August 23, 2004
In August of 2004, the band Styx opened the Antelope Valley Fair
along with REO Speedwagon as part of the Robertson Palmdale Honda
concert series. It was the first concert held in the brand new
The bands played to a capacity crowd that was pleased by
everything the bands did. Both bands played a 90 minute set that
tried to cover the highlights of each bands 30 plus year history.
Styx played a medley of 18 songs that, according to guitarist
Tommy James was the brainchild of drummer and genius Todd Sucherman.
With a power nugget at every tune, the medley had the crowd on its
feet screaming and begging for more.
But before it all began, guitarist James Young took time for an
exclusive interview about the band, where they’ve been, their dreams
and their friends, and what to expect next.
LK - Thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to
talk to me. I know you are touring, where is the band right now?
JY - Yes, we are on tour, although we’ve had a couple of days
off in a place that’s outside of major cities. But I’m happy to talk
to someone that lives within a 100-mile radius of Los Angeles.
LK - Where are you playing tonight?
JY - We’re in a place that is in the southeastern corner of
Washington State. There’s actually a fair we are playing there
tomorrow and then we go to Alaska to play the Alaska State Fair and
then Friday night in Antelope Valley. We had a great time when we
were there 5 years ago. We were there with Lynyrd Skynyrd then and
our pals REO Speedwagon with us this time. It should be a great
night of rock and roll.
LK - I have been a fan of Styx for a long time, Blue-Collar Man
and Renegade are two of my all time favorite tunes, and I hope they
will be part of your song list for Friday night.
JY - Oh yes.
LK - Styx has been touring quite a bit the past few years, what
with a new recording and all; do you enjoy being on tour?
JY - Well, yes, is the simple answer. Particularly the two
hours we spend on the stage. To me it is an incredible high. It’s
legal and there is this energy that somehow channels through myself
and my band mates through the music that we’ve created and our
performance of it that really connects with people and lifts them up
and then they send us back another energy and their love and it just
kind of builds up into this incredible high energy love fest that is
exhilarating and endorphin raising. And I love my job what can I
LK - Well it sounds like it. It is a cool job to have for
JY - Particularly 32 years into a
recording career. And now we’re seeing teenagers as nearly half the
crowd. Thank you Adam Sandler. Thank you South Park. Thank you many
different things that happened in the year 1999 that sort of all
collected at once to sort of elevate us again as pop culture icons
in a way.
And we’ve just decided after not touring all that much from 83 to
96, particularly in 99 to rededicate ourselves to the concert stage.
The old jazz drummer Art Blakey used to say. "If you are not
appearing, you’re disappearing." And in an era where radio stations
that are inclined to play Styx music are your classic rock stations
and the stations that play current music look at us as dinosaurs –
the only way we could reach people with our new music, generally, is
to perform live.
It is something we have always excelled at and prided ourselves
at – the excellences of our stage performance. So it is a great joy
to me. And there are times when the bus ride gets a little bit long
and the room service is very late and food service in general is not
up to the standards you hope to set for yourself. But there are rock
and roll fans all over this continent and all over the globe,
really, and we’re just set at marking the planet with Styx music
until the day we die.
LK - How are the tours different from those in the 70s and 80s?
Do you get more time to relax or for family?
JY - It is definitely different. I
don’t quite have the energy for extra curricular activities. I have
to pace myself a little bit more. On the other hand, in many ways it
is quite the same. There is a certain mania that exists when a band
is first sort of surging to prominence and we had one heck of a
surge in the late 70s and that was sort of as if a whirlwind had
swept us up and just sort of took us off into some other place and
then somehow coldly set us down at the end of 1983 and stopped
working together. Now you have to try and reflect on all that and
try to adjust all that undigested material that found its way into
your mind and into your body and your heart over those whirlwind
years and try to figure that out. But having had benefit of time to
reflect on all that – and particularly with the reaffirmation of the
tour we did in 1996. Ten years ago, in 94, we thought maybe nobody
would ever care about Styx again.
And then we had a manager come along and
tell us – "You known you guys have sold close to 30 million records
and there is a huge audience for you guys out there. You just have
to make it an event when you finally return to the concert stage as
a collective – with all the guys back together and make it an event.
And print the tickets and they will come." And he was absolutely
right. Even grunge music be damned, we’ve been going ever since.
That wasn’t really a sentence that was one long continuous stream
of consciousness rabble, psychobabble.
LK – So, you feel that the time you took off was probably good
and you kind of matured through it?
