After writing monster hits for REO Speedwagon such as "Ridin' the Storm Out," and "Take It On the Run," Richrath left to form his own band with a new set of musicians: Michael Jahnz (Vocals/ Rhythm Guitar) Tray-Cie Martins (Drums) Jim "Spaz" Sorensen (Bass) Dave Frazier (Keyboards)
When Richrath left REO, it was rumored that the band was breaking up because of extreme personality conflicts among REO's members. Richrath never denied the charges, but prefers to explain it on his own terms.
"I have no horror stories to tell you," he said. But he did admit to crossing swords a few times with lead singer Kevin Cronin.
"We had songwriting conflicts (about) whose songs would go on the albums," Richrath said. But more than conflict led to the demise of the original REO Speedwagon. Richrath saw the band move away from the "rockier" style he prefers to slower, more sentimental ballads -- and Richrath was not ready to slow down.
So he moved on, full speed ahead, and formed a band that was more in touch wih his own tastes.
The Richrath band, made up of former members of the midwestern band, Vancouver, toured for several years from 1989-92 before heading to the recording studio in response to the demand of fans for a new CD. And when they did, they decided to go with an independent label for more control over the final sound quality, Richrath said.
"We stayed away from a major label for more freedom -- no producer interference," Richrath said. "If I'm going to stick my neck out, it's going to be me who's going to get it cut off."
The band seems to thrive on freedom. Richrath said the talents of each band member comes shining through.
"Michael [lead vocalist Michael Jahnz] is a tremendous singer and songwriter. His songs are just dynamite," he said. So good, in fact, that Richrath shared songwriting responsibilities, and credits him with nearly half of the 13 songs which appear on the band's "Only the Strong Survive" CD. The Richrath CD is very reminescent of his signature work in the past as well as showcasing the new songwriting talent of Jahnz. The CD features "Holly Would," which was originally scheduled for release on REO's "Nine Lives" CD, as well as "Outlaws," written about his new band. Five new Jahnz songs, including the rocker "Murder by Suicide" as well as "Where I Pray" and "Today" also appear.
Jahnz, who has been compared to both Robin Zander of Cheap Trick and Kevin Cronin of REO, has a tremendous range and dynamic sound, delivering vocals that are so powerful, the band has to guard against popping its monitors -- which happened a number of times on tour.
Besides Jahnz, Richrath also sings the praises of the other band members, saying that while they're all very talented, they're very modest about their abilities. None of them had ever signed with a record company before, and wanted to work hard to become successful.
A bonus: After three years of non-stop touring together before "Only the Strong Survive" was released, Richrath said, "We all get along extremely well."
The band also seems to be getting along well with their audiences.
Before the CD was released, the band played almost 500 concerts, mostly in small clubs and halls, and Richrath said audiences were eating up the two hour shows -- half REO classics and half new tunes. And the new songs were getting noticed.
"They've been going over great," Richrath said. He's gratified to see a number of people come to more than one show to hear the new songs again, Richrath said, referring to these fans as "Repeat Offenders." Richrath likes the smaller venues, where he says being so close to the fans is productive, and gives him good feedback.
The band continued to tour throughout the 1990's when Jahnz and Richrath headed back into the studio in 1998 to create a new CD that remains unfinished. In the meantime, Jahnz released a solo project this summer called Project 3:13 named after the late night (3:13 A.M.) song writing inspirations of both he and Richrath.
Richrath says he was never out to create a new REO Speedwagon. "I wasn't trying to create a new REO," he said, "but just carrying on with what I do."