Three rock acts who ruled the airways in the 1980s — Styx, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent — will show new schoolers how it's done at the Borgata Event Center in Atlantic City on Sunday night, July 1.
Three rock bands who ruled the airways in the 1980s have teamed up for a series of concerts called Midwest Rock 'n' Roll Express Tour that hits Borgata’s Event Center on Sunday night, July 1 — Styx, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.
Doors open 7pm and the show starts 8pm. 8pm Tickets are priced at $75, $85 and $95. Atlantic City Weekly had the opportunity to speak with Nugent, REO Speedwagon singer-guitarist Kevin Cronin and Styx lead vocalist/ keyboardist Lawrence Gowan in separate phone interviews. Here are excerpts. (Click here for concert and ticket details)
REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin
Do you have any fond memories of playing in Atlantic City you would like to share?
As a matter of a fact, I do. For us when we’re on the road, a lot depends on if we have a day off the next day after the show if we’re traveling—because if we have a the day off afterwards, and we’re in a fun town like Atlantic City, then we like to make the best of it. I do remember, we had a day off the following day, I think we were playing at The Borgata, and I ended up on stage in the bar, with the band that was playing at the bar, and we just rocked into the wee hours of the morning and just had a great time.
The place was packed with people; some people who had gone to the concert, some people who had just been in the bar, and it was just one of those kinds of special, fun party, and music rock and roll nights. The band that was playing was really good, so when we started jamming it was a lot of fun. Atlantic City is one of those kinds of places—everybody who comes there is coming to get away from home for the weekend, just kind of get into a different zone. For us, as far as a place to come on tour, Atlantic City is just one of those cities that are like Vegas — whoever is there is there to have a good time. It’s perfect for us because people are pre-disposed to leaving their troubles behind, and listen to some music, and dance and have fun, and that’s what we’re all about. It’s a pretty good match for us, Atlantic City.
How has the touring changed since you guys first started?
It’s changed in a lot of ways. We still have a lot of fun out here, but we’re not as young and as crazy as we used to be. I feel like a late bloomer in general, so I feel like I’m kind of hitting my stride at this point. I’m singing better than ever, I’m just comfortable up there—I’m enjoying the experience more.
I’m appreciating that we’ve accomplished, and how it all worked. I appreciate that people are willing to spend their hard-earned money to come and allow us to continue doing what we love to do. I think maybe in the past I used to take that for granted, and I sure don’t anymore. I look out at the audience from the stage and I feel a real fondness for everyone out there. It just makes me want to play, and sing, and dance, and exceed their expectations. I guess I’m just enjoying the experience now more than ever.
Do you see an age gap in your fan base?
I do, and I think it’s awesome that we see [young] people at our shows-- it’s a pretty wide group that we see. We see people who have been with us since the very beginning with us out there, and we see those people with their kids. That’s always cool because I have children, so I love anything that we do that brings people closer to their kids.
We also see young people, we do see people in their 20s who are discovering our music through classic rock radio, or maybe because their parents had our record sitting around. I’m not sure exactly how it happens. There is a resurgence of movies and TV shows, and products that are using our music in their commercials, so people hear about us that way. We’ve got a couple songs in the Broadway musical Rock of Ages, and the movie Rock of Ages. I actually have a little cameo appearance in the movie. I got to hang out with Russell Brand and Tom Cruise for a night down in Miami doing the movie. Those little perks that come our way, because I guess we’ve been around so long that you kind of cant help to have heard of us, one way or another.
What usually goes into your creative process when writing the lyrics?
It’s usually that I’m confused, or conflicted with some feelings that are in me, and I’m trying to kind of make sense out of situation, or just my own emotions. That’s usually the catalyst for what gets the creative process going. From that initial emotional burst, sometimes a whole song gets written right there, sometimes a half a song gets written, sometimes a little idea gets created. Then it’s a matter of writing it all in one burst—those are the real magical ones.
A lot of the time those are the best ones, they’re definitely the easiest ones to write. The hardest ones are the ones where you start with an emotional burst and you feel like you’ve got something, but you know it’s not done yet. So sometimes for me, it’s been that I haven't lived out the conclusion of the song yet, so I just have to wait until it happens. I’ve had songs that I’ve written over a ten year period, between the time I’ve had the initial creative burst, to the time I’ve actually finished it. Those songs, I guess, just get filed somewhere in my brain.
There are certain songs that you kind of just get a strong feeling about, even if you don’t finish them, so they usually just end up getting finished over time. There’s no rhyme or reason to it—there are professional songwriters who have it down to a science, but I’ve never been one of those kinds of writers, I just have to be ready when the spirit moves me and try to capture it.