JY - There is absolutely no doubt that I am a more mature
individual and Tommy Shaw is a more mature individual and that we
learned a lot. Even though we worked very hard and we were given
some talent by the people that hand that out or by the energy force
that hands that out in the beginning – you know sometimes things
happen and you don’t know really understand why they have happened
but its just the right time for them to happen. Or the right
elements were in place, apart from the individuals in the band, and
the soil is not as fertile as it once was way back when. Nor was it
starting in the beginning of the 90s. And that’s why I preach
flexibility and adaptability because as much as everything seemed so
hunky dory five years ago in the economy in this country and
everything else and in the stock market and what have you. There
have been an awful lot of rude surprises.
But I do believe, I mean I’m an
optimist when it comes to human nature and particularly the
therapeutic nature of music and the therapeutic nature of Styx
music. People come up to us all the time and say – "You know I had
this really rough patch in my life three – five - ten years ago. And
it was your song this, or your album that, that I listen to over and
over and over and it helped me through the tough time and inspired
me in time." And I’ll meet NFL football players who listen to our
song "Fool Yourself Angry Young Man" before they go out on the field
because it says, "Get up. Get back on your feet. You’re the one they
can’t beat and you know it."
People tell us they have been inspired by our music to do great
things. They have been healed by illnesses - real or perceived by
our music. And I don’t know – "From those who much has been give,
much is expected" Sometimes that mantle is hard to adjust to wearing
but we are at a stage that we are comfortable with it and we
recognize how we are perceived and how the real core individual that
each one of us has apart from the facade that the public believes
that we are. We have to stay in touch with that and we are very well
balanced at this point in time and love what we
LK - There seems to be a lot more bands grouping together to tour
these days. I saw where you went out with Frampton, Blue Oyster Cult
and for the past couple of years with REO, what are the advantages
to doing a kind of group tour like that?
JY - At this stage where we are not benefiting from our new
songs being played three times a day, seven days a week on radio
across the board, a lot of times the appeal from the stand point of
putting a concert together is to package groups that meant something
to people of a certain era. REO and Styx both had number one albums
in 1981 and both have huge followings, which combined . . .
Particularly this summer where ticket sales are a lot softer than
many concert promoters ever would have guessed in advance - to have
a couple of bands together like Styx and REO.
I think we are about sold out in the main grand stand area where
they are selling tickets with reserve seating Friday night and this
is two or three days in advance of the event. Without having the two
bands together I doubt that we would have been able to do that. It
makes for a great night for everybody that’s there because they get
to see two bands for what they otherwise might have had to pay twice
for. And for REO - they get to play for some Styx fans and then we
get to play in front of some REO fans. It helps spread the new music
to the following of other bands. There’s some reasoning for
LK - Who is going on first?
JY – REO. We’re coming from Alaska so we wanted to have as
much time as we could, being in Alaska the night before. We have
some traveling to do.
LK - How are the responses of your fans these days? How do the
audiences differ from those 30 years ago, other than being older?
JY - Well I think back in the 70s people were sort of - for
the most part - were smoking pot and were being laid back. We always
got a strong response but I think in this day in age there is less
of a marijuana fog at concerts and more of people just more
naturally exuberant - it seems to me. And they are freer to let
loose. I think our society has become freer. You know the puritan
ethic that started out four centuries ago in this country, needless
to say - at least for the moment - a thing of the past - from what I
can tell. People like to let loose at rock concerts and it gives
them an excuse to do it in a way that is not destructive to others
and not really destructive to the band.
I don’t know, I think the crowds are even more responsive now
because the audiences are skewing younger. We’ve heard examples from
people at VH1 Classic that these videos would appeal to those in
their 30s and their 40s. Well, they’re finding an awful lot of
teenagers and people in their 20s turning on to classic rock music.
We’re seeing that at the classic rock station in Chicago that they
have teenagers and people in their 20s calling in for this
LK - Every so often I hear vintage Styx fans comment that they
won’t go to the new Styx concerts because of the personnel changes.
What do you have to say to them?
JY - Well, I’d say that there are millions of satisfied
customers over the last five years that have seen this band. There
are people both in and out of the business that say this is the best
incarnation that has ever taken the stage. But this is the way it’s
going to be and if you love Styx music you ought to at least give
this a chance because we will convert you. You will learn to love
this incarnation of Styx as much as you loved the other one. We’ve
had people that held out for two and three and four years and
finally came and saw us and said they wish they’d come sooner.
The other gentleman which you referred to is finally out
performing some concerts on his own, but it is not really in a
particularly rock and roll context that he is performing. And it
seems to me, that I think is closer to where his heart and soul are
at this stage. Tommy and I have always wanted to be in a rock band
and Styx is the rock band Styx - it’s not the Broadway show band
LK - It seemed that is where he was trying to steer the band?
