Growing up in a "trucking" family I was always aware of different types of trucks (semi and pickup too for that matter) thus there has always been a certain amount in learning about their history. My Grandfather (Lyle White), two uncles (David and Dale) and my Dad (Jim) have been members of the trucking fraternity so I would be remiss if I didn't assume that this is where my interest lies. Trucks have always been of interest and the honestly run through the gamete happiness and sorrow. Why do I mention that? Well...
The history of trucks is a part of Americana that I really don't think people give enough credit to. If one were to look back you would soon realize that trucks have hauled much of America to locations where trains weren't or couldn't get to in the first place. The method of interstate travel was two-fold, one as a method for defense of the Nation and the other being expedited travel for commerce. The roads and highways were a mishmash of various condition, allowable direction of traffic, geographic anomalies and any other innumerate reasons but standardization had to be implemented.
The government has always been full of "red tape" so it should be anything short of shocking that the first attempts to develop interstate travel started in 1916 and in 1922 Gen. John Pershing created a map containing 220,000 interconnected highways. It took the initiative of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to make the program accelerate with the initiative to improve the ability to provide troop and supply routes in the case of an emergency or the invasion of the United States by a foreign power.
While the Federal government was floundering in its attempts to begin the system, trucks were already traveling the United States delivering commerce to the citizens and businesses. REO Motor Car Company was founded in 1905 by Ransom E. Olds whereas his initials became the name REO Motor Car Company. The aforementioned company began its foray into truck manufacturing whereby REO purchased a Canadian truck manufacturer and its legend was born.
In 1954 REO filed for bankruptcy and was subsequently purchased by another company (Bohn Aluminum and Brass Co.) who was later purchased by White Motor Co. (no not me or my family) and THIS is where my part of history begins. After his stint in Vietnam, my dad had purchased a Diamond REO semi and he drove it for some time. I really don't remember the truck, but I remember the pictures I have seen of it and it was a beautiful truck. In 1985 I was reacquainted with the Diamond REO when I was transported to my US Army physical by a man that was restoring an REO. I didn't get into the military but the story will always be marked with a tragedy (it had nothing to do with the military) and the name REO will always stand with me.
Growing up when I did I there was so much music out there that was new and fresh, it was the '70's and quite a few great bands were born despite the tripe called "disco". Looking back I still see the album covers of "Cheap Trick", "Boston", and a band named "REO Speedwagon". I still remember being with my uncle Jeff and hearing REO on his state-of-the-art, factory installed radio in his old Chevelle. I remember hearing him talking about seeing the band in concert and talking about their music with reverence. While music can indeed be reverent, bands tend not to be. Yes the band grew into an arena worthy band but their music was truly the draw.
It becomes the chicken and the egg in a sense, what came first the band or its music? Can the music transcend into something bigger than the band itself? Had you asked me some thirty-five or so years ago I would have said yes. REO Speedwagon was, in my mind at least, their music and not the band itself. Remember that bands weren't making videos, and channels such as MTV didn't exist so I was limited in any exposure to the band and in a way I believe that was for the best. Its safe to say that the only way I could actually see the band was limited to magazines or "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert". With such limited access, their music was more identifiable than pictures placed in a magazine.
With that in mind, I continued to be a fan of their music and I even knew what they looked like but I never saw them live. That changed on April 20th, 2013 at the i-wireless Center in Moline, IL when REO Speedwagon, Styx and Ted Nugent made their presence known. When REO Speedwagon took the stage it was a cathartic moment for me as it took me back to that old Chevelle. Happier days are reminiscent through the gift of music and should be cherished so it was of no surprise to me when those memories reemerge.
In hindsight I should have seen them when I was younger (I had the opportunity three times previous) if nothing more than to acknowledge the REO boys as having met each other in various college towns in Illinois. Being from Illinois I do find some pride in knowing that the band that started in 1967 and they have stayed the course. As REO began to perform I did smile in the prideful way one may experience knowing that a sports team has won a championship. How often does one react in such a fashion as I did, or more importantly are able to react to the situation similarly?
