Art-rockers return minus a favorite son

Published in the Asbury Park Press and the Home News Tribune


When Styx performs in Sayreville on Tuesday, it'll just about be the back yard of a recently departed member who is one of the area's favorite sons.

Irvington-born, New Brunswick-bred bassist Glen Burtnik left Styx to spend more time with his family, according to a band press release.

"I was, needless to say, sad to see him go," says James "J.Y." Young, founding guitarist for the '70s/'80s art-rockers behind "Lorelei," "Come Sail Away" and "The Grand Illusion."

"I'm the one who suggested back in 1989 that Glen be made a member of this band when (guitarist) Tommy (Shaw) went off with Damn Yankees. So I've been his champion in here."

Burtnik's replacement is bassist Ricky Phillips, formerly of the Babys and Bad English.

Says Young: "Ricky is a competent background singer. He's not the singer, on many levels, that Glen was. Glen has a unique voice, which is a great thing, which serves him so well as a solo artist.

"And there's something that Glen could do that nobody else in the band can currently do, which is blend with Tommy in a way that is just so smooth. Those two would sing a soft song like 'Yes I Can,' and they'd sound almost like the same person, but just different enough. That, we don't have. Ricky's voice is a little harder-edged than Glen's, so in some ways, it gives the backgrounds a little more power."

Backing vocals aside, there are other ways Burtnik's departure affected the dynamic of Styx, Young tells PAGE X.

"In some ways," the guitarist says, "there was not enough room for the great talent of Glen Burtnik and (keyboardist) Lawrence Gowan and Tommy Shaw and myself to co-exist as writers. In some ways, four writers is one too many. I know Glen was frustrated with the small contribution he was able to make, even though we all took equal credit on the songs.

"But until we establish this lineup firmly and everybody has a song that gets a lot of airplay, it's still Tommy's voice that's the most familiar, and mine is second. Glen could be said to be the third most familiar, but ultimately, there wasn't really a lot of room for Glen.

"So we've lost a little bit, but in some ways, we've opened up more opportunities for the three guys that do sing (lead vocals), because I don't have to worry about Glen's feelings, in a way.

"Hey, the guy's great, and he deserved a moment to be out there. But some nights we're given 75 minutes sandwiched between R.E.O. opening and Journey closing. People want to hear the hits, and Glen didn't sing those."

Not that Young means to denigrate Burtnik's tenure in Styx.

"He has all my respect and all my love and people should buy his new solo record ('Welcome to Hollywood')," Young says. "I think he's just a great talent and a fun guy to hang out with.

"But we are grown men here. Everybody's got to find his own balance. And this life, although it appears glamorous, can be very lonely. For someone who is as devoted to his wife and kids as Glen, it was a lot of time away."

A situation that would not have improved, Young says.

"Our schedule was going to have to remain aggressive in order to succeed back to the level that we enjoyed 20 years ago, which is our goal," he says. "With radio not being nearly as friendly as it was to us in the heyday -- if you're not appearing, you're disappearing. So, we have to be away from home a lot. Ultimately, that's something that wasn't going to change based on what Glen's feelings were. So he reluctantly left.

"But," Young adds with a laugh, "we've endured the departure and death of people in this band. And they still can't kill us!"

Styx is scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Starland Ballroom, 570 Jernee Mill Rd., Sayreville. $36. (732) 238-5500. www.starlandballroom.com

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