On September 13, 2015, the music world lost founding REO Speedwagon guitarist Gary Richrath, whose soaring, muscular solos powered such band staples as "Ridin' the Storm Out," "Don't Let Him Go," "Roll With the Changes," and "Take it on the Run." Richrath's talent is often overlooked and deserves a mention; not only did he bring his Gibson Les Paul licks to the table every night in concert, but he co-wrote many of the songs in REO's repertoire, helping the band sell over 40-million albums in the U.S.
Richrath had an interesting quirk: as he launched into a solo, he'd pucker his mouth and blow up both upper cheeks with air - like a chipmunk. It was an endearing habit because the more he dug into the solo, the bigger his cheeks got!
Much maligned by critics throughout its lifetime (which continues to the present), REO Speedwagon attracted praise from its fans, who jammed the shows and made the albums decent sellers until the 1977 double live "You Get What You Play For" took things up several notches by going Platinum, which set up the 2-million selling followup "You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can't Tuna Fish" in '78. Richrath was on board for the band's mega-selling "Hi-Infidelity" album in 1980 which sold over 10 million copies, penning the Top 5 hit "Take it on the Run." The guitarist remained on board for more of the band's glory years, eventually leaving in 1989 and releasing a solo album, "Only the Strong Survive," in '92.
Richrath was on good terms with the other members of REO when he passed from a stomach ailment in 2015 at the age of 65. On REO's website, the guitarist is remembered lovingly by his lead singer Kevin Cronin, who stated: “Gary could stand alone in the spotlight, in the middle of a hit-filled REO Speedwagon concert, with nothing more than a Les Paul and a coil cord plugged into a Marshall stack, and totally captivate an arena full of people. We saw him do it every night so it was no big deal to us at the time… But, it was a very big deal! He was part Hendrix, part Lennon, with a dash of Dickie Betts for that bit of country flavor. When all is said and done, Gary was the perfect complement—that set of ingredients that my music needed which I could not possibly provide. We fought like brothers and underneath it all, we loved each other like brothers.”