectly, some of it just happened on the demos and when we went into record the same songs for real, it just didn’t have the right feeling to it.

Many of the songs on that record, the rhythm part is actually the demo. I put keyboard parts on one of the last things we did, and I already had all the songs to listen to. It made it much easier for me to come up with parts that I liked. Really, it was a make or break record. It was our 11th album or something, and that’s the one that they said this time we need a hit and it just happened.

With that album too, you guys switched from hard rock to pop rock. What caused that sound switch?
I don’t think we were making a conscious effort to go really commercial, although in the back of our minds we knew that’s what our record label was waiting for. The eighties in general produced a nice mix between hard rock and softer rock. Many groups did both and had both on the same album. We had some rockers like “Don’t Let Him Go” and that kind of stuff. But then there was the big ballad on there. The power of the ballad phenomenon was just kind of starting up. That’s a format that’s still going strong. It’s because of “High Infidelity” that we’ve been able to tour this long. We still tour constantly. Haven’t slowed down, and we don’t want to stop, nobody’s ready to retire; we’re all healthy and happy and having a good time at the shows. It was that record that allowed us to still be doing this. We’re just really lucky it happened when it did.

You have the honour of being the only member of the band that’s been there since the beginning, and you’ve appeared on all of the albums. What has kept you with the band for this long?
I just tried not to get fired. That’s the secret. Usually when somebody leaves a band, it’s because they disagree with somebody else on the music itself. Like, songs go on a record that one or more people didn’t like, and they get fed up with that. I just happened to have been a fan of everything we did. There was never a phase we went through that I disagreed with. I’m a pretty laid back, relaxed kind of guy and I’m not going to start a big fight over a minor issue of creative direction. I just never went through a phase when I wanted to do anything else. It really wasn’t anything I consciously did to stay with the band as long, it’s just my easygoing way kept me from getting in into any huge fights, or storming out of rehearsals, or anything like that. The guys that left, there wasn’t really bad blood, it’s just they weren’t happy with what we were doing. I never had that problem.

As the founder of the band, does that bring a certain responsibility? Like Spiderman? With great music comes great responsibility?
Of course, we all still have the responsibility to do our best playing every night. But this is a band that started in my dormitory. Alan Gratzer, our original drummer, lived across the hall, and he was in a band. I started following them around until they wanted me to join up. That was back in 1967. We all feel a responsibility. We know who we’re working for, and that’s the people in the audience. We try to do the songs they want to hear, and we’re getting a pretty good ear for the songs that everybody likes the most. Most of our set are songs that people know well enough to sing along with. Our biggest danger is the crowd drowning out the band.

With a legacy band, like REO, fans have a certain perception of things. What are some of the things that you’re mindful of when you’re putting together an album or tour?
I live in Minneapolis, but we just all went out to Los Angeles because we hadn’t played in about two months, which is the longest we’ve ever gone in 50 years. We went out there, and we sat down and said, now what songs are we not doing that the crowd would probably like? Everybody had their own idea of what that should be, but we ended up working out a couple of songs. They’re older songs, but we haven’t played them in a long time. We think people would like them. Of course, we won’t know that until we play them in front of an audience. We try not to do exactly the same thing every year, but there’s just some songs that you got to play, you know the crowd came to hear those songs. We’re very careful about keeping those in the set.

You guys haven’t released any new music in a while. Is there new stuff on the way or are you/will you be working on something new?
We haven’t really planned to make a whole studio album with 10 new songs, because that’s just not the way people are buying music anymore. If somebody brings in one song that we think would do really well, we will record it and put it on iTunes or something. But right now, we’re just concentrating mainly on touring. A lot of times, the fans will get into a thing where they really don’t want something they haven’t heard before. It has to be the best song you ever did in order for people to accept it. When that comes along, it’ll just happen by accident, and then we’ll do that, but we’re literally touring too much to spend any time in the studio. We haven’t really slowed down much, ever.

A lot of years playing a hundred shows in one year, and between that and the travel that it takes to get to each one of them, you’re just never at home very much. We’d have to take a year off to make a full length CD, or however people are buying it, and we just haven’t had that much time off. We have so many songs on the radio already that have been there the whole time, like on classic rock radio and 80s channels. I hear us on the radio all the time, and there may not be any more room for us on the radio. So, like I said, it’ll have to be a song that we just think is better than anything we’ve ever done. Songs like that don’t come around every day. So we’ll see, we’re not closed to the idea of ever recording new music, but it’s going to have to be something that makes us stay home long enough to record it.

Last question for you: with all that being said, REO is still relevant to younger audiences, thanks to artists that are influenced by you, like Pitbull. Did you know that he used parts of “Take It On The Run” before it came out?
Well, we knew he was going to do that, and we really liked the idea and the song he did. We even went on a television show in LA and played it with him. He’s just a really nice guy too. It was 100% with our blessing that he did that. They have to get permission and when they’re using that much of a song, and we’re going, “yeah, that sounds great,” it ended up being fun working with him.

The band performs April 3 at Caesars Windsor and June 5 at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls.

Here’s the full unedited interview.

That album is an important one, especially for my husband, as he was on vacation in Florida, and he heard the album playing in the record store. He bought the cassette right there on the spot, and it was his very first album that he bought with his own money. Is there a story from that album or tour that might add some special memory?

Making the record, a lot of people don’t know it, but several of the rhythm tracks on that record were actually meant to be a demo. Epic Records, they stayed with us for 10 records that just barely broke even, which would never happen today. But back then we had fans at our record labels who just wouldn’t give up on us, but they said this next one better be good or we may have to finally give up on you guys. So they wanted some demos, tapes, of what we were working on. In some of those demos, the drum track and bass track, which really have to click together perfectly, some of it just happened on the demos and when we went into record the same songs for real, it just didn’t have the right feeling to it.

Many of the songs on that record, the rhythm part is actually the demo. I put keyboard parts on one of the last things we did, and I already had all the songs to listen to. It made it much easier for me to come up with parts that I liked. Really, it was a make or break record. It was our 11th album or something, and that’s the one that they said this time we need a hit and it just happened.

Facebook Comments