REO Speedwagon's "Ridin' the Storm Out" is a song that's been a warhorse staple of the Midwest band's set list for decades. Classic rock fans often key in on the introduction, which sounds like an air raid siren.

It's something which REO's Kevin Cronin says accurately reflects the dangerous moment which led guitarist Gary Richrath to pen the tune itself. Caught in a sudden Colorado storm, he says, "We were in danger and needed to get away from where we were quick."

"Ridin' the Storm Out" was the song which came out of their harrowing experience and it quickly landed favorably with the group's fans. "We've been doing it in every single REO Speedwagon show since 1973," he says now. "It's one of those things that people do remember us for."

The band begins their summer tour with Train tonight (July 8) in Somerset, Wisconsin with Yacht Rock Revue opening each show. To celebrate, Cronin and YRR's Nick Niespodziani joined Ultimate Classic Rock Radio's Matt Wardlaw to discuss the full story of "Ridin' the Storm Out" and also, the science and dividing line of yacht rock.

Nick, it's great to see Yacht Rock Revue on this tour. I wondered, what are your memories of coming across REO Speedwagon's music?

Nick Niespodziani: The most impactful memory I have of REO Speedwagon, Peter [Olson] and I were in high school. My dad was a high school teacher and he was in bands too growing up. He had this classic rock concert that he did tying the music of the '60s, '70s and '80s to historical events. We were involved in that concert every year and the guitar player was another teacher. We went over to his house, in his basement. His name was Jerry and he had the full PA set up and all of these instruments that we couldn't afford. The first thing they did was start that air raid siren to "Ridin' the Storm Out." I'd never even heard that song before and I was just blown away. I said, "What is this? I love this song!" I immediately went and found it and figured out it was the same guys that sang "Take it On the Run" and all of the other songs I'd heard on Q95 [in Atlanta] growing up. I'll never forget that.

Listen to REO Speedwagon's 'Ridin' the Storm Out'

Kevin Cronin: What's funny is that we used to share a rehearsal space, which also doubled as a farm equipment warehouse, outside of Champaign, Illinois. We shared the space with the band Head East. The main guy in Head East is a guy named Roger Boyd. He's from Champaign and he's the keyboard player. He still plays with them to this day. He had one of the first Moog synthesizers, the Mini-Moog. They left it behind at the rehearsal hall. I guess I can probably let the cat out of the bag at this point and say that when they got back there, that Mini-Moog may or may not have still been there. We may or may not have taken it with us, so to speak. [Laughs] Now, I had nothing to do with it, but there were forces in our band that decided that instrument belonged with us. Neal Doughty, our original keyboard player, along with playing keyboards, he had a real scientific mind. He was a brilliant guy, who dropped out of the University of Illinois with one semester left. He was studying electrical engineering, so he had that kind of brain. He got into the Moog synthesizer and it really fascinated him. It was Neal who came up with that sound.

"Ridin' the Storm Out," the inspiration for that song came from a time that Gary Richrath and I and a couple of other guys from the crew were hiking. We had climbed this crazy cliff in Rocky Mountain National Park, just north of Boulder. I had no business being up there. But everyone else went, so I'm like, "Alright, I guess I've got to go too." We got to the top of this rocky cliff and we're sitting there. You know, in Colorado, the weather can change on a dime. When we left, it was a sunny, clear day. Here we are on top of this cliff, we look up and there's these dark clouds headed our way and they're coming in quick. It's one thing climbing up a cliff, climbing down is where it gets interesting. [Laughs] Especially if you're afraid that you're going to get caught in a blizzard. We obviously made it back to Boulder in one piece. I think that air raid kind of sound, came from the fact that we were in danger. We needed to get out and get away from where we were quick. That's where the inspiration for that came from.

Nick, it's a topic that has seen a lot of debate -- what do you think the dividing line is as far as what is and is not yacht rock?

