Interview by DOUG FOX
The Daily Herald
OREM — When Styx first came to Utah, in 1973, it was
under vastly different circumstances than the band’s
Considering that “Lady” was a hit in only three
places, and Provo was one of them, the band decided it
better pay the city a visit.
The band made the 1,300-mile drive in a rented motor
home, carrying illegal caches of gasoline onboard during
the oil embargo.
Needless to say, touring is a much different animal
for Styx these days. The band utilizes custom tour
buses, several equipment trucks and 28 crew members to
bring its show to a different city nearly every
After the band’s concert Saturday at Utah Valley
State College, Styx guitarists James “JY” Young and
Tommy Shaw were gracious enough to sit down and talk
about “karmic capital,” their highly successful
Volunteers For America benefit concerts last October,
and life on the road in 2002.
Q: What’s it like on the road? Take me through a
typical day on the road, if there is such a thing.
SHAW: Well, this particular band, we work a lot more
because we just enjoy it. Our work, they call it play
and that’s what it is, so we like to play more shows. So
you kind of learn to manage your time a little better so
you can do it. We go by bus, which we never did before
and so a lot of times, like last night, we drove 500
miles and got here at about 8:30 this morning. So you go
back in and you try to get a little bit of sleep, which
is usually pretty hard to do and you just kind of take
it easy. And for me, I have to rest my voice, so I try
not to talk too much and do other things. A lot of times
we try to get out and walk around the city to see what’s
going on. And you know just the last couple days, you
know how women when they travel and hang around each
other, they all kind of get their cycles and everything
becomes the same? The last couple days, I’ll take off in
a direction and the next thing I know, there’s Glen
Burtnik. You know, we’ve all been together so much,
we’re all starting to think alike. But we’ll go around
and meet people in the city. Like we met a couple people
in shops and they came to the show tonight. The next
thing you know, it’s time to get in the shower. I do the
content for our Web site, so I’ll try and get on the
computer and do some of that, take some pictures, do
that kind of thing. Before you know it, it’s time to get
in the shower, pack your stuff up again and get on the
bus and come over here.
Q: The members of your crew that I talked to were all
highly complimentary on how the band treats them and
looks out for them:
SHAW: Well, we’re all in this together, you know. At
the end of the day we all get on the bus, we’ve done
what we do and we’re on to the next city. The only time
where we kind of split apart is we go out there under
the lights — well, they’re up there, too.
Q: They say that they do indeed feel a part of the
show, even though they are out of the spotlights:
YOUNG: Well, they absolutely are. It’s a very complex
show and the genesis of a lot of the ideas was Tommy and
myself, but John Rossi our lighting designer and Jeff
Ravitz our Emmy-Award winning lighting designer as well,
who is not with us because he designed the show for the
Academy. Our opening is a combination of everything
between the music and the stage and everything a —
combination of all the ideas, but it’s just the
symbiosis of it all. We just wanted to change the show
and make it different from the last time and all of a
sudden, we made a quantum leap in terms of the impact of
it, which I think, I was surprised by the reaction we
got from people. And they were saying, “This is the best
thing we’ve ever seen you guys do.” And we did some good
things in the past.
Q: This is a question mainly for JY, cause I don’t
think you were in the band yet, Tommy.
SHAW: I wasn’t born yet!
Q: You’ve told me previously that the band drove out
in a motor home to play the Ice House the first time you
came to Provo.
YOUNG: I think we wound our way out here through
Rapid City and whatever and got out here, and some of
the guys flew back. But it was actually during the oil
embargo and we were funneling gasoline, and probably
carrying it illegally in this vehicle. And John Panozzo
and I drove back 27 hours from here to there, but we
stopped at the side of the road, because we didn’t know
where we could buy gas, and used a map as a funnel and
poured gas in there.
