was born James Vincent Young on November 14, 1949, in Chicago, Illinois. For the most part this bio consists of his words as compiled from many interviews over the years, as much in context as possible! All statements in bold are quotes attributed to JY.
I play keyboards a lot; I started studying piano at age five. Keyboards and electric guitar are both strengths of mine.
I went to Calumet High in Chicago.
I played some sports, and always loved them. But my parents were worriers and didn't want me to get hurt. And I didn't have the dedication. I was on the swimming team in high school, but I also became very enchanted with music.
My musical growth was very much stimulated in some other areas outside of rock and roll. For example, my father can play a heck of a piano by ear. If you give him a melody and about five minutes he can work out just about any song and be able to reproduce it. That's a pretty astounding feat. I inherited some of his talent there, and my parents encouraged me to play clarinet in the high school band. I took piano lessons on and off from the age of five to fifteen and picked up the guitar at about age fourteen. My family really encouraged me to be a musical person. All five kids in my family took piano lessons.
My idol was Jimi Hendrix. I saw him play five times and he really changed things around in my life. I was very young and impressionable.
Hendrix was a giant influence, as was Clapton, Johnny Winter, and Albert King. I don't know how Albert gets that wild vibrato he does, but he's really got a thing happening. When I first heard him I thought he was using a bar. But then I saw him do it, saw that his hand was doing it, and I said, "Stand back." I mean, that's pretty hot stuff. I got to be a decent lead player by taking solos off of records and slowing them down. Clapton on "Crossroads" was one. Hendrix I liked more, but Clapton was easier. I reduced it to half-speed and learned to sing the notes first, after which I reproduced them on the guitar. That's how I got into playing lead, and I think my talent made quantum leaps by doing that.
JY's first band, the Catalinas, won a "Best Teens In America" contest playing British Invasion-type songs, and subsequently toured Europe.
We played surf music like "Wipe Out," and Beatles and Animals songs. We did a tour of Europe when I was 17. We came in third in a Chicago talent contest, and our parents each kicked in $400 to send us.
[At the] Illinois Institute of Technology, studying aerospace engineering, I was the only one with long hair in my classes. I've always been mathematically inclined, and there's an element of music which is very mathematical - being able to listen to something and reproduce it from ear. But a music degree didn't get you much further than conducting a high school band. The idea of being in the aerospace industry seemed like fun, and it was something to fall back on.
While acquiring his degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, JY formed the band Monterey Hand. In the fall of 1970, when two band members left to become Jehovah's Witnesses, he joined TW4. JY, Dennis DeYoung, Chuck Panozzo, John Panozzo and John Curulewski transformed TW4 into STYX.
The Panozzo brothers and Dennis DeYoung had a band called TW4 that played cover songs, and they were very vocal-oriented. They originally called themselves the Tradewinds, but there was a resonance with TW4 with a television show in the ’60s called “That Was The Week That Was,” also known as “TW3.” They were ready to get a recording contract when I joined; they were missing an element, and I was that element - I was sort of cutting-edge and they were sort of mainstream, if you will. The band I had didn’t work much, but we had high artistic ideals and covered a lot of obscure album tracks. We’d also take regular pop tunes and rearrange them to give them a heavier rock treatment.
I had joined the group in late 1970, and about a month or so later we went in to a recording studio in Harvey, Illinois, a country music studio called Brave Records. We recorded three original tracks and three copy tunes just to try to get work basically at that point in time. Wooden Nickel heard the tapes that we made there, were impressed with the vocals more than anything else, and signed the band.
On October 18, 1972, JY and his girlfriend Susie were married. In 2013 they will celebrate their 41st anniversary.
We did four records for Wooden Nickel. The first was released in ‘72, the second was early ‘73.
In 1975, John Curulewski left Styx, and JY formed a new guitar partnership with new Styx member Tommy Shaw.
We'd heard about Tommy from our tour manager, Jim Vose. He walked in for his audition and we put the needle down on side two of Equinox, onto my song "Midnight Ride," which was more on the testosterone/rockin' guitar side of the band rather than the melodic side. He was blown away 'cause he had no idea we could do that. I was wondering about whether or not we really needed two guitar players, but Tommy was a lot more talented than we ever knew, so we sort of developed a friendly rivalry and a wonderful friendship at the same time.
"Midnight Ride" was the first really hard rock tune that I did where people said that I captured that attitude that I had been trying to get on record.