JY – Definitely. He started having leanings in that direction
as early as the 80s. And really the project in 1983, which was his
personal dream and a personal nightmare for the rest of us, was what
really broke us up because he insisted on that.
LK - To me, you and Tommy Shaw have always seemed to be straight
ahead rockers, was it uncomfortable for you during the Kilroy era,
dressing up in costume to perform or did you enjoy that? Were you
ever concerned about continuing in that direction?
JY - It was uncomfortable for Tommy. Tommy is really a more
self-starting, prolific writer than I am - writing is the hardest
part of what I do, I love performing. Being in the studio is okay
but sitting in a room by yourself composing is a discipline that
takes a certain type of mind set and Tommy has a great gift for that
as did the previous guy. And to some degree I have that but I am
really more of a collaborative guy and those guys can write on their
own. Although Tommy, I think he is also a collaborative writer, he
is just the more motivated of the two of us as a writer.
But, there was a time when we all had a great thing going but one
person just became very uncomfortable with it and he had to try to
change it around to suit him more and then it suited no one else but
him. And he couldn’t deal with some notion of his, which he said was
going to change our lives in a real positive way, doing quite the
contrary. Seeing our VH-1 Behind the Music shows just how
dysfunctional some of the moments of the band were but this new
line-up has put the fun back in dysfunction. I wish him well and I
hope he does well but this is the band Styx.
Being in a rock band is about touring. It’s about writing songs
and it’s about making records but it’s also about taking a wonderful
smile onto that stage and making the people feel good about
LK - When we go out to hear Styx on Friday are we going to hear a
lot of the original sound, are you preserving that even though you
have had so many personnel changes?
JY - Yes, indeed, in fact I would tell you that we go out of
our way to be true to the original feeling and sort of sonic and
musical pallet 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. The current keyboardist can
play circles around the previous keyboardist and he’s a much more
athletic performer and a much more motivated individual to get out
on the road and tour. Our current drummer that replaced our drummer
that passed on is maybe the most skilled drummer in rock and roll -
in my humble opinion. He definitely adds energy and flourish and
finesse to the parts that the dearly departed John Panozzo laid down
there in the first place. I think if anything it’s more powerful and
executed with more finesse than it ever was while remaining true to
its original form.
LK - Styx has always had a unique sound of their own, which most
would attribute to the keyboards (which in the 70s was still a new
thing) and the incredible harmonies. Are you trying to keep that
same sound throughout your new recordings or are you fishing for
JY - There’s a lot more guitar than
there was simply because the material is skewed more towards Tommy
and I in this context although we still play Come Sail Away, still
play Lady, still play The Grand Illusion and we play snippets of
things like Castle Walls and Light Up - and Mr. Roboto, even, we tip
our hats too - if ever so briefly, it’s the song that alienated our
core audience in 1983 but actually spawned the second generation of
Styx fans so we give it a little of a nod. And there’s a song that
Dennis and I co-wrote called Loralei that I have started singing,
however we won’t be doing that in the 90 min. set we’ll be doing on
There’s just so much music to play here that we could never play
it all, particularly if HE was back here. In my own mind, we are a
much happier and much more functional family and a much more well
balanced group of individual s both off and on the stage - in the
So, getting back to that question – Dennis is out on his own – go
see him play. There I said his name. There are a couple of songs we
won’t play but if you want to come to a great rock concert that
makes you feel good and reminds you what a great live band Styx was
and how much greater a live band it is now - come on
LK - Are you taking advantage of any of the newer technology
these days? In what ways?
JY - There are a lot of people using technology that are
playing to a click with backing vocals already stuck in there on
some computerized thing that runs along in time to the show so they
have these amazing vocals that are only partly the guys on stage
producing them at the time. Whereas with us - what you hear is
what’s happening right then and there on the stage – so we don’t
need no stinking technology.
