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REO Speedwagon – Bruce Hall

REO Speedwagon – Bruce Hall

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

When REO Speedwagon rolls into town to play another outstanding concert, they bring a ton of hits that span over four decades. They originally formed in 1967, were signed in 1971 to release their self-titled debut album, brought Lead Vocalist Kevin Cronin onboard in 1972 for their second album R.E.O./T.W.O., continued to create several albums that spawn hits that span the airwaves and earned Platinum status leading to their 1980 LP release Hi Infidelity which was certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) 10x Diamond Award. They didn’t slow down though. Instead, they continued to release songs that fans immediately gravitated to, and in 2007, marking their fortieth anniversary, they released their fifteenth studio record Find Your Own Way Home. Today these extraordinarily talented musicians are still writing and rocking the world with their astonishing music, and South Florida fans can see REO Speedwagon’s not to miss shows on June 18th at the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, FL and on June 19th at the iThink Financial Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, FL.

Catching up with Bassist Bruce Hall just prior to hitting the road, he revealed some details about their Live & UnZoomed tour with bandmates Lead Vocalist Kevin Cronin, founding member, Keyboardist Neal Doughty, Guitarist Dave Amato and Drummer Bryan Hitt. He also divulged some information about their newly re-released LP, some stories from the past and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: Your tour is getting ready to start on Tuesday (May 31st). How did this come together, the Live & UnZoomed tour with Styx and Loverboy (opening)? You have previously toured with Styx.
Bruce Hall: That’s right. We’ve toured with Styx before. The last couple years, let’s see, we toured with Chicago and some other bands, but our buddies in Styx, well let’s start from the beginning. Styx is from Illinois and so is REO Speedwagon. We started in Champaign. Styx is up from around Chicago. So, we’ve known those guys forever. I mean, for a long time because we’ve all been kind of playing the same venues and sort of things growing up. So, first time we did a tour together it was so much fun and we thought, let’s do it again and we did it. We’ve done it twice I think already and this is like our third time out and it’s just fun. I think the people, they’re gonna see us all having a great time, and I think they know all the songs by both bands, it’s really kind of fun that way too, singing along, and I’m looking forward to this. I mean, when the pandemic first hit and we all got stuck at home, I swore that I would never complain ever. I never have complained about going on tour, but this is gonna be, to me it’s going to be great because I just have been looking forward to like going out and having a fun time and some time on tour especially now that Styx and Mike Reno and the boys, Loverboy’s is with us, so that’s going to be fun too. Mike’s a good guy.

SFL Music: What specifically can fans look forward to with this new REO show? Anything different?
Hall: Oh sure, oh sure. We revamped some of the old songs. We don’t want to throw too many new songs in or anything that people haven’t heard because that’s not why they bought a ticket. They want to kind of hear the songs that they are familiar with and we get that. We understand that, so that’s our job and we love playing. I know that we reworked a couple. I mean, they’ll know what they are. They’ll just find that it’s different than what they’ve heard before, and we threw in one that we haven’t done in a long time. It’s on the This Time We Mean It album (released in 1975). Anyway, so I’m not gonna give it away because it’s supposed to be secret, but it’s great! We haven’t played this song in like well, twenty years, maybe. So, that’s what I’m looking forward to. Our sets kind of short. It’s like eighty minutes, I think. Eighty or ninety minutes which you know, it’s kind of short, but that’s alright. We’ll just keep playing the hits over and over and over (he laughed).