Record companies prioritize things every day and you are in competition with other artists on labels. This is something you don’t find out until you're actually on a record label and you realize they are paying all their attention to Peter Frampton or somebody else like that. That was the case for us in 1976 with Crystal Ball.
I used to have this tremendous fear of not knowing each intricate part of my setup, and I used to make sure I knew every part of Dennis' and everybody else's. In the days when we couldn't afford to hire good people, if there was a breakdown, a lot of times I would be the bottom line in figuring out what was wrong. It's all very simple with an engineering background to say, "The signal goes here, and it stops there, and we know this board is bad."
1977 - 1981
I like to know how to play all my songs on both guitar and keyboards. With "Half-Penny Two-Penny," for instance, I doubled on guitar and piano as well as sang all the vocals in my rough demo. Basically, I want a song to be good in my own mind before I present it to the band.
We're from the midwest and remain kind of low profile outside of the music, and we aren't really scene makers. We all tend to remain low profile and private.
Kilroy was developed as a response to the false accusations made about our song "Snowblind". The lyrics say, "I try so hard to make it so," but when played backwards we've been accused of saying, "Oh, Satan, move this." Now, that's gibberish. I personally take offense to some nut playing our records backwards and pushing out these words. If we want to make a statement, we'll do it in a way that people can understand us and not in a way where you have to go out and buy a $400 tape player to understand us.
There were moments in time we would tip our hats to a current trend. Mr. Roboto was in fact something where we felt the techno thing is coming and we were right. Our core audience didn’t want that song from us necessarily. But the beautiful thing about that song is that it started another generation of Styx fans.
We broke up in 1983. I never like to really say that we "broke up" because in my mind I always knew that we were going to get back together, because I always thought the total was greater than the sum of the individual parts. We really needed some breathing room from one another, creatively and personally, there at the end of 1983.
I've always liked hard rock and roll, you know, guitar-dominated. I think that in terms of this album (City Slicker), we needed that kind of dynamic. In Styx, the other guys liked lighter things than I did.
Sound is the first important thing, and then the emotional and lyrical content of the spoken part of it comes next. If something sounds good to me, I may not even pay attention to the lyrics. I consider myself an instrumentalist first, probably a songwriter second, and a vocalist third. I consider my guitar dearest to my heart!
I feel Styx will work together in some way, shape or form. We just needed to go and make records with other people. We're not officially broken up, and there are incentives out there for us to get together again. It's a friendly situation though. Familiarity breeds a lot of things.
I've got a lot of aspirations that go beyond being a rock star, but the highest high - either naturally or unnaturally attained - personally, has to be standing onstage in front of 40,000 people and having them scream and yell for your songs. This is something that is my top priority, and if after this next round of solo albums, we (Styx) can't have a meeting of minds, well then, I'm gonna keep at it. I will not stop working. I'm a workaholic.
In 1990, JY and Styx (without Tommy Shaw but with Glen Burtnik on guitar) reformed and recorded a new album, Edge of the Century, and toured to support it in 1991.
With no new Styx activity imminent, JY released two more "solo" albums, Out On A Day Pass and Raised By Wolves, touring with Michael Baran, Lou DePasqua, Hank Horton and Ken Harck as the James Young Group.
In the early '90s, I actually put a band together and did club dates; we also opened for more noted bands. We did an album called Raised By Wolves.
I like to have some sort of balance between darkness and lightness on my records. Something about my nature likes the dark side. I think as human beings, we are all conflicted and drawn to the dark side to some degree. No one wants to do what Mom and Dad tell them to do. So I think it is a struggle we all go through.
The object of rock and roll is to distract from the everyday troubles and stresses that people have, and as long as it keeps working for me, I'll keep doing it.
In 1996, Styx reunited, with Tommy Shaw back on guitar and Todd Sucherman on drums, touring in 1996 and 1997.
To say that money played no role in things would be a lie, but it wasn’t the primary reason. I always believed that the band would get back together and even on the radio in Chicago during 1994 I correctly predicted that we’d have Styx in '96. The people wanted to see it and they were the catalyst. I still enjoy doing this but the truth is that even if I went away and sold shoes for a living, people would still ask me "Why don’t you reform Styx?"
