Posted: Monday, September 14, 2015 – 2:19 PM
(AFP) Gary Richrath, the former lead guitarist of REO Speedwagon who helped the heartland US rockers win mainstream success, has died at age 65, the band said.
Richrath died on Sunday of unspecified causes, the band’s singer Kevin Cronin wrote on the band’s website as he posted a picture of the two of them in the REO Speedwagon’s heyday.
“I feel so sad. Gary was both a unique guitarist and songwriter, and the embodiment of the tough guy with a heart of gold,” Cronin wrote.
“I learned most of what I know about being in a rock band from Gary Richrath,” he wrote.
REO Speedwagon formed loosely in 1967 in the university town of Champaign, Illinois but the band found its sound several years later with the arrival of Richrath, a skilled guitarist from Peoria elsewhere in the state.
Named for the vehicles in which the group would drive to small clubs around the Midwest, REO Speedwagon went on to sell 40 million albums on the popularity of mild-mannered songs such as “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Keep on Loving You.”
Cronin and Richrath co-wrote much of the music but tensions built, with Richrath known for his solo-driven rock guitar but the frontman leaning toward the ballads that had helped REO Speedwagon pack arenas in the 1980s.
Unable to reconcile the band’s direction, Richrath quit in 1989. He formed his own band under the name Richrath and released an album in 1992, but both his and REO Speedwagon’s careers gradually declined.
Richrath briefly joined his former bandmates at a 2013 benefit concert for Illinois residents struck by tornadoes. He took the stage for “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” one of the band’s signature live songs which he wrote.
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