[18 May 2009]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
FRESNO, Calif. — Kevin Cronin recently spied his son Josh walking down the hall singing “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”
This is noteworthy because Josh is 9, nowhere close to old enough to remember 1984.
But there the kid was, singing like the Scorpions.
In Kevin Cronin’s world this is a victory — not just as a dad, but as a singer for a classic-rock band.
“When you’re 9, you have no concept of what’s cool on MTV, you don’t know when a record was released,” says Cronin, lead singer for 70s/80s rockers REO Speedwagon, which has embarked on a “Can’t Stop Rockin’” tour with Styx and .38 Special.
“All you know when you’re 9 is that you like a song or you don’t like a song. These young kids, they’re into REO, they’re into Styx, they’re into all my buddies’ music, and they have no prejudice.”
And these young kids Cronin talks about are discovering the music in a way that’s original to their generation — video games.
Games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” are introducing button-tapping players to the music their dads grew up on.
It’s why “Rock Band” is the main sponsor behind this “Can’t Stop Rockin’” tour.
Classic rock, believe it or not, is cool again.
“The truth is games like ‘Rock Band and ‘Guitar Hero’ have definitely introduced the young audience to classic rock,” says Carter, the program director and on-air personality at Fresno classic rock station KJFX-FM.
“We have youngsters calling in all the time requesting specific songs that they’re hearing in ‘Rock Band.’ The cool thing is that it’s tying the kids and the parents together, because it’s the music their parents grew up on.”
One such youngster is 18-year-old Lacey Stevenson of Fresno.
“I had grown up listening to a lot of classic rock from my dad, but I never grew to appreciate it,” she says.
She lists off the artists she listens to, putting Lady Gaga next to Heart and Demi Lovato next to Bon Jovi.
“People are starting to go back to the older classic rock,” Stevenson says. “It’s kind of cool that you can go back and listen to a lot of stuff that a lot of people aren’t listening to.”
As for video games, those help her and others her age appreciate the music in a different way too. She plays guitar and sings (myspace.com/laceystevenson), so the musical video games appeal in that way too.
“The game helps you realize all that goes into playing the guitar and playing the drums,” Stevenson says. “You really appreciate all the work that it takes to put that together.”
Cronin sees playing “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” as the musical equivalent of dipping your foot in the swimming pool.
“I hope kids will get the experience of how cool is is to play in a band and that will motivate them to take guitar lessons or drum lessons,” he says.
Or, if nothing else, come out to a concert.
“At one of our shows recently there was a group of kids who looked like they were at a Disturbed concert or something,” Cronin says. “They’re in the front row. I figured they were there to heckle us or something. As the show went on, I noticed they were singing along to every song and I realized these kids are into it.”
So he got them backstage passes and asked why they were there.
The answer? They listen to classic rock radio and dig the music.
It’s a combination of video games, radio, parents influence and whatever else.
“There’s a Broadway show called ‘Rock of Ages,’ it’s all classic rock music,” Cronin says. “It’s television commercials that use songs and use other classic rock songs. For whatever reason, and I certainly don’t know the secret, this music has become like country in a way — it just lives on.”
And with that, comes another new life for classic rock bands like REO Speedwagon.
“I just like the fact,” Cronin says, “that young people are open minded enough to check out our music.”
CAN’T STOP ROCKIN’ TOUR WITH REO SPEEDWAGON, STYX AND .38 SPECIAL
History: Formed by students at University of Illinois in 1967, the band achieved its biggest success in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Biggest hits: “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take It on the Run.”
Latest news: The band released the 2007 album “Find Your Own Way Home” and recorded the recent single “Can’t Stop Rockin’” with Styx.
History: The band that would become Styx formed in Chicago in the 1960s. Upon changing its name and signing with a label, Styx became hit-makers throughout the’70s and into the ‘80s.
Biggest hits: “Come Sail Away,” “Lady,” “Mr. Roboto.”
Latest news: Styx’s last album was 2005’s “Big Bang Theory.” The band recorded the recent single “Can’t Stop Rockin’” with REO Speedwagon.
History: Formed in Florida in the ‘70s, .38 Special found success throughout the ‘80s by merging Southern rock and arena rock.
Biggest hits: “Caught Up In You,” “Hold on Loosely,” and “Second Chance.”
Latest news: The band recently toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams Jr. It’s last album was 2004’s “Drivetrain.”