Monday, September 14, 2015

REO Speedwagon Guitarist Gary Richrath Dies

REO Speedwagon guitarist Gary Richrath has died, the band announced on its website and Facebook page Sunday. He was 65.

Band frontman Kevin Cronin said in a message that "my longtime friend and collaborator Gary Richrath passed away earlier (Sunday)." He did not disclose a cause of death.

"I feel so sad," Cronin wrote. "Gary was both a unique guitarist and songwriter, and the embodiment of the tough guy with a heart of gold."

He said he learned most of what he knows about being in a rock band from Richrath.

"The entire REO Family mourns his death and shares in the grief of his family, friends, and fans," he added.

"These words do not come close to expressing the depth of emotions I am feeling at this time."

He added that a photo of the two on stage performing "has been on my music-room table for as long as I can remember, and will stay there."

Richrath joined Speedwagon, known for its 1980s ballad, "Can't Fight This Feeling," in 1970, three years after the band was formed in Illinois. Based in Peoria, he was known as a songwriter as well as a guitarist, and helped grow the band's popularity beyond its original Midwestern stronghold.

Richrath also brought new songs to the band, including "Ridin' the Storm Out." He recorded 12 albums with the band and also wrote another song, "Take It On The Run."

He sang lead vocals on "Find My Fortune" and "Only A Summer Love." The last album he recorded with the band was 1987's Life As We Know It. He  left the band in 1989.

Richrath released one solo album, in 1992, Only the Strong Survive, but reunited briefly with the band in 2013 when they staged a benefit concert for residents of central Illinois displaced by a series of powerful storms in the area.

“Gary was in great spirits when he walked into the dressing room. We hugged one another, I told him how happy I was that he came, and he expressed his gratitude for the invitation,” wrote Cronin at the time. “When I introduced ‘the guy who this band wouldn’t be here without’ and Richrath came up for ‘Ridin’ the Storm Out,’ 7,000 people went crazy. The response was arm-hair raising … We all felt it. It was fun to look over to my left and see Richrath digging in and playing like only he can. It was a night for the ages.”