In the meantime, Gary was intent to carry on the REO tradition and assembled the remaining members of REO — keyboardist Neal Doughty, bassist Bruce Hall and drummer Graham Lear, along with new lead singer, Michael Jahnz. However, Richrath’s efforts were thwarted when Cronin employed a number of financial threats, intimidations and legal maneuverings to return to the band. How he was able to finagle the whole situation is a saga unto itself. There’s Kevin’s version, Gary’s version, Alan’s version, management’s version, the roadies’ version, Gary’s new band’s version, etc. Whatever version you choose to believe, the bottom line was that Gary ultimately joined together with the members of Jahnz’s former band, Vancouver, to form the Richrath band, leaving Cronin with rights to the REO trademark as the majority shareholder of REO Speedwagon, Inc.
VH1 unsuccessfully attempted to get to the bottom of this struggle, but gave up after more than 200 on-camera hours they shot for the band’s one hour “Behind the Music” episode. The original version, which aired on August 12, 2001, was subsequently edited when VH1 management yielded to Cronin’s threats and re-editing demands. Cronin initially claimed that Richrath put the band at risk with his addictions. However, when confronted with his own addictions which likewise put the band “at risk,” he balked and refused to cooperate. After the smoke cleared and additional negotiations took place, Cronin recanted then claimed, “The door is always open to Gary” to rejoin the band. However, the day after the program aired, Kevin publicly decried at an Indianapolis concert I attended how “pissed off” he was at VH1 for “screwing everything up.” He then turned to Dave Amato and proclaimed he was in the band “forever.” The following week, VH1 pulled the original episode, and have run the re-edited version ever since. Cronin’s statement, which he made without even attempting to contact Richrath after the program aired, appeared to remove any doubt regarding Cronin’s intentions, and directly contradict what he originally told VH1.
The door to Richrath rejoining the band in some capacity was not always slammed shut. Several years before the VH1 episode was negotiated, Gary was approached by REO’s management to consider several special projects with the band, but red tape got in the way and nothing was ever finalized. When REO contemplated the release of a 25th anniversary album, the band’s management again contacted Gary about the possibility of writing one or two new songs on the CD. Unfortunately, that project fell through. Then, in September 1998 at the request of former REO drummer Alan Gratzer, Gary briefly joined REO onstage at the County Fair in Los Angeles to play a few licks from the band’s encore song, “157 Riverside Avenue.” Gary again made a brief appearance with REO in Los Angeles in May, 2000 for the same encore.
While explanations of what actually happened will be disputed by all parties involved, several people have provided interesting insights. Of course, many fans, band roadies and former band members had ringside seats and love to talk about their experiences.
It’s interesting that you mentioned Kevin’s behavior opening for Edgar Winter in 1973. Similar incidents have happened over the years, including a 2000 concert at the Starplex Amphitheater in Dallas when Styx opened for REO. As Styx fans headed toward the parking lot during one of Kevin’s acoustic interludes, Cronin yelled “F*ck you!” into the microphone then emphatically pumped his middle finger in an obscene hand gesture. Fans reported “REO ended up ‘headlining’ an emptying arena.” Some things never change, eh? LOL!
There’s a lot more to be said, but I’m saving it for my book! Thanks for a great question about a great band!
REO FANS Prez, REO-FANS.COM
Webmaster, Gary Richrath.com