REO Speedwagon climbed to the top of the arena rock game in the ’80s, buoyed by memorable hits such as “Keep on Loving You,” “Take It on the Run,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Keep the Fire Burnin’.” A high-energy mix of prog and straight-ahead hard rock was REO’s secret to chart-topping success, and decades later, that musical blend is still packing arenas around the world.
REO Speedwagon, Styx and Ted Nugent are currently touring North America on the “Rock N’ Roll Midwest Express Tour,” and REO guitarist Dave Amato was kind enough to check in with Gibson.com from the road. He chatted about the blockbuster tour, getting great guitar tone and his upcoming signature Gibson.
REO Speedwagon are currently out with Styx and Ted Nugent on the “Rock N’ Roll Midwest Express Tour.” Where did you get the idea to put these three legends together?
Well, Styx and REO have been touring together for years, and we feel that it’s such a good package. Promoters always want it, and it’s just a fun tour. We put Ted Nugent in there to make it a little bit heavier of a rock and roll show. We have Ted opening almost every night except Michigan, so it’s kind of like a Styx and REO tour with Ted as a guest that comes up all the time. I used to play with Ted in the ’80s, and he’s an amazing guitar player. I’m right at home on this tour. It’s like family. I love Nugent. He plays Gibsons, and let’s just say there are tons of Gibsons our here!
With such a high-profile tour roster, is there any friendly competition between the three acts?
It is a family, but yes, it’s a competition! We listen to each other, and that gets each other ready to go on. Ted goes out there first and slaughters them with his guitar playing, and he’s aggressive. Styx and REO flip-flop on closing; it depends on the city. Going on after Ted or Styx, you have to crank it up a notch! Styx and REO have always been really fond of each other, and when it comes to our healthy competition, we just want to give the people a great concert.
When you first got together with the guys of REO Speedwagon, did you ever think you’d still be touring together in 2012?
No! [Laughs] My stint was always two or three good years with a band, and then it would slow down, and I would go onto something else. When I first got the REO job, I thought it would last a good few years and be fun. Now, this is my 23rd year! I can’t believe it. It’s crazy! And the baby boomers that grew up with REO in the ’70s and ’80s have kids now in the teens and 20s, and they’re all coming out and seeing us. It’s amazing that we’re building a whole other fan base.
Why do you think REO Speedwagon have enjoyed such longevity over the years?
I think it’s the songs. “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Keep on Loving You” – we have the ballads all in there. Also, I think when people come to see us, we can rock, too. We can rock with the best of them, and that makes people want to come back.
Let’s switch gears to guitar talk. What would you tell someone who wants to get the REO Speedwagon sound?
I would think it has to be a Les Paul. The REO sound is and always has been a Les Paul, and that’s what I use on REO. I play through Marshalls, and I think you can’t beat that combination. Eric Clapton always played a Les Paul through a Marshall, and a million guys do that. I stick with the classics as far as gear, and that’s the REO sound. That’s the sound we all should have! [Laughs]
What do you believe constitutes good guitar tone?
Wow! Well, I think it’s the individual guy. It’s in the hands of the player. Clapton is a different player than Hendrix. It’s just in the player, because I can go through a Les Paul and a Marshall and Tommy Shaw from Styx does a similar thing, but we’re different players and we get different tones and sounds.
What’s your go-to guitar?
I have two go-to guitars: my ’58 sunburst Les Paul and a ’59 sunburst Les Paul. They’re my work horses! The Gibson Custom shop is making unbelievable guitars right now. I started out with the ’58s, and I have a bunch of ’58s and ’59s.
What makes Gibsons special?
I grew up with them! They’re just amazing guitars. Les Paul designed this thing in the ’50s, and it’s still the same guitar. It withstood the test of time. The Les Paul is just what it is: You can’t beat it. It’s an amazing design. You get such a great tone out of it, and it’s such a thrill to play it every night!
Band photo: Mark Weiss