United We Rock: REO Speedwagon's Dave Amato Talks Monster Summer Tour with Styx and Don Felder

This summer’s United We Rock Tour features three juggernauts of classic rock: REO Speedwagon, Styx and former Eagle Don Felder.

These artists have provided rocking summer soundtracks for the past four decades—and they share a uniquely rich history; REO and Styx have toured together many times over the years and Styx and Felder just completed a five-night residency in Las Vegas. For United We Rock, Felder will open the show with a 45-minute set of Eagles classics along with a few surprises and special guests, while REO Speedwagon and Styx will alternate headlining sets.

But don’t expect the United We Rock triple-bill to be a “hits only” event; REO and Styx have added new material to their set, with Styx supporting their new album, The Mission, and REO performing their rocking new song, “Whipping Boy."

I recently spoke with REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato about the United We Rock tour, his gear and more.

With a tour loaded with guitarists, I suppose the first question is, who gets to perform “Hotel California” with Don Felder?
Well, Styx recently did a residency in Las Vegas, so Tommy [Shaw] has the seniority [laughs]. Actually, Tommy said he was going to play with Don on “Take it Easy." He plays a Strat for the first half of the song and then switches to banjo. It’s phenomenal. I still remember when Don first asked me to play “Hotel California” with him; I got goosebumps. I’m not as nervous about the REO set as I am about Felder, because you can’t screw up that solo!

How did REO prep for the United We Rock tour?
We had a few warmup gigs on the weekends for a few months and used those gigs to change the set list around, figure out how to transition into songs and try to do something different. After 28 years, it’s still fun challenging yourself.

Styx has a new album, The Mission, and there’s a new song in REO’s set as well, “Whipping Boy.” What can you tell me about it?
It’s always good to have new music to keep going forward. That was Kevin [Cronin’s] song, and we each added our own two cents to it. We worked on the song on the weekend gigs to get it sounding really tight. It’s actually not even recorded yet. We might record it sometime in the fall.

What's your live setup for the United We Rock tour?
I have an old-school Bradshaw rig with rack-mounted stuff, including a Yamaha SPX90 delay, Roland SRV-2000 Reverb, an Eventide Harmonizer and a TC Electronic 1210 Spatial Expander. I actually have two separate rigs there in case something goes down. I’m also a big fan of the Marshall JCM 800 series. Whenever I find them and they’re in good shape I’ll buy them. I have 16 of them at home. There are four of them in my rack now plus two in the truck I use for spares.

How has it been touring with your Les Paul signature model?
It’s been great. I’m playing the prototype on the road and have four more of them coming. I start the show with it and pick it up again later in the set. I spec’d out one of my ’58 necks, so it’s a little fatter than the Axcess model. It’s a smaller body but feels like a full-size Les Paul. It’s got a '57 Classic pickup with a push/pull and a Floyd Rose. It’s a rock-and-roll hot-rod machine, and I just love it.

What can you tell me about your Ovation Viper Signature acoustic model?
I’ve always loved the Vipers and have a prototype that’s really nice. I modeled it after a Chet Atkins acoustic. It’s all black with no epaulets. They made a double-neck for me as well, and what they’re making has just blown me away.

What are you most looking forward to about this next phase of your career?
I just love playing and taking it one night at a time. The guys get along better than ever, and I really enjoy playing with them. I’ve been with REO for 28 years playing 80 to 90 shows a year, and my thoughts lately are of just enjoying every gig. I’ve got my own signature model; the Styx guys are like family—and then you throw in having the opportunity to play “Hotel California” with Don Felder. I’m a lucky guy and I'm soaking it in every gig.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.

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James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.