Q: How would you compare that to the way you travel
YOUNG: Well, we’re older and wiser. Well, at least
Q: I interviewed Jack Blades (of Night Ranger) once,
he mentioned that for a good portion of the day, he had
the persona of being Jack Blades the rock star. But that
there was a certain point in the day, when all the
musical duties were done, that he simply became Jack the
regular citizen. And that he really felt a distinction
between the way he felt. Do you feel anything that
SHAW: I don’t know. There probably is kind of a
transition like that, but it’s so smooth we don’t have
time to meditate or like (chants) “hmmmmmmmm,” you know,
do that sort of thing. It really is a very smooth
transition. I think the only thing we do is we kind of
all do this yoga stretching before we go out there, just
to make sure you’re as limber as you need to be. This is
just who we are. You know we’ve done this so much that
it’s all kind of the same thing, you know, you walk from
here (in the dressing room) to out there and back here,
and honestly you don’t feel that much of a
YOUNG: Jack and his band, I don’t think tour nearly
as much as we do. The fact is that we haven’t gone
really two months at all without playing in the last
three years. The last time you played was never more
than six weeks ago, so it’s not like you have to gear up
and remember what you played here or back then. We
remember it all and sometimes there’s some rust
definitely on the machine if we haven’t played in six
weeks, but that goes away really the first night. As
soon as I put my stage clothes on, sometimes I do that
early, kind of to get myself thinking about it, but it’s
pretty smooth. We’re having fun back here and we’re
having fun out there. We know we’ve got a great group of
guys around us and that you can rely on all of them, so
it’s not like there’s an opposing team out there. Those
people love us and we love them, so it’s a love
SHAW: I’ll tell you what, it’s kind of a
self-motivating band. You never want to be the guy who’s
kind of the runt, you know, the hind-titty guy, because
everybody else will take care of business and you will
be standing there not doing much. So all of us do love
doing it right and getting the attention. There’s no
shortage of guys ready to step up to the plate out
Q: Like we talked about last summer, no matter where
you look up there on stage, there’s somebody doing
SHAW: Everybody is really good at what they do. But
still, you do have to rise to the occasion, you have to
go out there and do it. So I really enjoy when I hear a
member of the band having a particularly good night, but
it takes a lot of getting all these elements right — you
know, from getting enough sleep, to having all your
ducks in a row during the day — to get up on stage and
have your monitors working right and everything working
right for you to have a great night. So it is a great
thing to get to see on a nightly basis.
Q: Out in the audience, you can start to feel an
almost palpable current of energy run through the crowd
as show times nears and then as the lights go out. Can
you ever pick up on that energy level backstage before
SHAW: No, probably it’s just such a normal part of
our day that I’m not sure we’re even conscious of it
that much any more.
YOUNG: We know we’re gonna get ’em.
SHAW: We do. We’ve kind of worked this thing, and
worked it and worked it. And they’re fans of ours
already coming to see us and we’ve put such a great show
together for them, I guess we’re supremely
Q: Could you explain for me what your tour buses are
SHAW: Well, it’s kind of like a heavy duty motor
home, but it’s built, just like our gear on stage, it’s
built to take a lot of constant abuse and, you know, do
all sorts of weather and that sort of thing. It’s
basically our home. That’s where we sleep a lot of the
time. We watch television there. We have refrigerators
and two satellites in there, so you can watch that and
DVDs, and CDs, and stereos. Most of the creature
comforts of home are kind of reduced down to their
essence. So it’s something to kind of distract us before
we go to sleep.
YOUNG: Come out and take a look at it on your way
At this point, keyboardist Lawrence Gowan enters the
conversation. Gowan, a Canadian and a hockey fanatic,
although some would claim that description is redundant,
is asked about Canada’s gold medal victory over Team USA
in the Olympics.
SHAW: I couldn’t shut him up on it!
Q: That’s where you guys played the last time when
you came to Utah, the “E” Center, where the gold medal
game was played.
GOWAN: That’s right. Yes, I know, I put a loonie
under the ice.
SHAW: He got me into the hockey during the Olympics.
That was a lot of fun.
GOWAN: The night when Sweden was mopping Canada on
the ice, Tommy was very into it.
SHAW: I was explaining to him just how they were
kicking Canada’s ass.
