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Dave Amato is a musician with incredible range; he’s played with everyone from Ted Nugent and Richie Sambora to Cher and Kim Carnes en route to his current gig with the legendary REO Speedwagon. Along the way, he’s had a chance to amass one of the largest Marshall collections around, and a few guitars too. Dave spoke with us about his history, his gear and REO Speedwagon’s newest album.
You’ve had a pretty long and successful career as a professional musician. Could you talk about some of your more memorable gigs, and who you played with? Who left an impression?
The impression was definitely from Ted Nugent, like ’85 to the end of ‘87.We did two records, Little Miss Dangerous and If You Can’t Lick Em … Lick Em. It was a great experience; we went out with Aerosmith in ‘86, and did five months opening for them. It was an incredible experience and we played all the big ones … Madison Square Garden and the Philadelphia Spectrum, it was amazing. I was a lead singer then too, so I sang one half of the show and Ted sang the other half. That was an amazing time.
I did do a little live stuff with Kim Carnes, believe it or not … I mean, from Nugent to Kim Carnes is kind of nuts. It was fantastic; she was like a female version of Rod Stewart. Real raspy and a great lady. I had a lot of fun with that, and was lucky to do that. Is versatility a big thing for you?
Oh yeah! That was great, sure. It was a great experience to get to play in a bunch of different styles. It was a real challenge.
What’s going on with REO Speedwagon right now?
Actually, I’m heading down to the studio in a few hours to hear the first mix of our new record.We’re mixing it right now.
Have you set a track listing?
Yeah, we’ve got 10 songs, maybe 11 on it. Today is the first time I’ll get to hear it. I know I’m gonna hear it and say, “Hey man, turn my guitar up a little bit more.” That’s all.
When it comes to writing, where do you fit into the mix?
Well, Kevin [Cronin, lead vocals and guitar] usually does the bulk of it, as he did in the heyday … but Gary [Richrath, former guitarist] did a lot of it too. Since then, Kevin has kind of taken over everything. On this one, all of us co-wrote a song on it, and Bruce [Hall, bass player] has a song on it, but the rest is pretty much Kevin. He’s a great writer.
When you approach these songs that Kevin’s already written, do you have to fit your style to the song, or does he write with your style in mind?
He kind of writes … folksy [laughs]. He’s kind of a folksy guy. That’s sort of where he came from; he used to play solo gigs at clubs, by himself with an acoustic. He writes a lot on acoustic, and we kind of adapt it … I know the old REO did the same thing. He came in with a bunch of folksy songs, and they said, “What the hell is this?” So, when the band gets a hold of it, it definitely changes. I kind of rock it up a bit, you know, because I come from the Nugent days. And I gotta say, Gary was rock too, so he kind of changed it, and I feel like I fit into that slot really well.We change it, and make it like REO … great rock!
Since we’re talking about old REO vs. new REO, how was your transition into the band? You came on kind of late in their career span … was it difficult fitting into these guitar parts that Gary had already written?
No, it was easy, because I’ve done a whole bunch of stuff, from Kim Carnes to Nugent, and everything in between, so it wasn’t really hard at all. I kind of caught the band on their downhill side, which was unfortunate for me, because they had already peaked with Hi Infidelity, but when I came in and the drummer [Bryan Hitt] came in, we kind of turned it around.We didn’t start from scratch, but we did claw our way up to where we’re at now.We kept going up a little every year, we kept getting better gigs, and we made a couple of records that were pretty good. It’s a classic rock band, and sometimes its tough to sell records out there. But we could tour in the Midwest, which was still huge, and in the ‘90s we did some great tours with Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar and Peter Frampton.We kind of really kicked it there, and jump-started it about 10 years ago, and it’s been going great ever since.