Backstage Pass: The education of REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath continues

Slowly, though REO was getting little traction through its self-titled release, guitarist Gary Richrath was beginning to emerge as a major guitar force.

Guitar magazines were starting to feature him and his sort of  muscular blending of English blues-rock licks with a flashier, more modern technique. In fact, he has described himself as a “combination of Jeff Beck and Joe Walsh doing four grams of coke.”

All kidding aside, Richrath was a huge fan of both Jeff and Joe, and those influences did shine through on the REO albums. Beck can be heard in the stylish finger vibrato and the melodic solos, and Walsh is all over Richrath’s slide playing.

Here, in Part II of this interview from 1976, with Hi Infidelity on the horizon, Richrath talks at length about his fascination with those guitarists and how he sees his role as the lead six-string picker in the band. Need to get caught up? Click here to read part I now!

What is it like working with a keyboard player? Does it allow you to be freer? Does it restrict you?  Do you like working with synthesizer?

Gary Richrath: Um… no, the synthesizer I like. How can I phrase this right…the synthesizer work I like better than the keyboard.

The way our band is at the present is, we have a rhythm guitarist that plays strictly rhythm. He doesn’t try to be a lead guitar player, which a lot of rhythm-guitar players do, in particular our old one, which you’ll hear on some of our older records.

Kevin (Cronin) plays strictly rhythm, and he plays right in the same register as the piano does. When he came back into the band, our keyboard player had an adjustment to make. Our keyboard player normally would play that rhythm, that area of the music on piano. So, now there was two of them doing it, so they got cluttered; what myself and Neal (Doughty), our keyboard player is doing, is getting different range.

So, like I’ll play an inversion up, or he’ll play an inversion up. But, before, it had been mainly the keyboard player was the rhythm, and I did the solo stuff, and it worked out really well that way. Now, we’re sort of having to re-adjust, and the adjustments are coming as our keyboard player is going to more synthesizer work, rather than piano or organ. He always played that before and shied away from the synthesizer.

John Stronach and our keyboard player got together a lot on this last record and came up with some really nice synthesizer parts, so he’s probably going to be concentrating more on that which doesn’t conflict as much with the two other guitars going.

When you have two guitars blasting away, it’s hard to fit a nice, clean piano part in there. So, we’re putting in a synthesizer with more of a pure tone, and it comes out, it sticks out better.

There are still five people in the band?

GR: Yeah, it’s still a five-piece band; it’s just we’re re-evaluating what everybody is going to be playing and the way we’re going to be sounding. So, I do like working with a piano; as I said, his parts have gotta be more together than they were before, because of the rhythm factor and that whole trip. But, I do like working with a good piano player for sure.

Are there special runs or scales or things that you work from and make up the stuff you use for your solos?

GR: No, to me — and this goes back to the country things — the way I learned how to play solos was, I took a chord and dissected it and use like the G down here, the G up here, the G here and the high G. Well, if you take those and totally dis

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