We highlight a pair of American acts with strong beginnings in the 1970s who achieved their greatest success in the 1980s, REO Speedwagon and Daryl Hall & John Oates.
PART ONE – MICHAEL JAHNZ OF RICHRATH PROJECT 3:13
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on L.A. is Mine, which includes the final work of Gary Richrath, who so many of us knew as REO Speedwagon’s guitarist and a key songwriter for the group. When Gary passed away in 2015, that was just before I began writing In Memoriam articles for Goldmine. If I would have reached out to you then, what would you have said about Gary?
MICHAEL JAHNZ: I met Gary at the end of the 1980s in Southern California. He had just bought a ranch there, not too far from where I was living. Like Gary, we were from the Midwest and we were in L.A. trying to get a record deal. He wanted to do something different from REO Speedwagon at the time. He said that he wanted to jam with us, and I never thought it would materialize, but it did. One Sunday afternoon, sure enough, Gary Richrath was in our rehearsal studio. We obviously started doing some of the REO stuff, because everyone knew his compositions “Ridin’ the Storm Out” and “Take It on the Run.” We did them and he absolutely had the greatest time. He liked my voice and asked me if I would be interested in doing some background vocals for him, and I told him that I would love to. We did some demos in his home studio. He was putting together songs intended for the next REO album. He liked my background vocals and asked if I would like to sing lead vocals, so I did that. How could I say no? He was so impressed that he had me do lead vocals on a lot of songs. At that time period, there was uncertainty on what was going on with REO. My drummer came over and started recording drum parts for him. One thing led to another and Gary was no longer in REO Speedwagon and he asked me if I could be his lead singer and I said, “Of course,” and we became the band Richrath. In late 1989 we started doing live shows.
GM: Around that time, from 1989 through 1993, we were living in Illinois and I remember when the Richrath album Only the Strong Survive was released and received local press coverage. I enjoy “Holly Would” from that album, which is a clever title, shared by April Wine, who also used that title in 1976 on their Forever for Now album, which was only released in Canada.
MJ: Gary told me that song was planned for REO’s Hi Infidelity album, but he never finished it, and he asked me if I would finish it for him. Gary put me into a different vocal stratosphere, teaching me a lot of techniques and ideas that helped my vocals become a lot stronger. I learned so much from him to enhance my vocal ability. Then I was able to write more songs and sing more like what he wanted. I played bass when I first met him and he really wanted me to play rhythm guitar, so he taught me that, too. I had a great teacher.
GM: Between the rhythm guitar and lead vocals, I think Gary turned you into the next Kevin Cronin, which is a good thing, and explains why you sound ideal when your group plays REO classic songs. When the original version of “Ridin’ the Storm Out” was released in 1973 with Mike Murphy on vocals, I bought the 45. When the live version was released in 1977, with Kevin on vocals, I bought the album. I was so impressed with the clarity in his voice. The following year when I was working at Peaches Records & Tapes, we would play the album You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tune a Fish with “Roll with the Changes” and “Time for Me to Fly” back-to-back and we knew this Midwest band would eventually take off nationally. I definitely hear Kevin’s voice in you.
MJ: Gary was the sound of REO, with different vocalists along the way. He could play guitar pretty much better than anybody. He was phenomenal. He had a unique style and his personality shined through. When he came off stage, he would talk with everybody and everybody loved how he treated them. He was very likeable and loveable. That’s what we try to do, inspired by Gary. On the new album there are tracks that Gary and I created together. Dennis Pockets is filling in for Gary’s shoes nicely on guitar. When we went to record this album, our engineer Brad Zwieg went back and listened to the early REO music and took notes. On the new album, in addition to originals, we also recorded REO’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out” and “Son of a Poor Man,” and what you hear now is a sound blend of the different REO singers. Gary taught me to sing from my gut and don’t stop, even if moments might have seemed a bit off. We would do it over and over again in the studio, which is where 3:13 came from in the band’s name, because, after 3:13 A.M. you have got to give it a break for a little while, ha ha.
GM: In 1977, when the live version of “Ridin’ the Storm Out” was released as a single, the flip side, also from REO’s You Get What You Play For double live album, was “Being Kind (Can Hurt Someone Sometimes).”
MJ: That is one of my favorite songs when I used to listen to the album as a young kid. It was Kevin’s composition, but Gary was singing with his guitar. It is unbelievable that I am now so involved in their music. I also appreciate everything that Kevin has done as a songwriter. In our live shows we do Gary’s songs, my songs, and some of the Kevin hits and people love that.
