James Young was left little choice but to cut what he feels was the harder edge of the old sound... on his own.

     After the two brainchilds, Dennis De Young and Tommy Shaw, came to the realization that they were sufficiently distinct to leave the womb of the commercially in-the-black mid 70s band Styx - what else could the unsung third partner do? Sit at home? James Young fielded offers from other groups, but... the boys had gone off on the solo fly under the heartfelt but hazy hand shake of 'We, uh, need a vacation from each other for awhile.' Joining someone else's band would be like saying the final goodbye to the only woman you'd ever really made it with - will it ever happen again? Who knows? Young decided to go solo rather than blow what all the Styx seem to believe will be an eventual reunion.
     The reason for - and the problem about - their success was that as musicians they were so diverse. DeYoung was pressing for conceptual albums. When Tommy Shaw released his own album last year, he spoke about the problems. "Dennis was pretty much the president of the club; he always guided the direction of the albums," he said. "Kilroy was our biggest departure from sanity. Eight years of great music, and the last two - 'eh." Both Shaw - and now Young - claim the cuts on their solo records were tunes Styx turned down.
     Dennis was one for themes, Tommy was one for the basics, and James Young was the guitarist for the edge. Rock Scene spoke with Young about his hopes, his history and his new release, City Slicker. - Ed.


Interview by Beth Nussbaum

ROCK SCENE: Why did it take you so long after the demise of Styx to go solo?
JAMES YOUNG: Actually, I started recording this album right after the group decided to take their separate creative vacations - I still don't think it was the band's demise. I took my time recording it; I wanted to basically find an enthusiastic label. A&M and I sort of reached a mutual agreement after they heard a few of the tracks and the direction I was going in. They'd already put a lot of time and money into Tommy and Dennis, and I think they felt that they didn't want to do it for all three of us. I was just as happy anyway, because I wanted someone new who would be into the harder-edged music that I play. So I went and shopped around the labels and took my time about it. I wanted to make sure that my next relationship with a label would be a good one, since it would probably carry me over for the rest of my rock'n'roll years - being that most of these contracts are for seven years. I wasn't in a compromising mood, and the labels wanted to hear something else, so I said, "I'm puttin' it out on my own label!"

RS: Do you feel that the material on City Slicker is a big departure from the Styx material?
YOUNG: Well, certain people have said that, but others have not. I think that my contribution to Styx was clearly evident. When you listen to this album you can hear certain elements from Styx, like the fact that the choruses and the songs involve the two and three part harmonies, similar song structures, and also that harder edge and aggressiveness that was evident on some of the older Styx material. I would say that it's more of a departure from what we've been doing recently, and it's less of a departure from what we did, maybe, in the middle-70s.

RS: Why did you leave Styx?
YOUNG: Well, I didn't really leave Styx, and the group has not officially broken up at this stage. With Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung sort of simultaneously deciding that they were gonna do solo albums, I sort of hung around for a while. I waited to see that everything was in order with all the agreements that the band had made, and to make sure that we kept our commitments as a group - and then once that was in place, I went out and started on my own thing. The group has still not broken up, and I think that you're gonna see the band back together again. I don't know how soon, but I think in the not too-distant future.

RS: Have you talked to the guys in the band since you all went your separate ways?
YOUNG: I've spoken to the drummer and the bass player, I keep in contact with both of them. I spoke to Dennis a few months back; but as far as Tommy goes - it's been along time since I've spoken with him. There's been little messages that have gone back and forth between us, so there's still communication, and we have mutual friends, so the words go back and forth. Really, we worked together for a long period of time, we were more successful together than any of us ever dreamed, and I think it's been good for us to be apart now.

RS: There's no animosity on your part?
YOUNG: No, let's face it. The group was composed of five very different individuals, and in the beginning of Styx people would hear all these different styles of tracks on our albums, and say, 'What is this? We don't know how to classify this.' The promotion men didn't know if it was a hard rock album, or a ballad rock album, or an esoteric album. In fact, we were all of those things. It was the different creative directions that pulled the band, that made for creative tension. But the middle ground was where all our ideas met, and that made the material work. Of course, every discussion we would have about what the material should be on each album, and what songs we should perform onstage, did not all occur in an even tone of voice. Considering the varied opinions that we had, I'd say we got along very well.

RS: Would you have been just as happy continuing in Styx, if Dennis and Tommy didn't leave?
YOUNG: Well, I'm really more of a collaborator, a team player kind of a guy. I think at some point in everybody's lives, when they're part of a team, says, 'Gee, if we only did that, or if somebody had listened to me, we'd be in much better shape.' But crying over spilt milk is not my way of doing things. I believe in making the best of what you're offered. I think we all entertained thoughts of doing something else, but there wasn't any pressing need for me. When I saw that there was gonna be a lot of time open, and that Jan Hammer wanted to work with me, I thought it would be a lot of fun.

RS: Why did you choose him to co-produce your album?
YOUNG: Well, I've admired Jan Hammer from afar since the early 1970s. He does very guitar-sounding solos, and they are world-class virtuoso performances. That's what I really wanted on my record; in addition to my guitar soloing, I wanted another soloist with a good sound, who played a different instrument. That was the original reason that I wanted to have Jan play on the record. He amazed me because I didn't realize what a great drummer he was, and I didn't realize what a great engineering mind he had. So I got an awful lot in the bargain.

RS: What was it like working with him?
YOUNG: It was a bit intimidating at first. I'd admired him from afar, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra was, to me, the most incredible rock band that was ever assembled. What they did musically was above and beyond anything that was done before it - and anything that's been done since. I was in awe of him, but for all the talent that he has, he has so little ego to go along with it. He's such a nice guy that he was a pleasure to work with, and it was inspiring to be around him.

