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Interview: Guitarist Dave Amato Talks Les Pauls, Touring and REO Speedwagon

If you’re a child of the '80s and '90s, chances are you’ve heard the work of guitarist Dave Amato.

Amato's six-string prowess is a major part of songs by REO Speedwagon, and his impressive resume includes stints with Ted Nugent, Richie Sambora, Cher and Latoya Jackson.

Amato, a self-professed gear head, has amassed a collection of more than 100 guitars and a dozen Marshall stacks over the course of his career (most of them vintage).

I recently spoke to Amato, who's now on tour with REO Speedwagon, Styx and Nugent, and got the scoop on his time with the band as well as his affinity for vintage gear and his forthcoming signature model Gibson Les Paul.

GUITAR WORLD: This is the second go-around for the Midwest Rock ‘N Roll Express tour. How has it been reuniting with Ted Nugent for these tours?

It’s fun. I was Ted’s understudy in the '80s, and we’re still close friends. And, of course, Styx and REO are like family, too, so it’s a great bill.

You always play a lot beautiful guitars on stage.

I love guitars and like to show them off. When people come backstage after the show, we can talk about anything, and that’s great. But if we start talking about guitars, I’ll keep them there all night. I’m a gear head first and foremost. [laughs]

Let’s talk about the Signature model that Gibson has in the works for you.

I’m in line for a signature Les Paul, and I’m so honored to be a part of it. I have brought two prototypes with me on tour that I’m currently using. They have a Floyd Rose and bumble bee capacitors and are just incredible guitars. It’s kind of old school meets new school.

Tell me how you got into REO Speedwagon.

Jesse Harms used to play keyboards for Sammy Hagar, and he and I were trying to put a band together right after Nugent. At the same time, he was also busy writing songs with Kevin [Cronin] for REO’s The Earth record in 1990. Gary [Richrath] had gone by then and REO didn’t want to put out a “cattle call” for guitarists, so Jesse mentioned me to Kevin. I remember going down to Kevin’s house and playing a couple of REO songs and a few of the demo songs they were working on. A few hours later, we were all hanging out playing basketball on Kevin’s court when he offered me the spot in the band. It’s a good story and was just meant to be.

Tell me a little about your guitar collection.

I have close to 100 guitars. I sell a few and trade a few, but always end up getting more; 1950s and '60s Gibsons and Fenders are the ones I really love to collect. Les Pauls, SG’s, Juniors. I love Strats too. In Nugent, I leaned more toward Strats. In the beginning, I tried using a Fender for some of the REO songs, but it just didn’t work. The real sound of this band is the Les Paul.

What about your amps?

Marshall told me once that I have one of their biggest collections in the US [laughs]. I bought my first one in 1970 and have never looked back. I was a big fan of the JCM800 series Marshalls. I have about 15 of them.

What do you like most about vintage instruments?

I love the vibe about the old guitars and grew up with them. There’s just something about the pickups, the sound and the aging of the wood that makes them so cool.

Is there any one particular REO song that you enjoy performing every night?

I love them all. Some songs, though, like “Back On The Road Again,” are a little more free-fall, whereas a song like “Keep on Loving You” is pretty much a note-for-note solo. But “Back On The Road Again," “Roll With The Changes," “Ridin’ The Storm Out”; those are the kinds of songs where I get to go off a little more.

What was it like for you growing up playing?

I’ve always had a passion for guitar. When I was 8 years old, I started taking lessons. But it wasn’t until the time when the Beatles came to America that things really changed for me. That’s when I started growing my hair and calling friends about putting a band together. Back then, everybody wanted to be in a band and be the next Beatles.

Who were some of your influences?

I saw Richie Blackmore in Deep Purple playing his Strat through the Marshall. He did crazy shit. I remember watching him smash Strats and pieces of them would just go everywhere [laughs]. Then there was Eric Clapton and Cream, Hendrix and Rod Stewart and the Faces. I’ve also always been a Jeff Beck fan from the '60s right up until now. Jeff Beck is a god to me. There’s no other guitar player on the planet that’s as good as him. He makes you want to quit. [laughs]

Any advice you can offer to up-and-comers?

Do anything and everything you can to fit in. Expose yourself to everything. I’ve worked with Ted Nugent, Kim Carnes and even the band, Player. I’ve also worked on a few of LaToya Jackson’s early records too (I played synthesized guitar on there). It’s the experience of meeting people and getting involved in different styles of music that makes it all worthwhile. Also, don’t try to be an "American Idol." I think there’s something to be said about working from the ground up. Go into the clubs and work on your craft, and try to give 100 percent every night. If you really want to do it, it takes all of your life. I’m still working on stuff. The key is to never stop learning.

What’s the best thing about what you do with every night with REO Speedwagon?

Just playing with these great guys is amazing. We all hang out on the bus and are all good friends. We really work hard on our music and putting on a good show. I love these guys and I thank my lucky stars every day. The other thing is, when we come off the stage and hear people say that we really rocked, that’s such a great feeling. That’s really what REO Speedwagon is all about.

For more on Dave Amato, check out his official website. Keep up with REO Speedwagon at their Facebook page.

Photo: Jennifer HelmingJames Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, 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 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.