Flip side: Being Kind (Can Hurt Someone Sometime)
A side: Ridin’ the Storm Out
Billboard Top 100 debut: May 28, 1977
Peak position No. 94
GM: “Son of a Poor Man” is on that live album along with being on your new album. Lyrically it immediately reminds me of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” and later in the song, Boston’s “A Man I’ll Never Be.” Speaking of Boston, Scott Weber’s organ and Doug Janssen’s bass are great.
MJ: They performed it so well. We went back and researched the parts. Gary preached that the drummer be solid, which Andy Crownover is. The bass player falls in with that, and then Gary felt that he and the lead singer would play off each other. In addition to Gary’s guitar part, the lyrical meaning in “Son of a Poor Man” is all about how it was for him when he was young.
GM: Speaking about young, who is the cute little girl in your “Help Me Save Me from Myself” video?
MJ: That is my granddaughter Jamie. My son Zachary is in the video, too, shot in the outskirts of Milwaukee. The song and video are doing really well. Gary brought this song to me and wanted me to add my technique to it, which we originally did in my demo studio. He never explained what the lyrics were about, but being close to him, I knew he had some issues. I hope the song will help a lot of people. Our next video will be for “Heard It on the Radio.”
GM: That’s one that Dennis Pockets co-wrote with you and it reminds me of 1980s .38 Special and Survivor songs co-written by Jim Peterik. It has that catchiness to it.
MJ: That is a nice compliment. Thank you. I think I can hear a bit of a Jim Peterik’s Survivor influence in it. I originally wrote that one years ago and it sat around for a long time. We were doing a rehearsal for a show and Dennis started playing a guitar part and I told him that I had a perfect song for that sound. I started singing the words I hadn’t sung in years and sure enough it came together, and we recorded it about five days later. It turned out to be a fun kind of summer song.
GM: What is engaging about the title tune “L.A. is Mine” is the two-part nature with the acoustic half followed by the electric half.
MJ: That is Gary playing the 12-string guitar, which is so cool because he taught me to play acoustic guitar on the 12-string. He had a magical way of making it sound like it would sing to you. We took the old analog tracks and brought them out digitally and we played along with those original tracks. That is a song that Gary created in the 1970s about flying from Illinois to Los Angeles for the first time.
GM: I can also hear a touch of that Midwest music sound on your fun song “These Nights.” I almost hear a bit of Gary’s “In Your Letter,” which I love and bought the sheet music to forty years ago, and even a Lindsay Buckingham era Fleetwood Mac sound, so truly a Midwest and L.A. blend.
MJ: Those are great comparisons, which are really cool. “These Nights” is another song that Gary had and never finished and wanted us to use on a future album. So many people like its catchiness. Yes, it is another fun band song.
GM: In addition to REO Speedwagon, another Midwest family favorite is Head East, who you did a show with this summer.
MJ: Yes, it was a 150th anniversary festival in Door County, Wisconsin. It was a great show and great combination. Over the years I had been able to play with Head East with Gary so many times through the 1990s and it was so much fun to do another show with them recently. It was a great honor. People love all those old classic rock songs. There are younger people coming out now, which is cool. We played the Wisconsin show and then I headed back home to my family before my son headed off to college at Carthage College in Kenosha, to play varsity football as a freshman. He is doing really well. That leaves Anne and me home with our two German Shepherds, Harmony and Rockstar. Gary had a German Shepherd who lived for over sixteen years, which is old for a German Shepherd, and his name was Rocker. I sure do appreciate this Goldmine interview and I hope to meet you and the readers on the road.
PART TWO – PAT VIA AND MITCH MITCHELL OF JANUARY JANE
GM: Congratulations on your new EP Your Drug. Let’s go back first, Pat, to your time on American Idol.
PAT VIA: Thank you. It all began because my mom had open heart surgery. When she was recovering, I asked what I could do to make her feel better and I wasn’t expecting this request, but she whispered in my ear, “I want you to do American Idol.” That was an unusual request from my mom. It sounded quite funny. It wasn’t her style. I knew I had to give it a shot. It was an interesting process. There were multiple rounds at the beginning and then you meet the judges. I went in and sang briefly and got the chance to go to Hollywood, which was cool. The judges were Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Steven popped his head out right after my session, where I sang “Hurt So Good” and “Stand By Me,” and gave me an extra thumbs up, which I thought was really awesome. I went to Hollywood but didn’t win. It was a good experience, but maybe our trio wouldn’t exist if I did win, so that’s a good thing, too. Everything works out the way it is supposed to. I got to meet a lot of great people and interesting singers. I had only been singing about five years at that point. By the time the last episodes were being filmed I was busy meeting Mitch.