Looking at the band as they performed I was struck by how great they looked on stage, meaning they took command of their "parts" within all that is REO Speedwagon. Yes I know they should be able to take "command" of their part but its been painfully obvious some bands of similar vintage just go through the motions. That's a sad commentary but its the truth, the painful truth.
Take for instance Neal Doughty, a founding member of the band and the man that plays keyboards. With keyboards being so prevalent throughout their music and set its important, no its imperative that he has to be on the top of his game and with what he makes appear so simple as he leaves one astonished when realizing how complex it truly is. To the fans, the new, the old and the young at heart, it becomes apparent if the performer knows his position and is having fun as it makes their experience fun as well. Doughty is a legend, a consummate professional and fun to watch.
With Dave Amato therein lies a lead guitarist that has a resume' that it can be deemed eclectic. Performing with the likes of Richie Sambora, Ted Nugent, Petra ('tis a Christian band), Motley Crue and... Cher. This truly is an eclectic performer. In all seriousness to be a member of anything related to Ted Nugent and Motley Crue, you have to be great. It is safe to say that he is great and on stage he proves it.
Bassists are an interesting breed (I've said that before), but its true. To many people a bassist is that gruff looking, string slapper that does little more than play bass and absorb stage space. Yes it's true, you know who you are you bass haters. Bruce Hall is none of that. Hall deserves the notoriety that falls to the well known bassists like Nikki Sixx, Gene Simmons, etc.. Hall joined REO in 1978 and he began to pen such songs as "Thru The Window", and "Someone Tonight" whilst performing with the band. Hall makes his job look easy and will remain a staple with the band for many years to come.
It has become apparent that REO wants to make sure its band mates have experience across genres and looking at Bryan Hitt it shows. Hitt brought his skills as a drummer to the band after stints as a session musician and with groups like "Wang Chung" and "The Spencer Davis Group". Often times drummers are the forgotten ones in a band but Hitt was far from that. It's refreshing to see a drummer with the skills of Hitt.
I would venture a guess that most of us would agree that despite the excellent musicians the one thing that people can identify when talking about REO is the very distinct voice of Kevin Cronin. As I write this I have REO playing in a loop, its background noise and it is barely audible but Cronin's voice is there, breaking through and telling me what I am listening to. Kevin Cronin IS the voice of REO Speedwagon, and his vocals can never be duplicated. What's interesting is that his voice remains a constant and doesn't appear to have aged one iota. Cronin was and is brilliant.
The history of the United States is one of massive achievements and massive failures but we, the citizens of the United States continue moving forward. As the Nation grew so did our demands for goods, whether it be paper, cotton or widgets. It became apparent that although trains could bring forth large quantities of materials to and fro, trucks could haul materials to areas that may not have had rail access or because of costs associated with train travel. Trucks became the life blood of the country, and trucks became yet another slice of the fabric of the Nation.
Much like automobiles, truck manufactures faced economic stability, raising material costs and consumer wants / needs. These aforementioned industries are littered with the bones of those that couldn't compete as well as their successful competition. Today there is a marketplace for those defunct manufacturers and often times the value of their products is higher than the survivors. I suppose that is the way it should be, I mean we all look back nostalgically at a toy we once had or a favorite TV show so why wouldn't we wax poetic over a mechanized vehicle?
Inside of the blather above lies a serious conundrum, is it possible that there can be a mix of something old and modern, utilitarian and entertaining, and it be considered cool and relevant at the same time? Certainly there are "classic cars" that could be considered cool but can a truck, something used for transporting wares that hasn't been seen outside of "trucking circles" since the 1970's be cool? I would be willing to bet that we could name several bands that fall into the criteria above BUT... Is it humanly possible that a truck and a band of musicians be cool, relevant and legendary at the same time? If it's REO Speedwagon then yes it can. What an AMAZING show!