Melissa Etheridge sat down with Kevin Cronin for the latest episode of Melissa’s Basement, where they talked about Cronin’s beginnings in the music industry, his musical biography, what went into creating some of his biggest hits and how it feels to play those hits decades later.

During their chat, Cronin told her the unlikely story of how he ended up as the singer of REO Speedwagon.

After hearing about The Musicians’ Contact Service in California, who helped connect musicians, he decided to start something similar in Chicago called The Musicians’ Referral Service.

“I went to my dad’s office and got some fliers made, and I hung them around all the music stores, the famous Chicago Guitar Gallery, where I bought my first 12 string in Chicago,” he said. “It was supposed to be a thing where I could help people find bands, but I would also kind of get the cream of the crop for myself.”

About a month in, he got a call from someone looking for a lead singer. The band had a recording contract with Epic Records but wanted to keep their identity a secret.

“I said, ‘You know what, I’ve heard every story in the book. You’ve got to tell me the name of the band or I really can’t help ya,” Cronin continued. “So he goes, ‘Well the name of the band is REO Speedwagon.’ And I had heard about them and they had a recording contract. I’m like, ‘You know, I’ve got a guy who sings, writes songs and plays rhythm guitar. He’s the top guy in the entire Musicians Referral Service. I’m going to turn you on to this guy.'”

Naturally, that “guy” was Cronin himself.

“And that’s how I got the gig,” he told Etheridge.

40 years after securing that initial booking and recording Ridin’ The Storm Out, Cronin still gets excited playing those old hits, no matter how many times he’s played them.

“I love it. I’m still working on getting it right every night,” he said. “And then there’s also that feeling when you play the opening chords of a song. And you feel it. You feel the energy in the room. You feel the sound of 16,000 people’s arm hairs standing up. You know the feeling. And it’s just the greatest thing in the world.”

Etheridge agreed.

“There’s nothing like it,” she said. “Because we have played so many gigs where they are like, ‘REO Speedwagon,’ and everyone’s like, ‘Who?’ And you’re like, ‘Please god, please let me some day have an audience that knows who I am.’ And you ask for it, and then you get it. And to have the gratitude about it is so important. We’ve met people who don’t have the gratitude, and it kills them because then it becomes work. And for goodness sakes, what we’re doing is not work. We’re playing. That’s the reason they call it play, right?”

Elsewhere in the interview, they performed The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand and All My Loving, Moby Grape’s Omaha, Crosby Stills & Nash’s Love The One You’re With, Melissa Etheridge’s Somebody Bring Me Some Water and REO Speedwagon’s Music Man, Take It On The Run, Keep On Loving You, Ridin’ Out The Storm.

Hear the full episode of Melissa’s Basement featuring Kevin Cronin when it premieres 4/11 at 7 p.m. ET on VOLUME (Ch. 106).

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