GM: Bo Bice went on from American Idol to becoming the lead singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears, which gets us to you, Mitch. Please share your Blood, Sweat & Tears connection.
MITCH MITCHELL: Larry Willis, who was a keyboardist in Blood, Sweat & Tears in the 1970s, and played with Cannonball Adderley and others, was a jazz legend and icon. Through a family friend, a demo of me just noodling on guitar when I was in high school made its way to him and we met, and he had that stereotypical low jazzy voice. He took me under his wing right as I was putting my feet in the pond. He passed his advice on music to me, and we recorded together. He passed away in 2019. I wish he was around to hear what we are doing. It was a random connection, and I was happy to seize the opportunity to be with Larry. I think about things he told me now, and it pumps me up and keeps me going. He said, “Whatever sounds good is good. There are no rules.”
GM: I’ll tell you what sounds good, your guitar solo on “I Can’t Go for That.”
MM: Oh wow. Thank you.
GM: It is a great version and I think Peter also brings a great element to your trio.
MM: The amazing thing about meeting Peter and Pat is that it was like an arranged marriage. Pat and I met through mutual friends at a gallery opening and were told that we should hang out. Pat needed a guitarist, and I needed a singer. We got together and quickly came up with a song. We needed piano and met Pete and he acts as a powerful anchor for the trio. New York is filled with so many opportunities which come later in the night, if you are willing and seize upon the moments.
GM: Why did you choose a Hall & Oates song to cover?
PV: The people at BMG said, “Take a look at our catalog of songs and see what you guys are feeling, in terms of doing a cover.” Mitch, Peter and I are huge fans of Hall & Oates, one of the most successful duos in music history. We jammed on a few of their songs. “I Can’t Go for That” was the strongest of our interpretations.
GM: The flip side of the original single was “Unguarded Minute,” opening with a great guitar part, from their Private Eyes album.
MM: Yes, and that is a great album.
Daryl Hall & John Oates
Flip side: Unguarded Minute
A side: I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)
Billboard Top 100 debut: November 14, 1981
Peak position No. 1
GM: My favorite episode of Live at Daryl’s House is when Fitz and The Tantrums were guests, who are very Hall & Oates inspired. When I listen to your music, I am reminded of Fitz and The Tantrums and Neon Trees.
MM: Cool! We love them.
PV: Both are great acts.
GM: I hear the blend of those groups on your song “Versions of You,” which has a great bounce.
MM: I was on the train and I saw a model looking at her portfolio. She was a very beautiful woman, but she looked so upset and distraught over the pictures of herself that she was going through. I thought it was an interesting thing to look at in life, the different versions of ourselves, of how we see ourselves and others. That sparked the lyrics. Musically it spans different years. We started it in 2017 in Manhattan in our studio and then recently put the finishing touches on it. The whole song is a different version of itself as we have evolved as a band and writers.
GM: “NYC” captures a late-night atmosphere with electronic sophistication, a great vocal arrangement and a dance club sound.
MM: It is a fun song where you feel like you are riding in a 1980s limo to a big party in New York. The two songs you mentioned back-to-back were written close to each other in our Midtown Manhattan space, with me trying out different guitar parts.
PV: On “Versions of You” I did the bass, drums and a bit of synthesizer and with “NYC,” it was along the same line.
MM: Pete played keyboards as well, of course.
GM: Earlier we talked about American Idol. If Glee was still on television and looking for a season finale song, I would give them “Addicted to the Night.”
MM: I wish it was and that you would give them a call, ha ha. That song came from us going out all the time, like any band, from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. We meet people from all walks of life and have a very eclectic group of friends, and that is how we gathered a lot of the people who are currently in our orbit of a close-knit team.
GM: In the 1970s, Roxy Music gave us “Love is the Drug.” In the 1980s, Huey Lewis and The News gave us “I Want a New Drug.” Now you share “Your Drug” with us, as a great opening title track on your five song EP.
PV: Thank you very much. That song captures the euphoric rollercoaster of love. The greatest drug of all is love. Mentioning us in the same breath as those other songs is an honor.
MM: Luckily before COVID-19 we had the opportunity to perform most of our new songs live. We miss that so much and cannot wait to get back on stage to get these songs out there in a live capacity, where the songs really come alive. Thank you for having us.
PV: We appreciate our time with you for Goldmine.