Lives 1-7, expended

REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin: “When we play live, it’s a riot”

(The Guide, 3/12) The upside to being a band that’s persevered for more than three decades is that you can play anywhere from Mexico City to Savannah and draw a lively crowd.

The downside is that styles and trends change quickly, and your fans tend to best remember your early days. REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin, for instance, is often asked to sign copies of the band’s 1979 album “Nine Lives,” the cover of which features the group clad in tight black spandex and leather, with tail-wearing vixens hanging on them and a black panther on a chain in the foreground.

“At the time it was considered cool,” Cronin said with a chuckle in a phone interview last week. “It definitely wasn’t who I was, that’s for sure.”

REO Speedwagon, Edwin McCain

When: 8 p.m. March 13

Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave., Savannah.

Tickets: $45-$55

Information: 912-651-6566,

Cronin, now 58 and definitely wearing less spandex these days, still draws legions of fans out to hear the soft-rock powerhouse’s many hits, such as “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take it On the Run.” Those fans include people of all ages, and a lot of what the band calls “girls nights out,” groups of moms dressing up to relive high school and college. Still, Cronin said he’s able to appreciate the fan support and the ability to play in front of huge crowds much more now than he did when the band was at the top of the charts.

“I look back on those days fondly. The success in those days was phenomenal; it’s what every kid dreams of. We played Live Aid. we played everywhere across the world,” he said. “(But) you’ve got blinders on, working so hard, touring, being in the studio. When you finally do hit the big time, there’s a feeling of entitlement. We didn’t really appreciate it when it was happening.”

But what is it that brings fans out to see a band like REO Speedwagon, whose body of work, after 15 albums and thousands of shows, may be as familiar to fans as it is to the musicians themselves?

“It’s one thing to hear a song on the radio or on a record, (and another) when you hear a song played live by the artists that created it,” Cronin said. “I think it’s a very basic, caveman sort of thing. It’s a common bond you share with other human beings. There’s a feeling of camaraderie that comes from that. Here you are in this big room with all these strangers, it’s just life-affirming on some level. It’s loud, the lights are happening, the video screens are blaring. When we play live, it’s a riot.”

REO’s show in Savannah will feature special guest Edwin McCain, whom REO’s Kevin Cronin met several years ago at a jazz festival in Jacksonville. When McCain followed up with an e-mail saying the two should write some songs together, Cronin initially thought it was a prank. “I didn’t think Edwin McCain would be calling wanting to write songs with me,” he said.
“I ignored it.” The two eventually reconnected and have been friends ever since.

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