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Gary Richrath, former REO Speedwagon guitarist, songwriter, dies at 65

LEAD GUITAR: Gary Richrath rocks his solo on REO Speedwagon’s concert staple,‘Riding the storm Out,’ in a 1981 concert clip posted on YouTube.
LEAD GUITAR: Gary Richrath rocks his solo on REO Speedwagon’s concert staple,‘Riding the storm Out,’ in a 1981 concert clip posted on YouTube. YouTube

Gary Richrath, a former guitarist for the classic rock band REO Speedwagon and composer of the group’s hit Take It on the Run, died Sunday, according to a publicist for the band.

Richrath was 65.

Publicist Erik Stein confirmed on Monday that Richrath died but offered no details about the cause of death, the Associated Press reported. Bandmate Kevin Cronin, the group’s lead singer, posted his remembrance on Twitter Sunday night.

“My longtime friend and collaborator Gary Richrath passed away earlier today. I feel so sad. Gary was both a unique guitarist and songwriter, and the embodiment of the tough guy with a heart of gold.”

Cronin said his former bandmate was instrumental in his development as a front man. “I learned most of what I know about being in a rock band from Gary Richrath.”

Richrath was a member of REO when it released its self-titled debut in 1971. He was with REO Speedwagon until 1989 and was a central figure on the late 1980 release Hi Infidelity, an album that spent 15 weeks atop The Billboard 200 and ranked as the No. 1 album of 1981.

He co-wrote some of the band’s best, generally more rocking, songs, including the early concert favorite, Ridin’ the Storm Out, the 1978 instrumental The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot, Take It on the Run, which became the second Top 5 pop single from Hi Infidelity, and the scorching Stillness of the Night, a cut from the 1982 follow-up, Good Trouble.

For a generation that came up in the late 1970s and through the mid-’80s, the tuneful, no-frills rock music of REO served as an often guilty pleasure, especially when the band leaned heavily into Cronin’s chart-topping ballads, Keep on Loving You and Can’t Fight This Feeling. Critics, and hipsters tuned into New Wave, punk and college radio at the time, were seldom kind. Richrath split over disagreements on the band’s direction.

I loved the Speedwagon. If they were any more of a guilty pleasure, they'd have frosting on top.

Paul Hodges, 43, Coral Springs

“I loved the Speedwagon. If they were any more of a guilty pleasure, they'd have frosting on top,” said Paul Hodges, 43, of Coral Springs on Facebook.

“I'll never forget when I heard Keep on Loving You and Take It on the Run on my first date with a now late friend in his Toyota. Good memories from the ’80s,” said Coral Gables High School Class of ’81 grad Susan Corrigan, 52.

Richrath last played with REO Speedwagon in 2013, as a surprise guest, when the band performed a benefit concert in Bloomington, Illinois, to raise money for tornado victims.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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