There’s an old REO Speedwagon song called “Back on the Road Again.” The chorus starts: “I’m back on the road again; it’s time I leave you now / And maybe I’ll see you next time that I’m around.”
The classic rock band released it 40 years ago, when it was simply a rock band. After all these years, the act is still on the road, with a Berglund Performing Arts Theatre stop scheduled on Tuesday.
Keyboardist Neal Doughty has been with the band since it started in 1967, just “a little bar band” formed at college in Champaign, Illinois, he said. Doughty is the only remaining original member, though singer Kevin Cronin, who joined in 1972 and sang most of the band’s signature hits, is still up front.
In a recent phone call, Doughty remembered Virginia as one of the places where his fledgling band first began to make a mark on the concert scene.
“We always liked coming to Virginia — both Virginias,” he said, with a chuckle. “We like ’em both. It’s a good part of the country for us, just really good crowds. We were driving or sometimes flying in a little plane over there to Roanoke and other cities. It was really one of the first places outside of Illinois where we got a little bit of a following.”
REO Speedwagon’s first stop in the valley was a 1973 show at what was then called the Salem-Roanoke Valley Civic Center. The band didn’t return here again until 1981, for a gig at what was then Roanoke Civic Center, according to information at setlist.fm.
Just like it was back then, it is now, in one respect. You play the gig, and you’re back on the road. Bus life remains a constant, even though the band doesn’t travel as much as it used to, he said.
“It’s the traveling that will get to you,” he said. “The part on stage, it’s still fun most nights. Now and then you have a night when you’re kind of tired, but most of the time we love being out on stage. The traveling is the part we get paid for.”
Their calling card is a batch of hit singles that fueled sales of about 40 million, including at least 10 million copies of their signature album, “Hi Infidelity.” The band scored massive hits with power ballads “Keep On Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and the slightly more rocking “Take It on the Run” and “Keep the Fire Burnin’,” among others. But its live shows rocked with such numbers as “Keep Pushin’,” “Ridin’ the Storm Out” and, of course, “Back on the Road Again.”
The repertoire has kept the Speedwagon on the road, and Doughty said that he and the band figured out long ago how to keep from burning out.
“Part of it is we’re very healthy now,” he said. “The days of staying up all night, drinking and doing other naughty things ... I don’t recommend that, but it works OK in your 20s and 30s.
“Long about the late ’80s, we really clamped down on that. We’re all very healthy now. Not that we never have a glass of wine, but we’ve been taking good care of ourselves. That makes the whole thing a little easier.”
An all-night bus ride between shows means a little iPad reading for Doughty, then sleep. Once the band has reached the next hotel, he’ll sleep more, if he didn’t get enough on the ride.
“We kind of base everything around having all our energy for the concert,” he said. “If I have to sleep all day in order to think I’ll do my best, then I will. There’s also plenty of times when we get up and move around, but we never seem to be in the same town long enough to really get out and do something interesting.”
Because they’re back on the road again. They’re on their way.