In 1999, Styx released a new studio album, Brave New World. With Glen Burtnik returning to the group on bass and Lawrence Gowan on keyboards, JY and Styx embarked on what was intended to be a limited tour. Following two new live albums, the tour evolved into the StyxWorld '02 tour, and was proclaimed over on September 8, 2002. Following a hiatus of exactly 25 days, Styx was back onstage on October 4 (as planned). 2003 brought the release of Cyclorama, the first Styx studio album from the current band, and the Cyclorama 2003 tour. In October 2003, Ricky Phillips took on the role of bassist. 2004 saw the continuation of touring and the release Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology, a 35-song, 2-CD set. In 2005, Styx released Big Bang Theory, an album which pays tribute to some of the music that influenced them. The 2005 leg of the perpetual tour included a return to Europe, revisiting some countries the band hadn't played in over 20 years, and adding some new countries to their list of credits. 2006 brought the release of One with Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, a unique live album capturing a one-night-only Styx performance accompanied by the CYO, an orchestra of musicians ages 12-18. In 2012, Styx performed a series of concerts where they performed two of their most acclaimed albums back to back, in the order of the original LPs, and released The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight LIVE on DVD. Touring continues at a rate of more than 100 shows a year.
Our challenge [with Brave New World] was to try and make a record that could live in the last half of the nineties and sound like it was a contemporary record, but still maintain those elements that people classically associate with Styx.
The beautiful thing about CDs as opposed to vinyl records is that there was really a time limitation (on records). If you only do a record every two years then you can only do 40 minutes of music. That limits people's creativity or the amount of material on a record. Whereas here, we have almost 60 minutes worth of stuff and we could have put more on! It’s always nice to have some wonderful thing that might not be complete but you know it has legs to hold back for the next thing. Tommy and I already have 4 or 5 things for the next record.
It is really a wonderful and pleasantly reaffirming thing to know that the songs that we wrote really do have a timeless quality about them and have an appeal that is ongoing.
To me, the core of rock and roll, the essence of it is teenage rebellion. It doesn't have to be a complex thing, it can be a really simple message, and in the '70s we added a lot of layers onto that and expanded it a little. At the core it is a couple of guys with a guitar, a bass and some drums and that is where it all starts. Lyrically, some of our songs spoke to people in their teens and in their twenties and it is amazing that they still speak to even younger people at this late date. It is humbling, and I am a very lucky man to be doing what I love to do for a living, and I am doing it with people that I am very fond of.
It's really the joy of being on stage that is my highest priority. The fact that we might be economically rewarded in a nice way is really a secondary thing for me. Seeing the smiles on peoples faces. I used to feel the job of being a legend in rock was very self-serving and had no value to society. I think the opposite now. People have struggles in just getting by day-to-day. By playing live concerts, we provide a moment in time where people can come in, forget all their troubles and celebrate the good parts of human existence. If you focus on the negative all the time, you start believing it. We think there is great hope in human existence and great joy. That's kind of my purpose - mass psychotherapy.
My intention is that we're gonna play on all six continents before too long. We've never been to Australia, South Africa, Egypt, or Hong Kong. It's a global world like never before, so we've got some traveling to do. Eventually, we'll make a new studio record; we've got a bunch of new material already written.
The reality is that this is one rockin' band, and if you haven't seen the new incarnation, you're gonna be blown away when you do.
We go out of our way to be true to the original feeling and sort of sonic and musical palate that we painted with back then. The band we have now on stage is the band I always wanted to be in. We have a great bunch of guys that are supremely talented.
How many people get to go to work and get a standing ovation at work every day? That’s what we get. What’s not to like about this job? The traveling can be difficult, being away from home for some people is difficult, but there’s no other... this is just... I keep saying I would do it for free - and I would.
My goal is to bring Styx music around the globe and to keep doing it until they scrape me off the stage.
For me, I love the sense of adventure about being out on the road and playing for a different audience every night. It's an exhilarating thing. What we do on stage is the fountain of youth. I look at B.B. King, who's in his 80s and still out there loving it. We have a semi full of toys and a bus full of people who help set up our toys. Then we get to go out play with our toys for an hour and half in front of an audience. We all have fun doing it and there's a sense of joy that permeates through all of it. Why anyone would ever want to quit that is beyond me.
quotes from: Guitar Player Magazine (1981), Night Rock News (1981), Suburban Sun-Times (1983), Metal Muscle (1985), Rock Scene (1986), Rock Rap (1986), Classic Rock Revisited (1999), Showcase Chicago (1993), Westside Magazine (2000), ElectricBasement.com (2000), accessgulfcoast.com chat (2001), Vintage Guitar magazine (2001), Harktheherald.com (2002), AV Online Magazine (2004), Guitar World.com (2013)
additional information about JY's early career from Waterdog Music