Bruce Hall, the bassist for the mega-rock band REO Speedwagon, took some time to chat with us about the band’s history, life on the road and about their upcoming show at Mystic Lake Casino.
What type of musical and influences helped shape this band?
(REO) started at the University of Illinois. The Vietnam War was going on … the first version of REO that people would know would be that. Early REO was more of a protest band. It wasn’t against America, it was just against the war. There’s a song called, “Anti-Establishment Man” and “Golden Country,” songs are kind of like a tip of the hat to early REO.
You’ve been with the band since 1977: How did you get the chance to join the band?
I was in the band with one of the other singers that was in (REO) before Kevin (Cronin). His name was Mike Murphy. I just knew the guys, basically. I believe they were looking for another bass player … I fit right in … it wasn’t too hard.
REO Speedwagon has been playing for a long time: what keeps it all together? What’s changed over the years?
The musical direction a little bit. When Gary (Richrath) joined the band, they changed, actually. They became much better and they started getting a bigger following. The word, “speed,” really fit because everything was starting to go really fast. When Kevin came back, he was more song oriented. We started thinking about getting air play. If we wanted this to be our career, we had to get the songs on the radio. A lot of the old songs were too long, to tell you the truth. There weren’t as many longer jamming songs any longer. They’re fun to play, though.
I assume you guys tour quite a bit … What do you guys do to pass the time while traveling?
Well, there’s a lot of things we’ll do. Kevin and I still write. That never stops. We love music and love to create. I play golf. We’ve been around the country enough times, we have friends in different places. We get together with them. We’ve been about everywhere there is to go and there are different opportunities in different places.
Have you guys had any touring incidents/accidents that you’ll always remember?
(Laughs) Back before there were cellphones … this is kind of funny … On the tour bus, we had to come up with a buddy system. We’d leave guys at the truck stop all the time (laughs). The bus would take off and you couldn’t call anybody – we didn’t have cell phones. So, we’d look around and go, “Where’s Neil? I haven’t seen him! Oh, shoot, we left him back at the truck stop!” (Laughs) We’d also play pranks on each other and pull the bus around the corner to make them feel like we left them. That’s what friends are for.
I see you’ve written some of the band’s songs … what’s your process with songwriting? In general, do you all collaborate together or do you hash out the structure beforehand?
Songwriting kind of starts as an individual. It’s usually about something you’ve been through personally. If you break up (with someone), something has happened to your life that affects you deeply, that’s the kind of thing that gives you the inspiration to write. When you take it to the band, that’s when everything changes. Because you have to be willing to let it evolve. It’s like a piece of clay and you need to make it into something you’ll be proud of. You have to structure it in a way that it has quality to it – you don’t want to be embarrassed of it years later.
I’ve hear Kevin Cronin talk about REO’s message being love. Can you expand on that? What do you want fans to get out of your music?
We’ve always tried to take our music and communicate with people. Some songwriters, they have a tendency to just moan and groan about something that’s wrong. But at least the music should be uplifting. People have enough problems as it is. You need to give them something to lift them up.
What are your thoughts on the current status of the music industry, with iTunes, Spotify and other online digital platforms changing the way we experience music?
In this day and age, everything about music has changed so much: how people get their music, how they listen to their music. The avenues that were there for so long — radio and records — have pretty much dried up. The game has changed quite a bit. The Internet, Rockband, and all that started coming out. Our music was all over that (Rockband video game). The good thing about that is that it gave a whole younger generation a chance to listen to the song. We’re lucky we have this cross-generation of listeners.
At Mystic Lake, you guys are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the very-popular album, Hi-Fidelity, so what should fans expect to see and experience at the show?
For that, we have a lot of songs we’ll play off of Hi-Fidelity. We’ll try to play the entire album, but we may not have time. There are certain songs we’ll play from other albums that people really like, and expect to hear, like “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Roll With The Changes.” That’s why people bought the ticket!
Any other future plans for the band that REO fans should know?
We’ve had batches of songs that we’ve recorded and we don’t know how to exactly put it out now. There’s different ideas going around: do we just put it out on the Internet, do we just release one or two at a time, do we sell them at the show or do we give them away for free?
If you had to choose one song for REO Speedwagon to be remembered by, what song would you choose?
I think “Roll With The Changes” is a great song. I think the lyrics to that song … no matter what comes your way, you gotta deal with it, you gotta roll with it, you gotta just keep going. I like “Time For Me To Fly.” It’s fun to play and it seems to touch a lot of people. A lot of people have been through ups and downs in their lives, especially trying to fall in love and being kicked to the curb. It’s a painful business, you know. I think Kevin did a good job with writing that one.
REO Speedwagon is playing at Mystic Lake Caino on Aug. 31, 2012 at 7 p.m. For more information on the show, click here.