When a young, struggling musician in Chicago in the early 1970s named Kevin Cronin decided to set up a musicians' referral service, he had no idea that he'd soon get a phone call that led to him becoming the lead vocalist of the classic rock band REO Speedwagon.
"I had put some fliers around the Chicago area and started getting a lot of calls," Cronin recalls. "Everyone had the greatest band in the world, everybody was exaggerating."
So one day he gets a call from a band looking for a lead singer and rhythm guitar player. They tell him they've released their first album and have a deal with Epic Records, but don't want to reveal their name.
MARK WEISS photo
Brittni Paiva, who performs with Tom Scott at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua this weekend, has also just released a new DVD.
The exceptionally cool Chris Isaak returns to the MACC’s Castle Theater Dec. 1, where he will share songs from his new “Beyond the Sun” album.
Paul Horn and Ann Mortifee
"They didn't want their singer to get wind that they were looking for someone new," he continues. "I'm, 'Dude, you need to tell me, I'm not buying it.' "
He's finally told they're called REO Speedwagon.
"You know I think I've got just the right guy for you," he responded. "I definitely gave myself a good referral. Next thing I knew, I was in Nashville cutting an album."
* REO Speedwagon - Bryan Hitt (from left), Bruce Hall, Kevin Cronin, Neal Doughty and Dave Amato - plays the MACC's Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $65, $76 and $85 (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
Still fronted by Cronin, the multiplatinum-selling classic rockers, best-known for hits like "Roll With the Changes," "Can't Fight This Feeling," "Ain't Stop Rocking," "Keep On Loving You" and "Take It On the Run," will rock Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Sunday night.
In July, the band released a commemorative, 30th anniversary double-CD version of its megahit album, "Hi Infidelity," including a second "Crystal Demos" disc.
"They're like the holy grail," Cronin reports.
The band had recorded some demos at a funky Hollywood studio called Crystal Recording, but then the tapes disappeared.
"It's like a lost treasure," Cronin says. "We did some quick demos, and I fell in love with them. But since we didn't know at that time that 'Hi Infidelity' would sell 10 million copies, we didn't keep track of the demos. It's basically the songs, garage-band style."
Lost for about 28 years, the tapes were finally unearthed in their manager's garage, and now fans can hear these vintage recordings.
REO Speedwagon was formed in the fall of 1967 on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The band's founding keyboardist, Neal Doughty, who still plays with REO, came up with their name while attending a history of transportation class. When he walked into the class, the words "REO Speedwagon" were written on a blackboard.
An REO Speedwagon is a flatbed truck, first built in the early 1900s. The letters R.E.O. are the initials of Ransom Eli Olds, who designed the truck and went on to create the Oldsmobile.
As the '70s progressed, the band grew more popular releasing a series of hit albums like "Ridin' the Storm Out," "Lost in a Dream," and "This Time We Mean It."
Their greatest commercial success came in the '80s with three platinum-selling albums - the top charting "Hi Infidelity," "Good Trouble" and "Wheels Are Turnin'."
Eventually selling more than 10 million copies, "Hi Infidelity" featured four hit songs including "Take It on the Run" and the power ballad "Keep On Loving You."
One of their biggest hits, "Keep on Loving You," almost never even made the album.
Debuting the song for his bandmates, Cronin discovered, "It wasn't that they were reluctant to record it -they didn't even want to learn it. No one was into it. I kept playing it and finally one day, out of frustration, Gary (Richrath) plugged a Les Paul into a stack of Marshalls and started playing this rocked-out guitar sound at extreme volume, thinking he would drown me out. But it was exactly what the song needed. Just on piano it could have been on a Barry Manilow record. It needed that big, powerful guitar sound. It was a happy accident. Suddenly we were getting played on the radio all the time."
In the last few years, REO has toured with Styx, released a couple of live concert DVDs and put out a Christmas album, "Not So Silent Night Christmas with REO Speedwagon," in 2009.
Performing with Cronin and founding keyboardist Neal Doughty, REO Speedwagon includes bassist Bruce Hall, who joined in1978; lead guitarist Neal Dave Amato, who joined in 1989 after playing with Ted Nugent and Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora; and drummer Bryan Hitt, who first played on the 1990 album "The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog, and a Chicken."
And they're still thrilling fans in concert. "REO Speedwagon is a true meat and potatoes Midwestern rock band," noted a recent Classic Rock Revisited review. "No matter how many times you see them in concert you always walk away feeling good. They have performed 'Time For Me To Fly,' 'Roll with the Changes' and 'Ridin' the Storm Out' thousands of times. They could play them with their eyes closed and still sound good, but instead of resting on their laurels the band performs them like it was their first time debuting the tracks."
"The music has some kind of staying power," Cronin concludes. "We and friends, like Styx and other classic rock bands, still love what we do. I still get joy from playing the songs. And hearing people cheering and singing along to songs like 'Keep On Loving You' is very special. It's an amazing exchange of energy."
Anyone who caught concert appearances in Maui County this year featuring legendary saxophonist Tom Scott will have seen how he enjoys performing with Hoku award-winning ukulele player Brittni Paiva. The two musicians will team on Saturday for a night of jazz at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
YouTube clips of their collaborations highlight how smoothly Brittni can improvise with the jazz veteran on classics like Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and Gershwin's "Summertime."
"It's the last thing I expected," Brittni says about performing with Scott. "It's been a big blessing. I wasn't trained as a jazz musician, so it's been a really good challenge and I'm definitely enjoying it."
The 23-year-old musician has just released a new DVD, "Brittni Paiva-Living Ukulele," featuring live performances, interviews (including Scott, Keoki Kahumoku, Brother Noland, Herb Ohta-San, Daniel Ho and Richard Ho'opi'i), behind-the-scenes footage, a music video and some ukulele lessons.
And she's also excited about a forthcoming album project that will be produced by the jazz star.
"It's going to have more of a jazz flavor," she says. "It will be a little bit different from what I normally sound like."
Over the years Scott has toured and recorded with musicians across the spectrum, from George Harrison and Joni Mitchell, to Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan. A Grammy Award winner, he's released more than 30 albums. For the Ritz gig, Scott will be backed by Maui musicians keyboardist Gene Argel, drummer Paul Marchetti and bassist Marcus Johnson.
* Tom Scott and Brittni Paiva perform at 7 p.m Saturday at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Tickets are $25. They will also perform Sunday morning at a Jazz Breakfast Brunch at the resort. Call 669-6200 for reservations.
Ultra cool retro rocker Chris Isaak plays the MACC's Castle Theater on Dec. 1. The composer of hits like "Wicked Game," "Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing" and "Somebody's Crying," recently released a great new album, "Beyond the Sun," which pays tribute to some of the classic Sun Studio recordings of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. A Marin Independent Journal review noted: "There probably aren't many singers who would be a more perfect fit to cover old Sun Studio songs."
Next column we'll hear from Isaak on recording at Memphis' famed Sun Studio, his love for Hawaiian music, a "Twilight Zone" experience on Molokai, how legendary director Stanley Kubrick asked to use "Bad Thing" in his last film, and the new incendiary piano show.
* Tickets are $45, $55, $65 and $85, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC as above.
There's one more opportunity to experience renowned flutist Paul Horn and his wife, author/singer Ann Mortifee, with their collaborative "In Love With the Mystery" performance at 7 p.m. Saturday at Makawao Union Church.
The evening will feature live music, song and storytelling from their travels to Nepal, Tibet, India and Africa.