GOWAN: Well, you know, it all came out right in the
SHAW: Yes, it did. I felt bad cause it looked like
that was the end, but Canada turned around and, well,
you know what happened. Canada needed that, though,
because there were a lot of people saying that the
dynasty was kind of dying up there and they needed
YOUNG: They were waiting for the odds in Vegas to get
up there before doing anything.
GOWAN: Brett Hull came to our show last night.
Q: Oh, in Denver?
GOWAN: Yeah. It was great. He’s a silver
Q: When you guys have been out on the road so much
and you finally get back home, does it take some extra
time to adapt again to your surroundings?
SHAW: Any more, I’m like, “I’m there” before my
suitcase hits the ground. Mainly because we don’t have
the luxury of taking days, we better just be there while
we are there. All these things used to be true, up until
about 1999 and since then every year our whole
philosophy has kind of changed just because we’ve
decided to really go back to being a touring band.
YOUNG: We’re on a mission.
SHAW: This is all kind of one thing. We play, we go
home, we go back and play, we go back home again, and so
there’s no time for dawdling in lengthy transition.
At this point, my wife, Jenn, chimed in with her own
line of questioning.
JENN: What kind of role do your wives play in all
SHAW: They just cook and knit sweaters. (laughing)
JENN: (laughing) Turn that tape recorder off right
SHAW: (laughing) I’m going to get my ass whipped. No,
we’ve got great wives.
JENN: Do they come with you on the road a lot?
SHAW: They normally do, yeah.
YOUNG: Out of 300 and some shows we’ve played,
they’ve both been to at least 200 of them, if not
SHAW: Oh yeah, if not more than that.
JENN: Well, what do they do? Do they go out and watch
GOWAN: (laughing) They tell us what we’re doing
YOUNG: (laughing) They give career advice.
SHAW: They’re good. They know us better than anybody
JENN: So they give you advice, are they involved in
other things that you do as well?
YOUNG: They’re actually running the whole thing. We
just get a chance to talk to you guys, now that you’ve
finally asked about it, we have to admit it.
GOWAN: The other good thing is that they have great
opinions about things. It’s weird, but I can’t even
think of an example where they weren’t right on the mark
when they’ve had certain comments about the show. So
SHAW: We have great girls and they get along great
with each other. We’re very lucky. They know when we’re
good and they know when something’s not working. It’s
hard to have somebody give you an honest opinion like
that. Very few people want to tell you, “You know that
thing you guys are doing? DON’T do that any more!"
YOUNG: Don’t wear that!
SHAW: Don’t wear that, that’s awful! What were you
doing when you said that? Who else is going to tell you
JENN: What about kids?
YOUNG: (Singing melody to “Born Free”) Child free, as
free as the wind blows.
SHAW: I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter.
JENN: Does she come along?
SHAW: She comes out every once in a while. But she’s
pretty much in school.
YOUNG: (Nodding to Gowan) One wife and two kids for
SHAW: Glen’s got kids.
YOUNG: Glen’s got three kids.
SHAW: Every once in a while we’ll have kid week
during a break and we’ll get an extra bus and it will be
a kid bus, so it’s a lot of fun for everybody.
Q: You mentioned last summer that you would like to
see the younger bands try to keep up with the touring
schedule that you guys keep, but I don’t see many of
them really trying.
SHAW: It’s difficult. Aside from the physical aspect
of it, familiarity can breed contempt, you know, it
normally does with bands. It’s such a rare occasion for
people to be able to be around each other as much as we
are and still like each other and be supportive of each
other and not have driven each other crazy to the point
where you have to pull it to the curb.
YOUNG: We obviously didn’t work together for a long
time after 1983, so we suffer from the same thing, but
the fact that something about this body of work that we
created together has survived the test of time and the
quality of shows we do, people still respond to it.
We’ve had a chance to grow up in a sense and understand
what this is, and what it isn’t, and what it can mean to
your life, and what it can never mean to your life. And
basically just have a mature outlook on what we do,
which allows us, I hate to say to be more businesslike,
but at least you don’t have unrealistic expectations.
