Legendary Songwriting & Voice
Kevin Cronin throws his head back and sings “Time for me to fly____ I’ve got to set myself free. Time for me to fly___ oh babe, that’s just how it’s got to be.” And I can’t believe this Classic Rock band (REO Speedwagon) that had hits in the 70’s and 80’s is now on the show OZARK on Netflix. And of course, everyone is loving it. I know it is an episode, yet I’ve seen them live years back, so I know the vibe is one big party. REO Speedwagon has that many hits of great, catchy, danceable songs to make that come alive. Kevin Cronin’s clear, high tenor vocal and the catchy songs about love ring out. And as Marty and Wendy on the show figure out what to do with the money, their family, and the bad guys after them, REO's music is a great elixir to the tension-filled drama series. It fits perfectly.
Kevin Cronin is the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and occasional pianist for the rock band, REO Speedwagon. He is also a songwriter and producer. In 1951 Kevin Cronin was born in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. He began to play guitar at a young age and left Chicago’s Brother Rice High School after becoming convinced music was his future path to walk.
When Steve Scorfina (Pavlov's Dog) was replaced by Gary Richrath in late 1970, the hits would speed up. Richrath was an Illinois-based guitarist and prolific songwriter who brought his own fresh original sound to the band. He even drove 100 miles to see the band to declare how he was going to be in it. "I'm going to be a part of that band whether they like it or not", and then he went about making it happen. With Richrath on board, the regional popularity of the band grew.
Kevin began singing and writing songs with REO when he decided to leave college at age 20, to replace the original lead singer, Terry Luttrell. The band released R.E.O./T.W.O. and he left the band in 1973 to pursue a solo music path.
By 1976 Kevin returned to REO and he has since written or helped to write many of their top songs like “Keep the Fire Burnin.” “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Don’t Let Him Go,” and more.
Their most famous album, “Hi Infidelity” sold over 10 million copies from the 70’s to 80’s. Hi Infidelity spawned four hit singles written by Richrath and Cronin, including the chart-topping "Keep On Loving You," by Cronin, "Take It On the Run" by Richrath, "In Your Letter" by Richrath, and "Don't Let Him Go" by Cronin.Those four songs remained on the charts for 65 weeks, 32 of which were spent in the top ten, including 15 weeks atop the Billboard 200.
REO Speedwagon songs grabbed you and took you on a ride about independence, love, or some breakup. I still stop in my heels anytime I hear Kevin's clear, soaring voice, or one of their songs. Over the course of their career, the band has sold more than 40 million records and has charted 13 top 40 hits.
In the 80's with an original spin, Kevin's lyrics were like something out of a movie. “I knew it had to happen, felt the tables turning, Got me through my darkest hour. I heard the thunder clappin', felt the desert burnin'. Until you poured on me like a sweet sunshower.” The poetry was artful and the rhythm of it was a new sound. Kevin's Cronin's voice wasn't like the New Wave, Punk Rock, Glam Rock, or Hair Band sound at that time. His original sound and the band's songwriting rang out.
In 2020 Kevin Cronin appeared on the Netflix series, Ozark, along with his bandmates in Episode 3 or the third season, titled “Kevin Cronin Was Here.” They performed, “Time for Me to Fly.” The popularity of the show led to a resurgence on the Billboard charts for the band in April of that year, as well as a placement onto the digital charts.
Their last album in 2007 was called, “Find Your Own Way Home.” There is talk of a tour in the coming year, as well as an autobiography by Kevin. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next. It was an honor to have the chance to speak with Kevin, and if you visit his social media, it’s great to see his gratitude about family, friends and fans. It was fun getting caught up with Kevin.
By Abbe Davis, November 2022
AD: Chicago, growing up in suburban life, what type of music were you exposed to? What got you to pick up your guitar back then? When did you know you could also sing like that?
