REO Speedwagon was formed in 1967. While the band is known for Kevin Cronin’s high-pitched vocals, the only constant member has been keyboardist Neal Doughty. As one of the band’s founding members, Doughty named his group after a flatbed truck he learned about while attending the University of Illinois. The REO Speed Wagon truck was named after the company’s founder Ransom E. Olds.
Doughty and his band altered the name in two ways. One, the band pronounces each letter instead of making “REO” one word like the auto manufacturer. That’s why you’ll often see the band’s name written as “R.E.O. Speedwagon.” Secondly, the band removed the space between the words “Speed” and “Wagon.”
REO Speedwagon released their first studio album in 1971. Before the end of the decade, they had three platinum records to their name, Ridin' the Storm Out (1973), Live: You Get What You Play For (1977), and You Can Tune A Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish (1978). That last album peaked at number 29 on the album charts. Even with all these successes, the band reached its commercial zenith in the early and mid-1980s.
The band drove to the top of the album charts in 1980 thanks to the smash hit Hi Infidelity. The album has since been certified 9x platinum. They followed that release with two more successful albums: Good Trouble (1982) and Wheels Are Turnin’ (1984). Both works peaked at number seven on Billboard 200.
During the 1980s, REO Speedwagon produced two number one singles: “Keep on Loving You” (1980) and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” in 1984. Both were written by Kevin Cronin. Overall, the band has seen 13 of its singles peak inside the Billboard Top 40.
Nowadays, REO Speedwagon is spending less time in the studio and more time on the road. They sell tons of REO Speedwagon tickets on the casino and fair circuit. When they team with an act like Styx or Pat Benatar they can easily sell out an amphitheater.
REO Speedwagon built their success on Cronin’s unique vocals and a sound that uses elements from artists like Styx and Journey and combines it with an Air Supply ethos. Basically, REO Speedwagon is a little too soft to be called “hard rock” and a little too hard to be called “soft rock.”