LK - Most of you seem to be from Chicago, and on your website you
talk about various Chicago blues artists and that you are influenced
by - artists like Muddy Waters, but I don’t really hear that in your
music, have you ever wanted to do a full-blown blues thing? Has
there ever been a desire to lean more towards Chicago Blues in your
JY - Well, I personally was influenced – the first record I
bought was Bo Diddley and the Gunslinger, which came out of the
Chess studios at 2120 South Michigan. And from 1957 to 1967, that’s
where Chuck Berry made Johnny B Goode. That’s where Muddy Waters
made most of his recordings. Tons of things were recorded at Chess
Studios. And there was a part of me that realized that we had gone
away completely from my roots. They weren’t necessarily the same as
Tommy’s roots or Dennis’s roots or anybody else’s in the band but
more so my roots - since the first album I bought came out of Chess
I mean Chuck Berry’s kind of rock and roll but he’s blues based
and certainly Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and Little Walter and
all those other guys. I mean the Stones came to Chess Studios in
1964 to record tracks for their second record. They had a song on
there called 2120 South Michigan Ave. And we recently went back into
Chess Studios, which for a while stopped being a studio in 1975 and
became a Chicago landmark in 1990. At that point in time, John
Mellencamp backed a recording truck up there and recorded something
for a film. But apart from him, since 1975, we are the only other
people to go in there, and so we are the second group of individuals
to go into Chess Studios in the last 30 years to record there.
It’s now the home of Willie Dixon ‘s Blues Heaven Foundation.
Willie Dixon of course wrote many, many, many great blues songs that
Muddy Waters sang originally, or that Howling Wolf sang originally
or that Coco Taylor sang originally and these were covered by the
Stones, by Foghat, by Cream, by – you name it - Willie Dixon is a
As a result of us going back in there and recording and donating
money and actually doing recordings that will be coming out soon for
which all the profits will be going to the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven
Foundation we have reconnected ourselves with the city that gave
birth to the band and to an art form. And maybe it wasn’t so visible
in our music and it may never be that visible in our music. But
Willie Dixon said, "Blues are the roots and Rock and Roll is the
Fruit." But it wasn’t the only influence I’ve had.
There’s this thing that I’ve done this in NY and not so much in
LA because the city doesn’t have such a history, but you can drive
around in Chicago and there are things that happened 120 years ago
that people don’t know where it happened in the city and how it
happened and all this history kind of gets erased rapidly. And I
felt the need when I just happened by chance to drive by 2120 South
Michigan earlier this year, to say, well, I am a huge fan of what
went on in this building and I didn’t realize that a) it had become
a landmark and b) it was the home of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven
Foundation which it had been for seven years. And I said - Styx – as
a musical group it is our place to reflect the light that is shining
on us back onto this place and say – this is where so much great
Europeans go there and they kneel down and kiss the floor,
because they were so profoundly influenced by the music that was
created in that space and for them to stand there is this Karma,
there’s this energy and I feel it when I walk in there - it’s
Willie Dixon passed away about 10 years ago and his daughter
Shirley took over running the foundation. S he was a great singer in
her own right, but she died suddenly a little over a year ago. I
attended this memorial blues jam they had for her. And while the
band that was up there was doing their version of Willie Dixon’s "I
Just Wanna Make Love To You", I was sitting next to Willie’s widow,
Marie - she is a wonderful, vital woman. And she just whispered in
my ear, "Willie wrote this song because he was just tired of seeing
me cooking all day and being all day in the kitchen and not getting
a chance to get out at all. And he wrote that song – ‘And I don’t
want you to be no slave.’"
I mean that is powerful lyrics and I was sitting next to the
woman who the song was written about and having her whisper in my
ear. I get chills talking to you about it.
So, maybe you don’t see blues so much in Styx’s music but it is
definitely part of Tommy’s early music. He was known for doing "The
Thrill is Gone". That was kind of his signature number in the band
he was playing in before we swept him up and took him with us. So,
he has been profoundly influenced by that art form as I have and
what comes out of us is reflective of our collective experiences.
But I think you’re going to see a little bit more of that because
we are promised to do - at least cover one Willie Dixon song on the
next Styx record. And actually there’s a chance – there are some
lyrics of his that are rumored to be in a vault somewhere – some
unfinished songs that need music put to them - that one of those
might may wind up a Styx and Willie Dixon collaboration that would
So, there’s some great things that have happened because I just
went the extra mile to go in there and see how they were doing and
make a little donation and talk to them about us coming in there and
seeing if we couldn’t take some of the light shining on us and shine
it down on them. And they’ve been grateful.
It’s amazing because Coco Taylor, she was discovered by Willie
Dixon. (You got me talking now.) I mean she had been singing before
but he really wrote "Wang Dang Doodle" for her and she sang it and
made it one pf the biggest hits to come out of the Chess Studios, I
think in the 60s. And all of a sudden now, it turns out that her
daughter went to the same high school I did, like 5 years after I
did, so we’ve become famous friends. And Coco got on stage with us
the other night and she said she loves sitting in with us and even
though she’s not in 100% health, she said, "if you guys want me to
come and sit in with you anywhere - just give me a ticket and I’ll
be there." And this is a Grammy Award winning, legendary blues
singing, bad-assed woman named Coco Taylor. And these are the
acquaintances I just made this year because I went and tried to
reconnect with the roots on the rock and roll
LK - Is the band still based in Chicago?