KC: Oh wow, what kind of music was I NOT listening to? I loved Motown, the Beatles, really the whole British invasion. I loved the Byrds, Moby Grape, Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor. God, I love James Taylor. Great singer, songwriter and he can play that guitar! Elton John. Great composer and showman. My musical tastes were really all over the map. I really enjoy listening to a great singer and great harmonies. These days, I really enjoy Keith Urban. I used to sit back and listen to all these great records and I'd sing along. I guess I really discovered my own talent for singing in my early teens.
AD: Oh, you sure did! I love how I could know your voice anywhere. It is a distinct, clear Kevin Cronin vocal. I am crazy about James Taylor, too for that same reason, very distinct. Who was your top music hero, if you had to pick just one band or artist?
KC: I had so many musical heroes as a kid. I probably mentioned most of them above. But, above all, I'd say the Beatles. They were the pavers for most of us. Such talent in that band. And, so many amazing songs they wrote in such a short time period. They were together what, 7, 8 years? Absolutely incredible what they did in such a short time.
AD: True, in just eight years. In 1976, what drew you back into the REO Speedwagon fold, who made the first move for that to happen?
KC: I had left the band after recording one album with them. There were some creative differences going on and I felt it was best if I moved on and that's what I did. I recorded a solo album and thought I'd stay on that course. REO was bringing in a new singer, Greg X Volz. He's a great singer, a really talented guy. Then, he wanted to do more Christian types of music so that was the end of that. I got a call from the band to see if I had any interest to rejoin the band, and we all met and ironed out our differences and disagreements and here we are in 2022. LOL
AD: And the classic hit songs you have given us live on from that reunion! So now, I am very sorry about the loss of Gregg Philbin, bass player on six albums at the start; “the Philbin factor” for REO. Which memories do you have of him particularly?
KC: He was a really talented guy. He was very intelligent and had a very funny personality. He played the heck out of the bass in a manner that John Entwistle did with the Who. They both played the bass more like a lead instrument than as part of the rhythm section. He brought a lot to us, but his playing style, which was amazing, really didn't fit with the types of songs Gary [Gary Richrath, former lead guitarist and songwriter for REO Speedwagon] and I were writing. That's when we had to make a change. We needed a more traditional sounding bassist for the music we were then recording.
AD: Well, "the Philbin factor" lives on in the early hits REO had with,"Ridin' the Storm Out,'' "Music Man" and "157 Riverside Drive." Your incredible songwriting, I’ve been a fan for a while now, tell me, “Time For Me to Fly” what was going on for you back then when you wrote this, what age, where are you?
KC: The song is about a relationship I had back when I was very young, my first real girlfriend. We met back in high school. I knew that the relationship was basically over but I couldn't end it. So, I picked up and moved to Colorado. You know, tried to create a little distance there. LOL So, I'm in Colorado and I'm hanging with a friend. He's got this guitar and starts playing it and it just sounded terrible. It was in some weird tuning I'd never heard before. So, I picked it up and started to play it by wrapping my thumb around the neck to change the tune a bit and that changed the tone and it sounded good. And, there it was. I wrote "Time for Me to Fly" right there.
AD: I love it! Great story! As a songwriter, which of the well-known songs you’ve written came to you quickly?
KC: "Time for Me to Fly" did once I figured out that guitar. LOL Most of the songs Gary and I wrote together came about pretty quickly. "Can't Fight This Feeling," "Roll With the Changes."
AD: Classic, I grew up hearing it. My brothers played those songs in their rooms a lot. Ha..You’ve been with your wife, Lisa, for a long time-four grown kids later, how did you both meet (1992, right)?
KC: We've been married now since 1992. We have 3 kids together, but I have 2 older kids from a previous marriage. I really like to keep our personal life pretty personal. But, we met, we fell in love, and we've been together now for 30 years.
AD: I love the photos of you and Lisa dancing, on your website. It's cool seeing you share photos of your family on social media. You and your son, Paris went through a lot with his addiction by 2007, where you had to make the difficult decision of “tough love,” to not save and help Paris when he was arrested and had to serve four days. How did you have the strength to do this?
