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By: Jim Cheesman
Argus Leader

Published: Feb 27, 2003

It’s not difficult to find a Styx song on the radio these days.

“Come Sail Away” and “Blue Collar Man” are staples on classic-rock stations. “Babe” is played in adult contemporary formats, and even the cult favorite “Mr. Roboto” turns up occasionally on 1980s shows – not to mention TV commercials.

But finding new music from Styx and other classic-rock bands on the radio is another story. Narrower formats and listeners’ changing tastes have left many of the most popular acts of the rock era struggling to get their music out over the airwaves.

“It’s definitely a challenge for them these days,” said Dan Rahman, program director for Classic Rock B-102.7 in Sioux Falls. “A new song from a group like Styx might be played on only one station per market – if that – while a newer group like matchbox twenty might be played on three or four.”

Last week, Styx released its latest studio album, “Cyclorama,” to generally positive reviews. More importantly, the group – which plays a co-headliner show with REO Speedwagon on Saturday night in Brookings – is getting some airplay with the first single. “Waiting For Our Time” was the most-played new song on classic-rock radio last week and also is part of B-102.7’s rotation.

“On one hand, it says a lot because more people are getting to hear it,” said Styx guitarist James “JY” Young. “But on the other hand, it doesn’t because, quite frankly, not a lot of new songs are being played on classic-rock radio.”

More important benchmarks, Young says, are the mainstream rock charts, where the band is competing with the likes of 3 Doors Down, Godsmack and Bon Jovi. Styx was No. 30 on last week’s Radio and Records survey and No. 37 on Billboard’s mainstream rock chart. It’s Styx’s first appearance on the Billboard mainstream rock chart since 1990’s “Love is the Ritual.”

“For a classic-rock band that has made what we feel is one of the best records of our lives, this is a pretty good start,” Young said. “Some of the newer bands may have an easier time getting their songs played and getting videos on MTV and VH1.

“The cards we’ve been dealt are different. We’re perceived as a group that is not current. Our mission and goal with this album is to re-establish ourselves as a contemporary act.”

There is precedent for such transformations, he said.

“There was a moment where Aerosmith was faced with the same thing, but they found a way to come back,” Young said. “And Santana is one of my favorite examples of this.

“Is it going to happen for us? I don’t know. But we’ve put out an album that we strongly believe gives us that chance.”

“Cyclorama” was released Feb. 18 – four years after the group’s previous studio album, “Brave New World,” sold only 100,000 copies and the band went through a major lineup change. Founding member

Dennis DeYoung was replaced by Canadian keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan. Another founding member, bassist Chuck Panozzo, is now semi-retired but played on a few “Cyclorama” tracks and appears with the band at selected concerts.

Panozzo was replaced by former Styx member Glen Burtnik, who ironically took over for frontman Tommy Shaw for a period in the mid-1990s.

Both Gowan and Burtnik have extensive writing and singing credentials to go along with Shaw and Young’s history with the band that dates back to the 1970s.

The new lineup became road warriors, playing more than 400 shows since 1999 and meshing as a group before hitting the studio last year.

Young says the process of making “Cyclorama” was much like the one the band followed for 1977’s “The Grand Illusion” album, regarded by many as Styx’s finest.

“We wrote all of the songs together in the same room,” he said. “Each person would come in with either a fully developed idea or just a nugget, and we would bash at it a while until it was something we were all happy with.

“We had gotten away from that process for our most recent albums, and I think the results were obvious. People just didn’t identify the sound with Styx.”

With four diverse writers and lead singers, there were contrasting styles to deal with, and those differences show up on the new album. But there are common threads, most notably the group’s trademark harmonies that appear on every track.

“Our three-part and four-part harmonies are probably the most recognizable sound of this band, along with the powerful rock underpinning,” he said. “This album definitely sounds like the Styx people remember but with a more current edge to it.”

Guest appearances by Brian Wilson, John Waite, Billy Bob Thornton, Jude Cole and Tenacious D members Jack Black and Kyle Gass give the album some added spice.

Highlights of Saturday night’s 90-minute set will be four songs off “Cyclorama” and a 14-song, nine-minute medley of fan favorites that weren’t necessarily big hits.

“Whenever you’re trying to feature new songs in a set, you want to make sure you balance that with songs that people remember,” Young said.

And, of course, there will be full versions of the group’s greatest hits, which Young refers to as “the soundtrack for people’s gloriously misspent youth.”

Reach Jim Cheesman at 331-2316 or via

e-mail at jcheesman@argusleader.com.


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