Niespodziani: The dividing line? I mean, I guess we've made our whole career based on the idea that there is no dividing line, that it's murky on all the edges -- and that we like to play on those edges. As well as, we're going to play [Gerry Rafferty's] "Baker Street," Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates. We're going to hit the bit ones. But to me, I really feel that what people want when they come to a yacht rock show, isn't necessarily a pedantic run-through of the yacht rock genre. What they want is a vibe. They want a spirit and an energy and permission to pretend like they're the one who is the captain on the yacht, doing whatever they want. As long as the music gives people that feeling, I think it counts as yacht rock.

READ MORE: Top 50 Yacht Rock Songs

One of the things I dig about the yacht rock thing, I really respect the harmonies and unique flavors that some of these bands had, Little River Band with a song like "Lonesome Loser," for example. I think that's one of the cool things about music. A song like that points out how it can be internationally-based, but there's still so much common ground.

Cronin: "Lonesome Loser," that's a gem right there. You know, I just finished reading a book called This is What It Sounds Like. It's kind of an odd title, but the book is all about what you're saying. It's written by Susan Rogers, who started out as a recording engineer. She was part of Prince's studio entourage. She's from Minneapolis and she went on to produce [bands like] Barenaked Ladies. She got out of music and got a PhD in behavioral neuroscience. The book is all about how music affects your brain and how different people experience music. You know, it's an amazing book. But it just shows the power that music has and how it brings people together. A good song, if it was good when it was written, it's going to be good forever. Even if the trends change, a good song is always a good song. When she put that in the book, it was like, yeah, you're right. It makes sense. Because a lot of the songs that remain in our set list -- that if we don't play them, there will be an angry mob around the tour bus -- they're songs that were written 40 or 50 years ago. Something like "Keep On Loving You," I wrote that in 1980. Yeah, it's an old song, but it was a number one song when we recorded it. When we play it live, the audience gets just as excited now as they did on the Hi Infidelity tour.

READ MORE: How REO Speedwagon Found 'Sunken Treasure' With 'Take It On the Run'

Nick, Yacht Rock Revue just revealed a new 21-song concept album, Escape Artist, which will be released later this year. What can fans expect?

Niespodziani: We're just trying to keep pushing the limits of what we can do. [Our first album] Hot Dads In Tight Jeans, I feel like we were trying to do a very specific thing. It was like modern yacht rock. Now, our new album, it's more like, we're just writing songs, recording them and having fun doing it. You know, being artists, like we always wanted to be. This isn't going to be the last album that we do. We're just going to keep working on that journey. Maybe it will connect with people and maybe it won't, but that's just part of us. We love it.

Listen to Yacht Rock Revue's 'Tropical Illusion'

You guys must be pretty stoked now that the tour's finally kicking off.

Cronin: We played the Whisky with Train [leading up to the tour] and it was great to be back up on that stage again. Everything that we've done with Patrick and the guys, we just bonded. The camaraderie -- even though we're a generation apart -- the music really is the thing that bonds us. Train has so many great songs. You forget how many great songs they have untll you see them play live. I'm hoping that the Train fans who come to see the show will feel the same way about us. You know, Patrick, he's one of those guys who just has a voice that's just a freak of nature. He's such a good singer and such a good guy. All of them are. I'm really looking forward to this.

Niespodziani: Pat's a real one. I mean, I remember the first time we played with Train. I knew all of the hits. I don't know what I thought it was going to be like, but when he got on stage and started singing, I was like, "Whoa, this guy is the real deal." All of the players can shred. They're doing Led Zeppelin and Queen covers and just crushing it. Seeing them live, I'd say they're one of the bands that had one of the biggest leaps when it comes to my expectation of what it was going to be like. You know, when you know songs like "Meet Virginia," "Hey, Soul Sister" and "Drops of Jupiter," you see them live and you're like, "Whoa, they are that and that's amazing, but they're so much more than that."

The Summer Road Trip with REO Speedwagon, Train and Yacht Rock Revue starts tonight (July 8) in Somerset, Wisconsin.

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Gallery Credit: Corey Irwin

 

 

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