SFL Music: Today (May 27th) you re-released BUILDING THE BRIDGE (on Mailboat Records), right?
Hall: That’s right. BUILDING THE BRIDGE, we recorded ourselves (originally released in 1996). I love those songs. The first song on that album called “Can’t Stop Rockin’”. That’s a freight train, that song. Great song! Fun to play. We were talking about doing some songs off that live. You never know. I mean, we work up songs pretty quick (he laughed). We could actually work it up in the dressing room if we had to. On that record, I love that record because that was kind of an independent record. We kind of did it ourselves. Love that it was done in Kevin’s recording studio in Encino, California. And BUILDING THE BRIDGE, Bill Clinton was in the same town we were in when he was running for his second term as president and we said, well you know, we got nothing to do. Let’s go see the president. So, we go there and we gave, it was for Chelsea, for his daughter, we gave him a copy of the new album. We gave it to a secret service guy actually to give it to Bill Clinton, and it said it was for Chelsea and they listened to it, and this was before, do you remember their slogan for the second inauguration was “Building a Bridge to the 21st Century” for our country? Yeah, I think they copied the title of our song.

SFL Music: They owe you (Ha Ha).
Hall: They owe the band.

SFL Music: That’s right! They owe the band, yeah. That’s very cool! You guys are also involved in charities. In 2013, you and Styx came up with Rock To The Rescue (Extends A Hand To Those In Need) and several other charities, and you also did a charity in Orlando, Stars To the Rescue (that supported entertainment industry workers during COVID). How did all that come about?
Hall: The first one, us and Styx, we were touring together at the time of 911 and we noticed that we had to do something. We just wanted to do something to help. Mostly we thought about the fallen police and all the people in the buildings and then we found out that there was nothing being done really for the children, the kids. So, we wanted to help them. So, we kind of started Rock to the Rescue. The first intention of it was to help get college money together for these kids so they could go to college, of the people, the fireman and the police who had fallen in New York. So, that was kind of the idea and we’ve used it a lot of times. Tommy Shaw’s daughter has used it for animals. Some type of a animal crusade she did. I’m not sure exactly what that was. Also, we’ve used it, we were working together, us and Styx when this big tornado went through Washington, Illinois which is in between Bloomington Illinois and Peoria and it almost totaled the whole town and we just happened to be playing in Bloomington the next night. So, we said lets, it’s kind of like putting on our cape crusader outfits. Let’s saddle up Rock to the Rescue and let’s go see what we can do to help these people. So, what we did is we, it was so great, is we said, let’s put on a concert. That’s all we do you know, that’s how we know how to make fundraisers is we make music. So, this place in Bloomington, the biggest building. Can’t remember off the top of my head, anyway we called up our friends. Tommy called up Ted. Ted Nugent and we got a hold of Richard Marx. He came down, and we got a hold of Survivor, they came. Who else came? Oh, I got my friend Larry the Cable Guy. He came and he kind of in between bands, he just did comedy stuff, and we threw this together in like less than twenty-four hours and it was the coolest thing, and place was packed. We made a bunch of money for the city (over four hundred thousand dollars) and that kind of stuff we do is Rock to the Rescue. This year for Moffitt Cancer Center for the Testicular Cancer, we actually have a fund, an REO Speedwagon charity donations place there for them because my son Tommy had testicular cancer, gosh when he first turned eighteen and now, he’s twenty-three. He beat it. Thank goodness, and so a lot of the proceeds are gonna go to that, if I’m not mistaken. That’s what I told them. I said, I think that would be a great idea, guys. I think this organization at Moffitt Cancer center is really good at helping, especially children and everybody else too, but cancer seems to be everywhere these days and it’s just like ugh (he sighed), I don’t know. I think it’s probably because of the stuff they put in our food. I could be wrong, but it seems like it.

SFL Music: I’m glad he’s doing well. That must have been frightening. Stars to the Rescue, how did you get involved? Your wife works for Disney?
Hall: Right. There was a lot of people, well just like everything else. Disney people. They shut down the whole entertainment business and a lot of people got laid off, so they were struggling and my little wife, she’s got a heart of gold. Her name is Kimmie, and she started this organization called Ear For You. That’s funny huh? Ear For You. So, it was a co-op. It was part grocery store kind of thing and part place for people who wanted to sell things. Some people made arts and crafts and they wanted to you know, make a living doing that when they weren’t employed, so she gave them a place to sell their things if they felt like that’s what they wanted to do. Then if they qualified, they’d fill out a form of some kind that she had. She had board of directors’ kind of people and people came in, they were unemployed from Disney or from Universal or even any of the amusement parks around, they could go shopping. They could get what they needed. I mean, like for Thanksgiving they get like turkey, their pies. All kinds of great stuff just so people could enjoy the holidays. She’s got a beautiful heart. She’s a beautiful lady.

