Posted on Thu, Jan. 20, 2005

Still sailing along

Revamped 32-year-old Styx brings it classic rock to Cleveland for House of Blues show

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal staff writer

Adam Sandler has given film lovers of the world many things. Through his films, he's given social misfits many protagonists to emulate and admire, and his filmography should keep 13-year-old boys (and people who think like 13-year-old boys) in stitches for generations to come. He turned ancient and beloved game show host Bob Barker into a hip and happening guy for a few months via a cameo in Happy Gilmore and has given Rob Schneider much more work than he deserves.

But what many people don't know is that Sandler's magnanimity isn't limited to fattening the resumes of his many comedian cronies. He's also helped music lovers.

``Adam Sandler really helped spawn the third generation of Styx fans,'' said Styx guitarist James ``JY'' Young in a telephone interview from Los Angeles -- one night after a triumphant show in Las Vegas and a few days before the band's show Wednesday at the House of Blues Cleveland.

``Sandler, I'll put in the second generation of Styx fans, is someone who was inspired by our music and who turned around and celebrated it in some creative work he had done in the form of Big Daddy,'' Young said.

In the 1999 film, Sandler plays yet another aimless selfish man-child who, through an unlikely turn of events, winds up the guardian of a small boy. Throughout the film, Sandler's character, an avid Styx fan, defending the band. The film included Styx staples such as Best of Times, Blue Collar Man and Babe.

Around the same time, Styx's last commercial hit, Mr. Roboto, featuring the classic lineup of Young, guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw, keyboardist/singer Dennis DeYoung, bassist Chuck Panozzo and his drumming brother John, who died in 1996, was being used in a car commercial, and there was a reference to the band in an episode of South Park.

``With the movie and commercials and so many other things happening for you at once, it was meant for us to go out and plow the earth again and make sure that we still have our old fans and make sure we have some new fans,'' Young said.

That meant recording a new album, Brave New World, with the surviving members and hitting the road. DeYoung was unable to join the tour because of a rare condition that made him extremely sensitive to light. He also did not want Styx to tour without him and eventually sued the band in 2000 for the name, making public the power struggle between DeYoung and Shaw over the band's musical direction that had been brewing for years.

The two sides eventually settled, DeYoung recovered and today periodically tours and records.

But Young is the only member of the band who has played at every single show in its 32-year history. And although he is still unhappy about the way things turned out, Young is diplomatic about his former bandmate and the notion that a Styx without the theatrical DeYoung couldn't survive.

``I've gone through different phases in the way I feel about Dennis,'' Shaw said.

``How can I put and this... Dennis DeYoung is a very talented individual and we did some great work together,'' Young said carefully. ``But when it has to be one man's vision and the spirit of team goes away because one man believes it's all about him and he refuses to leave the house for reasons, legitimate or not -- it just seemed like it was an imperative (that Styx continue).

``I guess there's a small amount of vindication after having been told that the band could never survive without one human being, but I always believed it. Really and truly he is a talented guy and I hope he finds what he's hoping to achieve as a creative guy and happiness and a sense of wholeness and wellness in his life.''

The current lineup is Young; Shaw, who joined the band in 1975 and temporarily left in the late '80s; Todd Sucherman, who replaced Panozzo on drums and Lawrence Gowan and Ricky Phillips, both of whom came on board in 1999.

Currently, Styx is experiencing another career boost, this time without Sandler's help. Despite being considered ``dinosaurs still walking the planet in relation to contemporary radio,'' Styx finds itself with a song getting spins on classic rock radio and making the Top 30 on the Heritage Rock charts with its cover of the Beatles' psychedelic classic I Am the Walrus.

It had been covering the song in shows and a disc jockey who heard them play it in the band's hometown of Chicago asked for a studio version, surprising the band.

``We never intended to give it to radio, but someone said it was going to be a huge radio smash and we said we don't want to stand in the way of this, and friendly stations like WNCX in Cleveland and WONE in Akron have embraced the song and its been added to seven Top 40 stations. It's really kind of wacky,'' Young said.

The song's success has inspired Styx to put together a covers record, a now common gambit for mature bands.

Styx Salute, scheduled for a spring release, will feature Shaw's version of The Thrill Is Gone, a stripped-down ``delta blues'' version of Blue Collar Man, Young's take on Hendrix's Manic Depression and Jethro Tull's Locomotive Breath. It will also have guest appearances from Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor and Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson.

After more than three decades of personal and professional ups and downs, the 52-year-old Young said he has come to fully appreciate Styx's continued successful survival. And though the ``evolution or de-evolution of the record business'' has made it difficult for veteran rock bands to remain commercially relevant, in the end it all comes down to the music and the direct positive effect music can have on people's lives.

``This career started out as the avoidance of having to get a real job,'' he said, laughing.

Over the years, Young said he's heard many firsthand accounts from fans who ``look me dead in the eye and say your music saved my life.

``I used to think of what we do as very egocentric and self-serving and some small way it still is. But in a much larger sense, I've realized music has the power to really, if not heal people, to actually be therapeutic to them in difficult times.

``Music is this incredibly powerful force that we channel every night when we get on stage and I have just developed an incredibly large degree of respect for this gift that we have collectively been given. And respect the power it has over people. There is something larger at work here and we are just the stewards of it and what would I rather be doing for a living than bringing people joy?''