by Susan Mittelkauf
Styx released its first album in 1972 and continued a vinyl winning streak that included four triple-platinum albums in a row. The band's been quiet for the past couple of years, but members Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung have scored with solo successes. Now guitarist James Young, best known as J.Y., has released a unique project of his own. City Slicker, which he produced with Miami Vice-man Jan Hammer, showcases J.Y.'s hard rock side, along with a few other surprises. Rock Rap's Susan Mittelkauf spoke with J.Y. not long before its release.
ROCK RAP: Since this is your first solo album, are you intimidated by Tommy and Dennis' prior successes? Is there a sort of competition between you all?
J. Y .: There's always going to be some sibling rivalry, but I think it's friendly. We don't do the same kind of things. That's what made Styx unique - the combination of our styles. But it got repetitive and we hit a rut. Now we're able to do what we want, and it's good for us to be taking separate creative vacations.
ROCK RAP: Will Styx ever work together again?
J. Y .: At some point there will probably be another album.
ROCK RAP: If Styx never regrouped, what would be your fondest memory of the band?
J. Y .: I'd like us to be remembered for being stylistically unique. Someone said recently that we were the band of the late 70's, the touring band. And I'd also like to think that we never put on a bad show; we cared a lot about pleasing the audience.
ROCK RAP: Now that you've hooked up with Jan Hammer, is there any chance of you turning up on Miami Vice?
J.Y.: Well... there's a chance, but I don't know how strong a chance. A friend of mine is right down the hall from their casting director, so I went and talked with him one day. I was up for a part that Gene Simmons got, because he's had previous film experience.
ROCK RAP: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
J. Y. : I think people perceive me as a radical rocker. It would surprise them to see that I'm a down-to-earth, college-educated guy.
ROCK RAP: What school did you go to?
J. Y .: Illinois Institute of Technology, studying aerospace engineering. I was the only one with long hair in my classes. I've always been mathematically inclined, and there's an element of music which is very mathematical - being able to listen to something and reproduce it from ear. But a music degree didn't get you much further than conducting a high school band. The idea of being in the aerospace industry seemed like fun, and it was something to fall back on.
ROCK RAP: What were you like when you were growing up?
J. Y.: I guess I had jockular intentions. Everybody at a certain age wants to be a baseball player. I played some sports, and always loved them. But my parents were worriers and didn't want me to get hurt. And I didn't have the dedication. I was on the swimming team in high school, but I also became very enchanted with music.
ROCK RAP: How old were you when you started playing the guitar?
J. Y. : I actually started off on the piano, when I was five. And I played the clarinet, from eighth grade through high school, in the band.
ROCK RAP: Did you sing too?
J. Y. : I never had any emphasis on singing until I got into Styx. I never thought I could sing until Dennis showed me some tricks. He told me to just practice and the muscles in my throat would get trained.
ROCK RAP: What was the first group you were in?
J.Y.: The Catalinas, in the mid-60's. We played surf music like "Wipe Out," and Beatles and Animals songs. We did a tour of Europe when I was 17. We came in third in a Chicago talent contest, and our parents each kicked in $400 to send us. We went to Dublin, and you could drink there at age 14. They even had vending machines on the side of the road where you could get beer!
ROCK RAP: Who were your heroes when you were growing up?
J.Y.: That's difficult to say. The first album I bought was by Bo Diddley, so I suppose he was my first musical idol. I also liked ball players like Dick Butkus, the astronauts, J.F.K.
ROCK RAP: Who are your heroes now?
J.Y.: That's difficult to say to, because I'm really a cynic at heart. I'm the kind of person who hates to get built up into a magical sense of "Isn't this the greatest thing you ever saw," then you look behind the curtain and see the Wizard. But there are people that I admire, like Sting. I just don't have any traditional heroes.
ROCK RAP: What's kept you so down-to-earth in the midst of all the rock 'n roll craziness?
J.Y.: It took Styx a real long time to succeed, and we were all adults when we hit. We saw how other bands handled or didn't handle things. And we also lived in Chicago, away from a lot of the trappings of success. That's where our roots and families were. Plus, we were a touring band, and being based in the middle of the continent made sense.
ROCK RAP: Styx took a lot of flack from critics because of that. You represented the Middle American heartland long before it was chic.
J.Y.: Well, I think the day you try to please the critics and write for them is the day you become very unhappy. There was a time in our career where the only thing we hadn't achieved was being on the cover of Rolling Stone and being considered "the greatest thing." But you can never have it all, though we had the best of things.
Rock Rap magazine, May 1986
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