MALCOM DOME slicks it up with heavyweight STYX guitarist turned solo artist JAMES YOUNG
JAMES 'JY' YOUNG plays with Styx. Or perhaps it's more correct to state that he used to play guitar with Styx. Then again, maybe I should say that if Styx still exist then he's their guitarist. No, hang on a minute...
Hey, this is getting confusing. So let's have a word from the man himself concerning the Styx situation.
"Styx are a going concern and, despite rumours to the contrary, we haven't broken up. Creatively there have been constant disagreements within the ranks and we all needed a breathing space to do our own thing. But rest assured, Styx will return! I can't give you any timetable for the arrival of another album, but... well it took Yes and Deep purple years to get back together and it hasn't done them any harm, right?"
In JY's case, 'doing his own thing' has led to the recent release of 'City Slicker', his first solo album. In the US this has been put out by the man's own label, Absolute (with distribution through Passport), whilst FM have just picked it up over here. In terms of company deals, one would have expected Young to follow the example of fellow Stygian rowers Denis De Young and Tommy Shaw and release solo product through the A&M organisation, but... James isn't about to don his woolly overcoat and go 'baaa' all the way to the sheep pen.
"No, I wouldn't dispute that most people expected me to put out 'City Slicker' through the A&M label, however they'd already committed themselves to Denis and Tommy so I'd have been in the position of trying to get a little elbow room for my record and competing against them in the same manner as Styx had to battle against the Frampton-mania at the company when we first signed in 1975. I wasn't prepared to do that so I believed it was better for me to look elsewhere. But people at record companies these days are so locked into the hit syndrome that they couldn't relate to my more challenging style, so I decide to set up my own company. And whilst I'm still learning about the business side of things, nonetheless I maintain that my way of doing things is slowly beginning to pay dividends. I'm certainly not intimidated by the business side of running my own label."
JAMES YOUNG: "Rest assured, Styx will return!"
Young always projected himself as the Heavy Metal element within the Styx flow of pomp rock and certainly this comes across amply on 'City Slicker', an album that, whilst it certainly doesn't have the instant appeal of Tommy Shaw's excellent 'Girls With Guns' opus (now two years old), nonetheless rewards any listener prepared to stick with the rather refreshing plastic. Aside from drawing on his own not inconsiderable skills in both production and musicianship capacities, Young also got in two rather heavyweight talents in the shape of former Whitesnake bassist Colin 'Bomber' Hodgkinson and the much-acclaimed Jan Hammer, who applies both keyboards and drum touches as well as exhibiting his production reflexes.
"I've admired Jan especially for ages, in particular I love the 'Spectrum' album he recorded with Billy Cobham and Tommy Bolin (released through the Atlantic label in 1973).
"My own guitar performances are generally good, I may not be Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen, but I'm capable of holding my own in most company, therefore I enjoyed working with such world-class musicians as these two. Jan in particular was a great help to me.
"I caught him just before 'Miami Vice' exploded which was a tremendous coup for me and I think he proves with 'City Slicker' that he's a rock 'n roller at heart."
Reaction to the LP has been slow in picking up, but things seem to be coming together now for Young as he attempts to establish an identity away from the stadia-sized magic always associated with Styx.
"It's been hard persuading the media to give coverage to the album because it hasn't got instant accessibility and also because I haven't got the major label machinery behind me. But now, I'm slowly getting through to people and so far the reaction has been positive.
"What pleases me most about 'City Slicker' is that I'm finally getting the chance to establish some instrumental credibility.
"On Styx albums it was always the overall sound that mattered and consequently my guitar playing never got as much attention as I'd have liked."
And Young isn't planning now to sit around waiting for the possible reunion of Styx; he's serious about this side of his career.
"I've already written about two-thirds of the next album and worked out suitable arrangements and I'll probably be working again with Jan and Colin. As for touring, well I doubt if anything'll happen on this front before the next album. Hard rock and Heavy Metal, which is where I stand, does inevitably come into its own onstage with the inherent power being given a chance to shine through, but to go out now would mean touring the clubs, which isn't my scene anymore. If someone were to say to me 'Go out and do some special guest slots with a major act' then I'd jump at the chance.
"Being realistic though, I'll probably be keen to do a second album (tentatively titled 'Out On A Day Pass'), release it later this year and then do some selected dates.
"When I finally do get on the road there might be selected Styx material in my set; 'Young Man' from 'Serpent is Rising' could even be on the next LP! It would be re-done in a very heavy style because that's where my heart lies.
"To be honest, I love Heavy Metal and was never comfortable with the way Styx sounded over the past few albums. This was down to Denis taking a stronger hand in affairs and leading the band into territory he felt at home in, which didn't exactly suit me. The 'Kilroy Was Here' album took things just too far. We became too influenced by European and Japanese music and the LP did alienate many of our long-term fans. Any future album from Styx will, I assure you, offer a stronger dose of guitar-oriented heavy rock, more in keeping with our past. But that's in the distant future, right now it's my solo project that's got the highest priority."
As a longstanding fan of the classic Stygian pomp 'n' effect, I applaud Young's promise of a return to the glorious days of 'Suite Madame Blue' et al (bring back producer Barry Mraz!) and, in the meantime, cop a load of the polished, pyromaniac precision on offer from from 'City Slicker'.
It may not quite be in the mould of the truly great Styx opii of the past, but it's sure as damn it rather closer than anything recorded by members of the legion, either individually or collectively, since 'Pieces of Eight'. Now, that's what I call cause for celebration!
KERRANG! magazine, May 29 - June 11, 1986
(SIC - misspellings, errors and all!)
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