JY - Oh not really. I am still there. The studio that we mix
in is still in Chicago. Our engineer that we’ve had since about
1979, Gary, who actually sang a number one hit song himself – "Bend
Me, Shape Me" – he was the lead singer in the band called American
Breed back in the late 1960s, lives in the Chicago area. He’s also
our live sound mixer as well as our studio engineer.
Tommy has moved to LA. Our new drummer grew up in Chicago and he
has moved to L.A. And the new bass player we have is L.A. based. The
keyboardist that’s been with us for the last five years still lives
in Toronto, which is where he grew up, although he was born in
Glasgow, Scotland. So, We’re really L.A. based with a secondary base
LK - What is in the future for Styx? You have some projects
already in sight?
JY – Oh, we’re working, we’re working. We’re gonna release a
studio album probably a year from now and we’ve got these recordings
that we did with Coco Taylor and Johnny Johnson, who was Chuck
Berry’s piano player. They’ll becoming Itunes downloads probably
sometime in October. There’s probably an EP that’s got those on it
and a few other things that we’re doing live now that will come out
the first part of next year and then a new Styx studio album the
third or fourth quarter of 2005.
LK - So you still feel pretty strong about recording then?
JY - We do. We think Cyclorama - our most recent studio album
- is a great record and everyone that has taken the time to listen
to agrees with me. I just talked to someone who said they listen to
that record all the time, and they think it’s a great record. I
think we had something to prove with that because a lot had been
ascribed to the previous keyboard player, that it was all about him,
so we made a great record without him and we’re going to continue to
do that and as I say - we are trying to climb Everest for the second
time as a recording act.
LK - I read on your web site that many of you come from musical
families. Are any members married and have children and been able to
pass on this musical heritage?
JY - Four of the
members of the band are married. I am childfree. Tommy has a
daughter, who I think is reasonably musical. Lawrence Gowan has two
children and his daughter is playing the violin, which to me is a
challenge for any body, and she is doing well at it. Todd our
drummer has no children yet I know they are thinking about it. His
wife actually sings – she is the one female back-up singer in Brian
Wilson’s band. She is a great singer in her own right. And Ricky
Phillips – our new bass player – even though his step-sister is
Steven Spielberg’s main producer on many of his biggest films, Ricky
seems like a confirmed bachelor to me.
LK - Is there something as a musician that you have not done yet
that you would like to still pursue?
JY - For me – Styx has never
performed in South America – we never performed in Australia – we’ve
only performed in Japan, and never on the continent of Asia nor in
what would have been considered the eastern block of Russia. We’ve
never performed in Mexico.
So, it’s a matter of that I want to take our music around the
globe. That is one big goal. I mean we’ve had number one records -
we’ve sold millions of albums. Whether or not we get in the rock and
roll hall of fame, who knows. (That is a small select group of
people who are very NYI slanted in the way they view life.) If we
are around long enough we’ll probably get there but it’s like there
are a lot of actors that are put in great performances that are
never recognized by the academy and that doesn’t mean that there
performances are any diminished - it just means that the club wasn’t
paying attention at the time to what they did. I don’t know, my goal
is to bring Styx music around the globe and to keep doing it until
they scrape me off the stage
LK - Most of the band members are in their 50s, how much longer
can you play rock and roll? Already three members of the band have
succumbed to health issues. Health and aging aside, do you see a
time when you won’t want to play rock and roll anymore? Some others,
like Grace Slick have said it is silly for people over 60 to play
rock and roll, what do you think? ?
JY - I’ll play until they have to scrape me off the stage. The
pendulum has swung back in our direction. I do believe somewhere in
the next three to seven years a new resurgence of young people
taking an interest in Styx and bands like Styx. The right song is
going to rear its ugly head and wave and it’s going to catapult us
once again to the top of that very high mountain. And really I
understand the people – the traditional mechanisms that were in
place when we first started making records – those mechanisms are no
longer in place. But people are still people and it just takes
someone to have a little P.T. Barnum, which there is a little of
P.T. Barnum in rock and roll shows - and you can’t tell me any
differently. Someone just has to figure out a way to get people’s
attention and say check this out. And if it’s the right song at the
right time it can happen. If you give up and you hold no hope, you
are already finished – And I’m not