The Beginning, By Neil Doughty In the fall of 1966, I entered the Electrical Engineering program at the University of Illinois, coming in as a junior. It’s a very tough curriculum and I quickly realized that two years of slacking off at community College had not prepared me. The math I encountered on my very first day was like nothing I’d ever seen; other worldly symbols covered the walls and everyone seemed to think they made perfect sense. To me, they looked upside-down. I panicked and had to leave the room.That was the bad news, the good news was when I got back to the dorm that night and met a guy from across the hall named Alan Gratzer. He was also having doubts about his future in engineering. We instantly became best friends, wondering to each other about what the hell we were doing there. We were the only two guys in the dorm with long hair and people laughed at us in the cafeteria. Miraculously, we both managed to stay in school, immersed in an unlikely mix of differential equations and flower power. Somewhere along the way we accidentally started a rock band. Alan had been a drummer since high school and was playing in a local group on weekends. I had learned some Beatles songs on my parents piano, but that was about it. I started to follow Alan’s band around, eventually sitting in on a song or two.
The keyboard player was the leader, and stuck with three-chord beer-drinking songs. It was strictly AM radio material, but that’s what the campus bars wanted. The other members weren’t so happy with the situation and soon conspired with me to stage a coup. We all wanted to do the new stuff coming out of the West Coast, like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Psychedelic Rock, they called it. Many people in the Midwest hadn’t heard of it yet, but we had been listening to Underground FM. On the last day of school, Alan called the band’s leader and told him that everyone had decided to quit the band and start a new one with me. We made a list of songs to learn over the summer break. I went home, got a summer job and bought my first keyboard. It was a Farfisa Organ-like the one The Doors used, with the cheesy tone that helped define sixties keyboards. The first song Iearned was Light My Fire, note-for-note, solo and all, just like the record. We all got back to school and had our first rehearsal before classes even started. We picked a song and began to play and it wasn’t bad – in fact it was good. I was smiling in disbelief; how could this be working so well when I had never done it before In a few weeks we were ready to go. We put on our coolest clothes, fine-tuned our hair and hired a local photographer. We named the band REO Speedwagon, after an old truck I’d studied in Transportation. An ad in the school paper got us our first job, a fraternity party that turned into a food fight. Never mind that it took the whole next day to clean mashed potatoes off the drum kit. We had been paid forty dollars and was now a Professional Musician. From the Neil Doughty Website http://www.nealdoughty.com