KC: That was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make. My son had done a stint in rehab and now was arrested for possessing heroin. I received a phone call late at night and he was in a holding cell in Burbank. He was going to be locked up for 4 days. I decided to use tough love, and that was tough. But, I made that decision. It took about another 5 years or so of rehab, relapse, rehab, etc, but he finally kicked it and has been sober ever since. I'm very proud of him.
AD: I'm sure it means the world to him whenever you've told him that. During the pandemic, I hear your college kids had to come home, three of them, right? So how did you guys pass the time- bonding, during a crisis?
KC: Oh, lots of family time, bonding, talking, music, laughs, Bar B que's, you know, the usual kinda stuff. You tend to take things for granted, and the pandemic really brought us together again as a family. I've heard very similar stories across the country, across the globe. Maybe the pandemic was needed for that reason alone. It sucks that so many people died from this though. That's the harsh reality.
AD: It is sad, the losses are hard for many out there, yet the isolation gave people time to reset. I'm glad to hear you had quality family time. You’ve toured with a lot of musicians, which characteristics of some do you recall?
KC: Tommy Shaw from STYX is a gem. He loves meeting people, hanging with people and really listening to their stories. Lou Gramm of Foreigner is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He also gives a lot of his time to his fans.
AD: Tommy Shaw, wow! STYX! Aw, we second that emotion. We've spoken with Lou, he is salt of the earth. Is it true that you are writing your autobiography, finishing it post pandemic now- titled, “Roll with the Changes: My Life Within and Without REO Speedwagon?”
KC: Yeah, I've been writing that a while. It's really about my life and the late Gary Richrath, who was the lead guitarist for REO and such an amazing songwriting partner. It's a book really about both of us. He was such an amazingly talented guy but just had such a hard time with addiction. I wish he was still here. I really miss that guy. I'm still hopeful the book will be released soon.
AD: I look forward to reading it. It must have been a sad thing to lose him as a musician brother. So lately now, how surprised have you been about OZARK pulling the band’s music back onto the mainstream Billboard charts, did you enjoy being on set and did you ever imagine the songs would be re-awakened like this?
KC: It's always a cool thing to have your songs re-introduced to a whole new generation. It was a blast being there, watching the show be produced and hearing our music in some of the episodes. I like to think that many of our songs are timeless. I remember watching the last episode of the Sopranos, where they're all sitting in that cafe and the Journey song, "Don't Stop Believing" is playing loud in the background. I thought, "How cool is that" and that song really made the scene. If you ask anyone who saw that last episode, "What song was playing in the cafe scene?" most will immediately say "Don't Stop Believing." Maybe that will happen with Ozark.
AD: No doubt! Some take -aways from the Unzoomed REO Speedwagon tour? How about this January in California, can you kind of share a bit about Josh Cronin on bass, and Shane Cronin on vocals?
KC: Shane and Josh are very talented. Both of them are in the band Sir, Please and have shared the stage with us singing backup. You'll have to keep up with us to see what we plan to do. ;)
AD: Oh, well I sure will! Thank you so much for your music. Your songs, beautiful anthems about love. As you are aware, many people out there were able to break up with others, or handle relationships better (me included!) with your songs in their head. Music heals! Namaste, with much love and respect, Abbe Davis.
KC: Thank you very much, Abbe. Great questions you had for me today. I enjoyed this. From what I understand, you are quite the talented singer and I'd love to hear some of your stuff.
AD: Well,absolutely! I am certainly working on it ;)
INFO: REO Speedwagon
Abbe Davis, Editor/Musician
Abbe Davis is the lead singer and songwriter of Hard Rock band, Sordid Fable. She has performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy at the Riverwalk Blues Festival and has done shows in the northeast with Karma Daze. She has co MC'd the Tru Rock Live (livestreamed) shows. Her background has been Classical singing, Jazz, Blues and Rock. Her new solo album of Hard Rock music will be out this year. Abbe is also a masterful healer at One of Asheville in Asheville, NC. www.abbedavis.com