SFL Music: How did you get into music as a career? What inspired you to become a musician?
Hall: Oh geez. Well, that’s easy to say. It runs in my family. My father was a great musician. He played sax and clarinet really well. Back here at my home, my great grandfather was a music teacher who I have the sheet, it’s like a bed sheet for a twin sized bed. Anyway, he painted on it. All the musical scales and what it all meant, and he would use that to teach people from churches and schools and a horse of all things, and he would teach kids and people at church how to read and play music. It’s always been in my family. All my brothers play music. I play music. My mom used to be a singer. It’s just something that’s in the DNA (he laughed).

SFL Music: Now, you started on the YOU CAN TUNE A PIANO, BUT YOU CAN’T TUNA FISH record and everything has just been highly successful.
Hall: Well, I’ll tell you what’s even funnier. I was kind of like not a real member of REO before I was in REO, but REO started in Champaign, Illinois. That’s where I’m from, and I played in a band with Gary Richrath before he was in REO Speedwagon. We had a band called Feather Train, and then when Mike Murphy, the red-haired singer was in REO for those couple of albums, Mike and I used to play together in a band called the One Eyed Jacks. They recorded one of my songs before I was even in the band called “Lost In A Dream” which was the main title of one of their albums. So, it’s like I knew all these guys. I knew their music really well. It was surprising, but it wasn’t surprising. I was playing at this club in Charleston, Illinois one night in the middle of a cold winter in December and I got this phone call and it was Gary Richrath called me and he didn’t even ask me. He goes, “I got your plane ticket. You’re leaving in two days. You’re gonna have to get out of your apartment. Get rid of your stuff. You’re coming to Los Angeles,” because that’s where the band was at the time and I said, oh ok. I’ll do it. So, that’s what I did and then I’ve been at it, been here.

SFL Music: You guys have sold over forty million albums worldwide. What would you say is the secret to REO’s success?
Hall: I guess if there was one, it would have to be the songs. The songwriting seems to relate to a lot of folks. It becomes part of their lives. It’s funny when you’re writing songs and recording songs, you don’t look at music like that, but as we’ve gotten older and perform songs live for people, you can see how it, people are singing just as loud at us. We’ve got a PA and everything and we can still hear people singing at us, so it’s like people just know this music and it kind of became woven in the fabric of their lives and we’re lucky. I mean, there’s no song that we play that is embarrassing to play. Even back when we were younger, we tried really hard to make songs that, at least the lyrics were, we didn’t feel embarrassed by ‘em. I mean, I don’t know how some people go out and play now that they’re you know, later on in their career (he laughed) and they go out and do some silly song. That’s not what we do. We get up there, when we play love songs, I think our love songs are great, but when we do rock songs, we still rock great. You listen to the lyrics, so like even when people sing “Roll With The Changes”, “Time For Me To Fly”. All those lyrics are fantastic. They’re really good and they stand up still.

SFL Music: Are they inspired by life experiences; would you say?
Hall: Most of them. Yeah, of course. That’s what usually is the inspiration for all songs is something you’ve gone through or something you’ve witnessed one of your friends go through, you know something along those lines. It doesn’t always have to be heartbreak or whatever. Some people, they just dwell on getting bummed out and that’s when they think they write their best songs, but there’s a lot of inspiration everywhere. You don’t have to be you know, down. I guess not all songs are like that. I mean, Styx doesn’t really do it. “Blue Collar Man “, I guess is a little bit a guy kind of down on his luck, but yeah, we do “Roll With the Changes”, “Keep Pushin’”, “Ridin’ the Storm Out”, things like that.

