Styx continues rock ‘n’ roll ‘Mission’
NEW BUFFALO, Mich. — James “JY” Young, the original guitarist, songwriter and occasional singer of the rock band Styx seems like a man on a mission.
Since joining twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo and their neighbor, Dennis DeYoung, in 1970 to form the band, he has remained one of its few remaining constants – with no signs of slowing down.
The same could be said for the band, who in June 2017 released “The Mission,” their 16th studio album. It is their first studio album since 2005′s “Big Bang Theory,” and first album of all original material since 2003′s “Cyclorama.”
What is maybe more surprising is that it is also the band’s highest charting studio album in the U.S. since 1983′s “Kilroy Was Here,” reaching No. 45 on the Billboard 200. The concept album, which tells the story of a mission in the year 2033, may also signal a new burst of creativity for the band.
After Tommy Shaw – a former Niles resident – joined the band in 1975, Styx recorded four platinum albums in a row. Although Styx’s success continued with the albums “Paradise Theater” and “Kilroy Was Here,” creative tensions led to an extended hiatus and side projects with DeYoung leaving the band for good in 1999.
The current Styx lineup consists of Young and Shaw on guitars and vocals, Lawrence Gowan on keyboards and vocals, Todd Sucherman on drums and Ricky Phillips on bass. Original bassist Chuck Panozzo is still a member of the band, but only occasionally joins the group on the road.
With Styx returning to Southwest Michigan on Friday night, Young spoke about how the band is finding a balance with its past and current success.
Q: Not only does the band have a rich, classic catalog, but now your new album has become a surprise success. How are you balancing the set list these days?
A: Last year, for the first time in 16 years, we released an album of brand new music called “The Mission,” and it’s made a dent in some ways and shapes and forms. It’s the best reviewed album we’ve ever had, so there will be three if not four songs from the new record that are part of the set, but people would kill us if we didn’t play “Come Sail Away” or “Too Much Time on my Hands” or “Renegade” or what have you. So it will be the greatest hits tempered with a little bit from the new record.
Q: The story of getting together in an Illinois basement is part of rock lore, but looking back, what seemed to make this band work?
A: It’s kind of like the first chapter of a Ben Stein book. The pathway of opportunity does not run through your basement. You’ve got to get out there and be seen. Dennis and the Panozzo brothers were basically in a cover band when I joined up with them, and the group that I was in played all originals. ... I was getting out of college and looking to be a working musician, and when I joined them, slowly but surely my influence creeped in. The first record, the bulk of the writing was mine. ... Everybody loved The Beatles, and I was a Jimi Hendrix guy, and they liked things that were more vocal like Crosby, Stills & Nash, and so we started to forge our own sound from those things.
Q: From 1977-81, after Tommy joined the band, it seemed like the music was always on the radio. What was it about that time that seemed to make it all click?
A: It started with “Grand Illusion,” which was our seventh album. It took until “Grand Illusion” to get it all squared away. With Tommy being a new member, starting with “Crystal Ball” and integrating his different tastes and my different tastes and Dennis’ different tastes as writers, it took time to get to where we were getting. But Dennis came up with this great concept for “Grand Illusion,” and we all rose to the occasion to write songs for it. It sold 6 million copies back in the day, including 1 million on 8-track tape (laughing).
Q: The band split with Dennis officially in 1999. Has there ever been any talk of a reunion show, or is that impossible at this point?
A: Dennis and I haven’t spoken since 1999. ... The band needed to go on tour to make money, and he said he couldn’t go on tour because of the physical difficulty he had. I said to Dennis to just come out and do what you can and we will get someone else to do (what he couldn’t). He said he didn’t want us to do that. But that’s what we had to do. ... Then he sued us. ... I don’t want to say anymore about him, because truly I have forgiven him. ... Dennis made my songs better. Tommy and I made his songs better. We all contributed to the success. “Come Sail Away” didn’t take us all the way. “Blue Collar Man,” “Renegade,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” played a big role in our success, too. I wish Dennis all the best and success on his own, but Lawrence Gowan is the keyboard player (and vocalist) for the past 20 concert seasons. That’s what our career is now – playing live concerts.
Q: When you think of the music of Styx and what you guys have done, what are the songs that define the band for you?
A: The songs that most define the part of the band I identify with the most are “Renegade” and “Come Sail Away.” I’ve always wanted to personally be in a band like Deep Purple or like AC/DC with guitars a blazin’ and just rocking out. But we were also heavily influenced by the music of Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer. I started on the piano at age 5, so I loved having keyboards in the music. “Come Sail Away” is one of those songs that combined a bunch of things. It’s built in the same structure as “Stairway to Heaven,” where it starts out small and slow and intimate and builds and builds and builds and then goes off into outer space. “Renegade” is a softball over the plate with the opening vocals, and then we just hit it out of the park as soon as we jump into the rhythm of the whole thing, and those are two aspects of the band I love the most.
If you go
When: 9 p.m. EST Friday
Where: Four Winds Casino Resort’s Silver Creek Event Center, 11111 Wilson Road, New Buffalo, Mich.
How much: $89-$199
Contact: 866-494-6371 or www.fourwindscasino.com
Artist info: styxworld.com