Gary Richrath, former lead guitarist for REO Speedwagon, died September 13th, 2015. As of this writing, nothing has been released regarding the cause of death, and that’s okay by me. I’m not writing to talk about the cause of his death. I will say this. I saw the 2013 reunion of Gary and REO Speedwagon, and as they were leaving the stage, you could see Gary had to be helped down. His health was probably not the best even then. Sad to say, but the years of alcohol abuse had no doubt taken a toll on him. Still, he played with REO one more time, and I’m pretty sure it meant a lot to him. It sure as hell meant a lot to Gary’s fans, as well as fans of REO Speedwagon.
Gary played lead guitar, sang lead on a few songs, and wrote or co-wrote some of REO Speedwagon’s biggest hits from the first album “R.E.O. Speedwagon” in 1971 until his departure after the “Life As We Know It” album in 1987. Gary wasn’t a guitar master. Not at all. He played from the heart, with fire and passion. He had a great ear for melody. His solos served the song, not the other way around. He wasn’t the flashiest guitar player or the most technical guitar player on the planet, but he knew how to sling a Les Paul, and as a result, some of the finest guitar solos in the history of rock appeared on the REO Speedwagon albums during his time with the band.
I’m not going to talk about the friction between Gary and REO’s lead singer Kevin Cronin. They had their differences, but they loved each other like brothers, and together they made some great music. It’s the music I want to discuss. “Like You Do,” “Golden Country,” “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” “Son of a Poor Man,” “Any Kind of Love,” “(Only a) Summer Love,” “Tonight,” “Flying Turkey Trot,” “Sing To Me,” “Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight,” “Meet Me on the Mountain,” “Easy Money,” “Only the Strong Survive,” “Take It on the Run,” “In Your Letter,” “Shakin’ It loose,” “Every Now and Then,” “Stillness of the Night,” “Back in My Heart Again,” “I’ll Follow You,” and “Break His Spell” are just some of the songs Gary wrote himself, not taking into account the co-writes. If that doesn’t demonstrate his prowess as a songwriter of the highest order, nothing will.
Witness Gary’s guitar playing on the underrated live album “You Get What You Play For” to hear classic Gary Richrath in action. It’s a fantastic live document of an REO Speedwagon concert experience at the time, captured forever in all its blistering glory.
Unfortunately, with Gary’s departure from the band, there’s been a divide between REO Speedwagon fans. On one side you have fans of the band with or without Gary, and on the other, fans who believe REO Speedwagon is nothing without Gary. I call bullshit on that whole situation. I don’t choose sides. I still love REO Speedwagon and I’ve supported them even without Gary being a part of the band. I’ve also followed Gary, though for many years he sort of disappeared and it was difficult to keep up. Either way, I love both sides of the fence. I would have liked another REO album with Gary, but sadly, that is no longer a possibility.
Gary Richrath left us a lot of incredible music. He managed to ride the storm out while he was here. Rather than mourn his passing, I choose to celebrate his life and the music he left behind. This is from an REO Speedwagon fan past and present, and a Gary Richrath fan whether he was with REO Speedwagon or on his own.