SFL Music: You wrote “Back on the Road Again”.
Hall: Yeah, I wrote that song. Yep. I wrote it and I sang it. I wrote that song when I was about seventeen years old.

SFL Music: Wow!
Hall: Yeah, I know. Crazy! When I first wrote it, it was more of like a blues tune. Kind of a bluesy feel to it, and when I first got in REO Speedwagon, Richrath, Gary, he goes, “let’s play that song “Back on the Road Again”. I look at him and go, hey Gary. That’s not really a rocker. Not really an REO Speedwagon song and he goes, “Oh, we’ll make it an REO Speedwagon song!” Yep, we sure did. We turned it into an REO Speedwagon song.

SFL Music: You probably miss him dearly. I’ve heard wonderful things about Gary.
Hall: Yeah.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to up-and-coming artists?
Hall: That’s a good question because a lot of the avenues that were open for us back when we were young men, they’re not there anymore. Things have changed quite a bit as far as how I can give advice. The only thing I can really say is, spend time with your instrument. Make sure you can play it well. Learn how to play your guitar or your piano, and synthesizer, organs. Whatever it is you play and if you can, find out if you can write songs. Try and write songs. There’s nothing better in the whole world than writing a good song because you know it as soon as you get done with it, you can tell. Oooh that was a good one. If you can get a band, I mean, the only thing to do is play. Play for as many places as you can. Back in the day we played so much we didn’t have to have any kind of other job. We just played music, and so it wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to survive on. I don’t know if people can do that anymore. I think a lot of times bands, kids in bands sometimes they have to pay an establishment to go play there. That’s weird. I always thought that was strange, pay to play sort of thing.

SFL Music: Are there any new projects coming out? Anything new for fans to look forward to?
Hall: Well, there’s always new projects. I mean, we never stop. Over the years what you learn to do in this business especially from our side of the business is as performers and songwriters, you’re always writing. You can’t stop. It was something we had to learn and do well if we wanted to succeed, and so we just write songs and we still go and we record songs, but we just don’t know what to do with them next. We don’t know what to do with them after we got em all because we’ve got songs, a bunch of songs just sitting there waiting for a time whenever, we don’t know what to do with them. Radio won’t play our new stuff. We’ve tried that. You don’t hear any music on the radio anymore that’s from like people of our generation. Cheap Trick, even The (Rolling) Stones tried to get songs out. I mean, they always put out a new album before they go on tour, but it’s like, you make this thing the label loves, you want to do something with it, and then what do you do? You don’t know where to go with it. It’s almost like throwing it in the garbage can. It’s like what the hell? So anyway, there’s just nowhere to go. Somebody needs to start radio stations around the country of new music by classic rock bands. I’m sure they would have lots and lots of music because we’re all doing the same thing. We’re all sitting around writing songs, recording songs. Then we’re sitting there, well, now what?

SFL Music: So, it’s like all the new social media has kind of squashed things a little?
Hall: A little bit, but that’s what kids have learned to do. They get it out there like I guess on Spotify, things like that which we don’t. I mean, I never thought about it, but that’s just kind of a shot in the dark. You don’t know if its gonna hit or miss. It’s good for kids who get noticed I guess sure, but there’s no focus like it used to be. I don’t know, I sound like an old man.

SFL Music: No, no. Right with ya. Was there anything else you wanted to add for people to look forward to?
Hall: Well, I’m looking forward to the tour, it’s going to so much fun. Loverboy, they’re going to open up every show, so they’ll be the first act and then Styx and us, we’re gonna flip flop. Go back and forth in certain venues and certain cities. That’s all figured out. I looked at it the other day, but I couldn’t tell you exactly which ones we’re closing. It doesn’t make any difference honestly. We’re gonna razzle dazzle them the best we can and they’re gonna be horse when they go home. They’re gonna sing along with probably every song.

Get your singing voices ready South Florida. REO Speedwagon is heading your way!

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