You know what you can generally accomplish and it takes
a monumental effort to really have a hit record and to
do great things, and Tommy and I, and everybody else for
that matter, love to work. So we’re really having a
chance for a second bite at the apple and we’re not
going to screw it up.
Q: Do you ever feel like you have performed a perfect
show or is it always just kind of out there, barely out
SHAW: I think we get into the high 90s on a regular
basis, but there’s so many little elements that I don’t
think it would be possible. Because we’re bringing this
in, and the crew gets this show up and running, and a
lot of times we don’t know what’s being held together
with baling wire and gaffer tape. But generally there’s
something that’s not quite working right, but they get
it to work, you know what I mean? Showtime, the lights
go down and the band goes up there.
Q: The Volunteers For America benefit concerts that
you did in October, how hard was it to pull all those
bands and details together?
YOUNG: Jeff Ravitz our lighting director was going to
do the McCartney thing, but they wanted somebody who was
New York-based and he was in L.A. these days, even
though he grew up in New Jersey. But he just came out
and did his thing and he just did some spectacular
things. And this wonderful karma and rapport we’ve built
with people around us, and with bands like REO — when
Tommy called up Kevin Cronin and said, “Do you want to
do this.” Boom, “I’m in.” We called up Paul Rodgers of
Bad Company and, boom, they’re in. It’s a critical mass
already. And then Journey, who is managed by REO’s same
management, a couple days later they started talking to
each other about it and, boom, they were in. So it was a
monumental effort on dozens of people’s parts, but
ultimately it came together. It was an astounding thing.
I’ll never forget being out there the first day when we
had the Marine color guard come up and do that and this
girl sang kind of a bluesed-up version of the national
anthem, but she sang the living (crap) out of it and the
whole crowd was just like … and I’m shivering, getting
chills just thinking about the feeling I had. I was
behind the curtain, I really couldn’t see what was going
on unless I stuck my face out there, it was just like,
SHAW: And the day went like that, just one thing
after another, after another, after another. And then
the two Port Authority police officers came out there
and told everybody. And people didn’t know about the
story of the Port Authority Police Department. In a
department of only 800 people, they lost 37 of their
brothers and one female officer. Cause the NYPD, most
people just associated with them and they’re a much
larger police organization, and as awful as it was for
them, Port Authority wasn’t getting, no one was raising
any money for them. So they kind of went out there and
told their story and it was so moving. It still ... I’ll
never forget it, to hear these guys talk about it.
YOUNG: And then presenting a check for half a million
dollars, along with Steve Augeri from Journey, when we
went to Ground Zero with the check, giving it directly
to the police of the benevolent association, seeing
these grown men, 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6, everybody’s getting
tears in their eyes, it was ...
SHAW: We were there the day after George Bush had
been there and we were on the same platform, you could
see where it said, President, Kofi Annan ... YOUNG:
Colin Powell …
SHAW: And so we got to look over and see all the
damage and to give the check to the president of the
YOUNG: The single-largest check that they have ever
received from an outside source.
SHAW: Well, we didn’t tell them how much it was. They
thought, “Oh, these guys are going to give us, oh, 20,
25 grand.” And we gave them a check for a half million
dollars. It was a wonderful thing.
Q: And you would have never been able to do all this
if you hadn’t been out doing what you’ve been doing on
the road these past three years.
YOUNG: Well, if we hadn’t been out touring and hadn’t
built a relationship with REO and with Bad Company, and
with all our employees and everything, we wouldn’t have
been in a position to really ask people to do this and
if we hadn’t built up a sort of karmic capital with
everyone, to where someone would say, “Of course,” no,
we wouldn’t have had the machinery to put it together.
And we did and it happened and it was a wonderful
Q: Could you just kind of sum up your thoughts on
everything we’ve talked about?
SHAW: It’s the best job in the world. It’s a job
where you go to work and you play. It’s been a dream
come true. And I think it keeps you young. The
challenges that we face every night are the same ones we
were facing 25 years ago.
YOUNG: 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.
Doug Fox is weekend editor of The Daily Herald. He
can be reached at 344-2546 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page C1.