Kevin Cronin, lead singer for REO Speedwagon, sang the national anthem at a Kings game this past season. He recently answered the following questions from LAKings.com as he talks about the Kings, sports on the whole, the music industry and his long and successful music career.
Q: You performed the National Anthem with your wife at the Kings game on January 9 at STAPLES Center. Can you talk about the experience?
A: I am an avid sports fan. I got into music because I was too short to be good. Not only was I short but the word uncoordinated comes to mind. Still I was a closet point guard in my mind -- I was going to be a point guard, shortstop, you name it. But really I have so much respect for pro athletes, just the level of talent, level of dedication, level of hard work these guys do. Any time you’re watching a guy or girl who makes it to the pros, whatever sport it is, whether it’s hockey, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, you watch someone do that thing when they get to the top of their game, and it’s just a thing of beauty. I can’t get enough of it. So the secret is that the main reason we like to sing the anthem is it gets us into the game. It is one of the perks of our business.
Q: In talking to you before this interview, it is clear you and the Kings go back a number of years, right?
A: Back in the day, when the Kings used to play in the Forum, that was a special time for us because we used to perform at the Forum and I was a Senate Seat Holder so I was at the Lakers games and Kings games and the concerts whenever we were in town. Now that I’m a dad, I’ve got three little kids and we live a little farther away so I don’t get in here as often, but I always love to see a hockey game and I love to see the Kings live and in person. I brought my 12 year old twin boys, and we came to a Kings game I think
two years ago. We got here for the January game and had dinner up in the Lexus Club and it was beautiful. The Kings treated us great and they were looking over the balcony watching the guys just doing the skate around. I saw my sons and their jaws were just hanging down. You watch the game on TV and it’s exciting, but boy, when you see it live and in person, there’s nothing like seeing the guys doing their thing. I get a kick out of it.
Q: Everyone’s got their favorite sports moments, athletes, etc. For you, what comes to mind?
A: I was born and raised in Chicago, so when I think of going to see live sports, we lived on the South side so we were White Sox fans at the old Comiskey Park, in left field, there was a hot dog stand. It was kind of built behind the left field wall, and that part of the wall was kind of like a chain link fence, so we would buy 75 cent tickets that were so far away you could barely see the game, but then we’d go down to the hot dog stand and Minnie Minoso was the left fielder for the Chicago White Sox and me and my buddies would go down there and say, ‘Hey Minnie, how you doing man?’ and he would turn around and wave to us. I just remember being eight or nine years old when they won the pennant in 1959 so when I see my boys, that’s why I like to bring them to the hockey game, to see the Lakers play. Sports have just been a part of my life that has been such a good thing for people, for kids learning to play on a team, for spectators. Professional sports just bring people together. I’m just a fan, what can I tell you?
Q: As we begin to transition to music, a lot of people who follow sports collect things. I would think a lot of people in your business collect things. Do you collect sports stuff and/or music stuff from over the years?
A: Yeah my gym at home is a little sports museum. I’ve got my Lakers basketball with Magic and Kareem and Worthy on it, and right next to it my Celtics ball with Bird and McHale and those guys. A John McEnroe tennis racket, a couple of Kings sticks from when Bernie Nicholls and those guys were on the team. I’ll tell you, one of my great sports moments, I was sitting in the press box after singing the national anthem at a Cleveland game and we were sitting right up in about the third deck above home plate, and it was open, it was below the net and I swear I was sitting right along the fence, and of course you’re always hoping to catch a foul ball. I was sitting up there and Albert Belle is up to bat. He’s having this long, long at bat and he’s just fouling off balls. It was a big game and he hit a foul ball and it came straight backwards and you know how when you’re sitting in the stands and a foul ball is coming close to where you are, even if it’s not coming that close to you, but your adrenaline is still going and you’re thinking maybe I’m going to get this? I swear I sat there, put my right hand up, the ball reached its apex and dropped right into my hand. It didn’t even sting -- it was like Albert hit it to me.
Q: You recently released a 30 year disc set. Is it hard for you to imagine 30 years have come and gone when it comes to your successful career?
A: Well it doesn’t feel like 30 years at all, and I’ll tell you, I always like to look forward, I’m not in to looking backwards and a lot of anniversaries have come and gone. And for some reason the Hi Infidelity 30th Anniversary Edition kind of struck a chord with the whole band and we thought that for some reason the vibe was ‘lets embrace this’ because we thought about how our lives changed and I can divide my life into what happened before the Hi Infidelity record and what happened after the Hi Infidelity record because 1981 was such an amazing year for us so we just figured that we should really get into this one so that’s why we really put out the double disc commemorative CD. We then performed songs on the record, probably seven or eight songs off that record every night. I’ll tell you, though, we are just so fortunate that people just took that music that we made in the late 70s and through the 80s and it just never really went away. People use it in movies, and product commercials, and TV shows, and rock radio plays us. We’re just so fortunate that we’re still touring. We’re going to be out on the road soon with a big show and it’s just, let’s put it this way, and really lucky guy.
Q: During the making of those songs back then, did you have a sense as a singer/songwriter that when you were together and recording it that you really were on to something special? Or did the success come out of nowhere in essence?
A: With every record we wouldn’t be in the studio unless we thought we had songs worth sharing and were special. So every time you go into the studio you go in with that feeling, but usually sometime during the recording, as things are coming together, you go ‘Wow, that sounds pretty good, other people might catch on to this.’ But by the time we released the Hi Infidelity record we were feeling our own. But you still never know, you can make a really good record, but that doesn’t mean that the stars are going to be aligned so you can have that special thing that happens, just momentous when things start going and word of mouth starts going. I mean we sold six million records in one year back then and then we had 10 records that no one had heard of before and then they started selling. It was a big year, all of our Rock N’ Roll dreams came true, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was pretty amazing.
Q: The music industry right now, what do you like about it?
A: Well, the industry kind of got lost for a few years because everything changed with the digital revolution and iTunes and I think it’s great because I’m all about getting people to hear my music. And luckily I don’t have anything to do with the business side of it, I just write songs and make records and it’s like I don’t care how people hear it as long as they hear it. But I think the business part of it went through a big transition. Now I think people are getting it, people are understanding it and young bands have so many different opportunities now with the Internet and all to get their music across, and I believe good music will always find it’s way into people’s hearts and you just can’t be intimidated by the new technology. Just embrace it and ride the wave as long as you can.
Q: You have written and/or recorded hundreds of songs. For fun, how do you remember all the words to them?
A: There are times during a show when our guitar player will be playing a solo, and I’ll be back there grooving, and as I’m walking up to the microphone my mind will be blank and I have no idea what’s going to be happen. I walk up to the mic and I open my mouth and somehow magically the words come out.