REMEMBERING: GARY RICHRATH of REO Speedwagon on his 68th Birthday
Today (September 13th) marks the second anniversary of the death of former REO Speedwagon guitarist Gary Richrath who passed at age 65 during surgery for a stomach ailment. First things first, Gary was a “MONSTER” on the guitar, very under-rated in my opinion. He, of course, was best known as the lead guitarist and a songwriter for the band R.E.O. Speedwagon from 1970 until 1989.
Gary, who joined the band in 1970 and recorded 12 albums with the band before splitting with the group in 1989, is best known for writing REO’s second Top 10 hit, the Top Five Hi Infidelity classic, “Take It On The Run,” and the band’s early favorite “Ridin’ The Storm Out.” The guitarist, who had long battled alcoholism, released one solo album, 1992’s Only The Strong Survive, and to the delight of die-hards, had reunited with frontman Kevin Cronin and REO for a charity gig in 2013. Gary wrote, performed on and even sang on some of REO’s early hits, including “Golden Country” (1972), “Ridin’ the Storm Out” (1973), “Find My Fortune” (1973), “Son of a Poor Man” (1973), “Wild as the Western Wind” (1974), “(Only A) Summer Love” (1976), “Flying Turkey Trot” (1976), “Only the Strong Survive” (1979) In Your Letter (1980) and “Take It On the Run” (1981). In 1977, he and other members of the band took over production, which resulted in the band’s first platinum album. Along with playing lead guitar Gary also sang lead vocals on “Five Men Were Killed Today” (1971), “Find My Fortune” (1973), “Wild as the Western Wind” (1974), “Dance” (1975), “Any Kind Of Love” (1976), “Only A Summer Love” (1976), “Breakaway” (1976) and “Tonight” (1976)!
Gary discovered Kevin (Cronin) in 1972 while playing a club gig in Chicago, had only recently re-established a tentative relationship with Richrath, who left the band acrimoniously back in 1989 following the tour behind the band’s 1987 Life As We Know It album, as he battled substance abuse. Cronin told us that although the news of Richrath’s death wasn’t necessarily a shock, it cut him deep and wide: “I already had two days to feel a lot of things, y’know? It just struck me that walking out on stage in front of 6,000 people to do and REO Speedwagon show, it was a complex situation, ‘cause people there, they pay their money to see a rock show and to have a good time and at the same time, y’know, there was no way I could do that without paying serious tribute to Gary. So, I just kind of walked out with an acoustic guitar with no fanfare at the beginning, and just kind of shared my feelings with the audience. And it was cathartic, I played a couple of Gary’s songs on acoustic guitar and just kind of got the tribute part. . . I did it. Y’know, so I got that emotion out. And then it struck me that Gary’s up there somewhere, and he’d be looking down at me, eventually, saying, ‘Cronin, shut up, and rock these people’ — y’know? And I almost heard his voice.”
Kevin Cronin revealed that he had dreamed that the classic lineup of REO from the late-1970s and ’80s would find their way back to each other and do one last victory lap around the cities and towns that originally launched them: “There was always a glimmer of hope in the back of our minds, that then five of us — y’know, Gary, Alan (Gratzer), Bruce (Hall), Neil (Doughty), and me — would go out and do there weeks of shows — just in the Midwest. In St. Louis, in Kansas City, in Indianapolis — y’know, the cities that embraced us, y’know, back in those early days. Y’know, and it doesn’t take anything away from the band now; the band now is playing great — but there was always that fantasy or that hope that it would happen. And when a person passes away, a lot of hope goes with them.”
Gary Passed away on September 13, 2015. News of his death was confirmed by his former REO Speedwagon bandmate Kevin Cronin. He was 65. Cronin disclosed the cause of Richrath’s death – “He had some stomach problem or something, and he went in the hospital to get treated for a stomach ailment, and there were complications and he didn’t make it. You are missed my friend…….Thanks for the Memories & Music!!! CRV