Have you had a chance to interact with any of the fans on this tour?
All of the time. I was just walking back from the gym, just walking along the street, and a car pulled over. The guy jumped out and he’s been looking all over town, trying to find out where all of the bands are staying. He just recognized me walking down the street and wanted to autograph some stuff for him. He told me the story of how he met us back in the '70s, and partied with us. I get a kick out of hearing peoples stories, because people obviously remember their encounters with us in the '70s — maybe it happened once in their life, so they’re going to remember that more than we are, so it’s cool to hear those stories and see how those little moments can make someone’s day. I try to be as friendly as I possibly can.
If there was anything you could say to the fans you don’t interact with, what would you want to say to them?
I just really appreciate the fact that they have taken my songs and have allowed that energy into their lives, and that they continue to support us by coming to see us play, and watch the TV specials that come out, and just supporting our music. It’s a beautiful exchange of energy when you think about it, because our songs mean something to them, and their support allows us to continue to play those songs, and to go out and do what we love to do. I guess I would just tell them that I really appreciate their support, and as long as they keep coming out we’ll keep showing up and putting on a great show for them.
Styx's Lawrence Gowan
Have you ever played Atlantic City before?
We have played Atlantic City on several occasions at The Borgata, maybe about ten, eleven or twelve years ago we played at the Trump Tower, and we also played at the arena probably about six or seven years ago.
Did you have any fond memories of Atlantic City you would like to share?
I love being there because I love the historical feeling around the place—the feeling that it’s a holiday resort, but it’s also weathered a lot of eras and come out still looking pretty good—and that’s not unlike Styx itself.
What’s different about this tour when compared to previous tours?
July 1st is a continuation of the tour we’re on right now, because that’s what we’ve been doing the past three weeks. It’s going tremendously well, so it will be an even more fine-tuned version of that. What we’ve been doing this year is including a couple of songs from
The Grand Illusion that we put out earlier this year, we did those records back to back in their entirety and shot them in DVD and Blu-Ray. We’re including some of those songs in the set, and a couple of things that people haven’t heard in a few years because it’s such a richness of backed catalogue in Styx land, so we can always pull out a few things that people haven’t heard in a while.
Basically, it’s a big, epic, unapologetic rock show; it seems to be what people are responding to so it’s doing remarkably well right now. [What’s} fantastic for us is that its people of all ages because many of these people weren’t even born when these records were made, and they seemed to have embraced it.
It’s a great surprise for me, since I’ve been in the band, my 14th year, but I remember when I first joined the band in the late '90s, most of the people I could tell were of that era. In the last 5 years or 6 years, increasingly the audience has become to where it went from maybe 25% of the people were under 30, to about 30 percent or 40 percent and now it’s easily have the audience, and sometimes more. I find that really invigorating in so many ways.
Do you see a lot of young new fans coming with their parents?
I think that used to be the case, quite honestly, but I don’t see that as much being the case now. I think that people tend to do their own programming now with the ability to do that through internet searches, etc. It seems as if people are making their own discoveries and they seem to be enamored quite strongly with the classic rock era, and they wanna see those bands that were iconic to the age, and still are able to bring it to the stage in a vibrant way. I can say that Styx stands at the front of the pack when it comes to being able to do that.
How does it feel to play alongside bands that may have previously been considered by some fans to be your competition?
I think that’s true. I’m not as acutely aware of that era as the other guys in the band because I’m still in my 14th year, and that qualifies me as the new guy. I don’t sense that as much—I would say that the competition that exists is of a healthier variety because we each elevate the bar, so to speak, and each band has to live up to that. So when we’re touring with Journey or Foreigner, or last year with Yes, or with Def Leppard, we want each other’s shows to be great because that just furthers the reach of what the show means to people.
At the same time, there’s always that little competitive edge in there that means if the other band is doing something that is strong, we’re just going to have to beef up our delivery a little more, and vice versa. I guess if we were in our twenties we would be a lot more vicious, but now it seems to be on a much friendlier basis, but still competitive I will admit.
What is the biggest difference between performing as a solo artist as opposed to an already established band?
Yes, and I’ve just reawakened the past couple of years. I play three nights at the same venue that Styx will be playing at in October, and I play solo in July in Niagara Falls, so I have that coming up.
The main difference obviously is that when I’m playing in a band, I have to learn to play nice with others. there’s no such thing as dictatorship when you’re in a band, and the beauty of that is that there are so many others to carry the burden of what the show can be. I love the idea that we’re in a band with three lead singers, and we’re all kind of front runners in our own right, so that makes the listing a hell of a lot easier. I happen to like the balance between the two now.
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