Kevin Cronin is a member of REO Speedwagon, one of the most popular rock bands of the 1980s. During the peak of their success, the band was an almost permanent fixture on the Billboard Hot 100, racking up 13 Top 40 hits, two number 1s, and selling over 40 million records in total. They might not be bothering the charts quite as much these days, but they still know how to pull in the crowds at their live sets. Find out more about their lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist as we reveal 10 things you didn’t know about Kevin Cronin.
1. He’s been playing guitar since he was a kid
Cronin was born on October 6, 1951, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. He discovered his love for music at an early age, and spent most of his time outside of school honing his guitar skills. He left education after graduating from Chicago’s Brother Rice High School, having already become convinced that his future lay in music, not business.
2. He joined REO Speedwagon in 1971
Cronin’s decision to forgo a college education for music paid off – by the age of 20, he’d been recruited by REO Speedwagon as a replacement to original lead vocalist, Terry Luttrell. His initial period with the band proved brief. After releasing one album (1972’s “R.E.O./T.W.O,”), he left the band during the recording of 1973’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out” over creative differences. Michael Bryan Murphy took his place, and remained with the band until Cronin stepped back up to the mic in January 1976. Since rejoining the band, Cronin has penned the bulk of their most successful songs, including “Keep the Fire Burnin'”, “I Do’ Wanna Know”, “Keep on Loving You”, “Can’t Fight This Feeling”,” “In My Dreams”, and “Don’t Let Him Go”.
3. He appeared on Don’t Forget the Lyrics!
In 2008, Cronin took a break from the recording studio to appear as a celebrity contestant on “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” The premise of the show revolved around contestants competing for a prize pot of $1million by selecting songs to sing along to alongside a karaoke-style video screen. Midway through the song, the words disappeared from the screen and the singer had to rely on memory to get through the rest. Cronin managed to reach $350,000 before being eliminated after forgetting the lyrics to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.”
4. He’s planning something big for 2022
Next year is set to be a big one for Cronin and the rest of REO Speedwagon. The last time they toured together was 2018, but now they’re promising a comeback to the stage with a multi-act “major tour.” So far, Cronin is keeping mum on who the other acts will be, telling Ultimate Classic Rock, “The two other bands will remain nameless for the moment but suffice to say, they’re really both great friends of ours. So that’s going to be a lot of fun.” Considering the band has toured with everyone from Def Leppard to Status Quo and Chicago, it promises to be unmissable.
5. Ozark helped rejuvenate his career
When fans of the Netflix show “Ozark” tuned in to its third season, they were treated to a surprise appearance from Cronin and the rest of REO Speedwagon during episode three. The episode also featured one of the band’s most popular tunes, “Time for Me to Fly.” It’s fair to say they hadn’t troubled the charts for some years, but the show seemed to remind people of just how good they could be. As forbes.com reports, the end result was that thousands of viewers flocked out to buy or stream the band’s back catalog, leading to a major resurgence on a number of Billboard charts.
6. He’s writing an autobiography
According to legend, Cronin thrashed out the lyrics to REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” on the back of a trash bag. Now, he’s hoping to repeat the success of that classic track, albeit on the printed page. Having “accidentally” begun writing his autobiography during REO Speedwagon’s 2016 tour with Status Quo, the enforced hiatus from touring bought about by the pandemic has made him get serious about it. The memoir (which is tentatively titled “Roll With the Changes: My Life Within and Without REO Speedwagon”) is now in its final stages -according to Cronin, it should be finished in time for a 2022 release. Among other things, the memoir promises to lift the lid on Cronin’s troubled relationship with bandmate Gary Richrath, who died from complications following surgery in 2016.
7. His favorite guitar is a ‘52 Telecaster
Cronin is known to play Ovations on tour, and even has his own signature guitar from the brand. But if there’s one guitar he never leaves home without, it’s his trusty ‘52 Fender Telecaster. Speaking to Guitar World about his favorite piece of kit, he said: “People tell me it’s too valuable to take on tour, but I love playing that guitar so much that I don’t care. The neck fits my left hand perfectly, and it sounds exactly how I think an electric guitar should sound. If someone swipes it, that would be total bad karma for them. Anyway, Smooth would chase them down. He guards that guitar with his life.”
8. He’s grown closer to his family during the pandemic
The COVID lockdowns haven’t exactly been pleasant, but through adversity, comes opportunity, and in Cronin’s case, he’s relished the chance to reconnect with his family. All of his kids have left home, but when his daughter started working remotely and his sons’ colleges closed, all three moved back into the family home. As a result, he’s spent more time with them in the past 18 months than he ever has, and says the bond they’ve formed will “remain forever.”
9. He’s clean living
When REO Speedwagon were at the peak of their popularity in the 1980s, their tours were known to get pretty wild. Cronin, like the rest of the band, earned a reputation as a party animal. These days, though, it’s a different story. After realizing his lifestyle was starting to overshadow his work and family life, he made a 180-degree turn. Now, he’s all about healthy eating and working out. He might still occasionally enjoy the odd glass of wine at dinner, but he makes sure to drink it by the glass rather than the bottle.
10. His son inspired Find Your Own Way Home
In 2007, REO Speedwagon released “Find Your Own Way Home,” their first new album in eleven years. Cronin had been inspired to write the album after his son, Paris, fell into drug addiction. After trying to help him via interventions and stints in rehab, the family hit rock bottom when they received a phone call to say Paris had been arrested for possession. They were told they could either bail him out or Paris would spend the next 4 days in jail. At that point, Cronin decided to dole out some tough love and stop enabling his son. He refused to bail him out, something he credits with putting Paris, who’s now sober, on the road to recovery The songs on the album were written about the experience, which Cronin has described as “the darkest, yet most fulfilling, chapter of my life.”