REO Speedwagon’s Bruce Hall: “We helped invent the power ballad”

Published on July 10th, 2018

With shows on the schedule from now through September, you might be tempted to say that REO Speedwagon’s bass wonder Bruce Hall is “back on the road again”. But aside from being a much-repeated choice of words, it wouldn’t tell the whole story – REO Speedwagon has never really left the road. From making their mark in the songwriting world to watching a new generation taking the songs to heart, we talk to Mr. Hall about the past and future of REO Speedwagon.

MRC: You’re out in Virginia, and the tour continues. And you’re with Styx and Ted Nugent, but these guys are your good friends by now. It must be a lot of fun out there.

BH: Oh you bet. We’ve worked with Styx lots of times, and we played back to back with Ted in stadiums in the ’70s and early ’80s. It’s good to see everybody, we’re all getting along great and the people who are coming are having a ball. This is a nice package.

MRC: A lot of young people are showing up at your concerts now too, and today you just visited a high school where they’ve been singing your songs! What’s it like to see the whole new generation picking it up?

BH: Classic rock is catching on so fast with young people, it’s not just a few, there are lots of them who are classic rock fans. I think it has to do with not only liking the music, but remember Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and all that? I think that hooked a whole new generation on classic rock because a lot of the songs that were on those games were songs from the 1980s. So now they show up, and their parents played it in their house when they were growing up.

Today at this high school they asked us what some of our first inspirations were, and we said “The Beatles”. They all started clapping.

MRC: I want to go back in history a little bit because it was not long after you joined the band that this stellar rock song that everyone recognizes called “Back on the Road” again came out. How did that song come together?

BH: I grew up playing a band, so I was “on the road” from the time I was about 14 or 15. The song is about a guy who meets a gal that he likes and he has to say goodbye, and he’ll see her next time he comes to town. It’s kind of a rock anthem. That song came about really fast, I was 17 when I first wrote it in about five minutes. It’s been a good one, and we do it every night, and we rock it pretty hard. It was actually a blues song before we rocked it up with REO.

MRC: That bass solo is a lot of fun.

BH: That’s something that just came together over time. We never decided we wanted a bass solo on there, it just kind of happened to work that way. It’s kind of a nice set up for me to get ready to scream myself silly. [Laughs]

MRC: I like listening to the older stuff – Nine Lives is such an underrated album.

BH: The Nine Lives record was a bit different, we were trying to rock a little harder. We just turned up the volume and tried to be a little more “manly”. [Laughs] The songwriting was starting to get better as well. Kevin and Gary were both starting to write songs that were just constructed better. Kevin especially was just getting deeper into songwriting and getting his soul into it.

MRC: It seems like things became “right” with the band about that time.

BH: When we popped the Hi Infidelity album out there, it felt like a rocket taking off. It changed our lives big time.

MRC: There’s stories about the history of the band and this push and pull between writing ballads and writing rockers. Are those stories exaggerated?

BH: There were songwriters who were writing differently. Kevin starts from the standpoint of a folk singer, and comes up with more of the acoustic sound. Gary, on the other hand, was the Marshall guy who would turn it up. It was hard sometimes, not always, with certain songs. I remember when Kevin brought in “Keep on Lovin’ You” on piano, and we had to add some guitar chords to make it an REO Speedwagon song. We helped invent the power ballad that way. It was a conflict, but you just have to outthink the problem. All and all, it worked out just fine. That was our first number one single.

MRC: The last REO album was in 2007. Are there any news songs in the works or plans to go back in the studio?

BH: Making records has changed a lot these days. It’s not that we stop writing songs or we don’t record, but we just don’t have the same avenues that we used to for getting them out to the public. The music business has changed so much. Fans can find music on our website, when you used to have to hear it on the radio. We just write songs that make us happy, and the good ones we record. We get a batch together, and if we like them all, we’ll put them all out. Or if we just like one, we might put that out. We never stop writing or being creative, or thinking about new music. When you’re an artist it doesn’t stop, you just do it because you love it.

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