RS: When was the material for City Slicker written?
YOUNG: Some of the material were ideas that were too hard-edged for Styx, that had been submitted through the years, but were rejected. To me, 'Chain Me Down,' and 'Wild Dogs' are like fun-type hard rock and roll songs, and I really thought they were clever and powerful musical statements - but the other guys didn't see it my way. Those things were written a few years back. The title track, 'City Slicker,' was written with my collaborator, Steven A. Jones. We had always talked about writing a song, but had never gotten around to it. Then we got a chance to work on it, and we went into the studio, and I really liked what came out of it. So, some of the stuff is from the past, and some of the stuff is brand new.

RS: Is 'City Slicker' autobiographical?
YOUNG: To a certain degree. I'm a person who grew up on the South side of Chicago, so I very much have an urban state of mind, although I will say that some of the best parties I've ever been to have been held by people out in the rural areas, who really know how to get down. I'm basically a city dweller; I like the buzz and excitement that happens in all the great cities of the world. So I'm a 'City Slicker' in some regards - but the song is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and of course the delivery is a bit over the top. It's that way on a couple of the songs. On 'Chain Me Down' I get into this weird, wild persona. I sorta get my therapy that way, because hey, I'm normally a nice guy, you know - me and Ozzy Osbourne. We're both mild-mannered, but of course I haven't been to the Betty Ford Center yet, so he's got one over me. But on stage - and on record - the wild beast that is in all of us comes out of me, and it's really healthy to have that happen.

RS: What is the general feeling behind your solo work?
YOUNG: Well, in Styx, we were focused on making conceptual records, which was more Dennis' idea. Certainly with Kilroy and Paradise Theater, those were both his concepts. I felt the need to just make an album of songs that I was having fun with. But as I look back at the album, in retrospect, I see that there's a certain amount of cynicism and anger that comes out of me in some of those songs - as well as a certain amount of fun. To me the critical analysis of rock albums which appears in the press is bullshit. The point is that first of all, rock 'n' roll is intended to be the music of teenage rebellion. Second of all, it's supposed to be a fun release from the drudgery of daily life. Sometimes songs make a serious statement - you know - 'let's have this song relate to the plight of the poor coal miner.' That's something that Sting likes to do, and he's an acquaintance of mine, so I'm not saying that it's bad, it's just not my cup of tea. Hey, let's have some fun. There's enough serious stuff going on over the television and the newspapers - rock'n'roll is intended to be music of escapism

RS: How do you think old Styx fans are going to react to the record?
YOUNG: I think they're gonna like it. I've known people who really liked the early direction Styx was in, with the Equinox, Grand Illusion, and Pieces of Eight days, who didn't like the band when it turned a little bit softer and more melodic. Some people say that this record sounds like the old Styx. You know, Dennis DeYoung fans are not going to find much on this record that's going to please them. Although... who knows? They may find a couple of things. But this is more for the people who came to see Styx in concert, and realized that we were a hard rockin' band in concert, more so than on albums. I think a lot of the Styx fans are going to like it. I mean, I've heard they're calling up radio stations requesting the 'new Styx song,' so people still do view it as Styx, in a way.

RS: Do you plan to continue with other solo albums?
YOUNG: Well, it really depends. I've had some offers to produce some albums, and I've had offers to do some soundtrack work. I've been dabbling a little bit in actually creatively helping to produce some films, and being involved in screenwriting a little bit, as well. So I've got a lot of aspirations that go beyond being a rock star, but the highest high - either naturally or unnaturally attained - personally, has to be standing onstage in front of 40,000 people and having them scream and yell for your songs. This is something that is my top priority, and if after this next round of solo albums, we {Styx} can't have a meeting of minds, well then, I'm gonna keep at it. I will not stop working. I'm a workaholic. So, if that's the way the group decision goes, you'll certainly see more solo albums from me.

RS: How is making a band a success in the 70s different from the 80s?
YOUNG: I think there's an awful lot of similarities. Obviously, there's a few differences. We didn't have MTV back then. We have it now, so that clearly plays a large role. I think that the basics and the fundamentals are the same. You gotta write good music, you gotta go out there and promote it, you have to be visible, you have to be patient and persistent, you have to never take no for an answer, you have to believe in yourself, you have to believe that you can succeed, and you have to work like crazy. You also have to have some talent, as well as some luck to go along with it. Those are the basics, that applied to the 70s, and I think they apply right now. I don't think there's as much difference as people might think.

RS: Do you think that any of today's 80s bands will have the longevity many of the 70s bands had?
YOUNG: I think that's hard, because I think it's a little bit different - just the population makeup. When Styx was most successful, the baby boomers were sort of in their mid-to-late 20s, maybe early 30s. So we really sort of built through a time when rock music and record sales were at their peak, and there was a lot of more money to go around. Also, record companies could afford to take a lot more chances. Even at the record company level, it seems that people are becoming more conservative, and because they're not selling as many records, they're laying people off - so in the long term, I think it's a little more difficult in the 80s.

RS: How will the solo James Young be classified?
YOUNG: From my standpoint, the emphasis on my album is a lot more on basic lead, the sound of the music, and the feel of the music - as opposed to melody and lyrical content. You know, as an artist I was very influenced by Jimi Hendrix, as a songwriter, I liked the cynicism and sarcasm of Ian Anderson, from Jethro Tull. I also like things that are off-center, sort of in the dark secret corners of our lives. That's the stuff that appeals to me.

RS: How do you view the whole new video medium? Do you think that it can help gain you new status as a solo artist?
YOUNG: There are some negatives to video, I think, in the fact that they destroy the mystique of the band if they're not done correctly. ZZ Top have made some great videos, because they're not trying to be actors or the stars of their videos, they're sort of like the wooden spirits out there helping the poor underdog, and they're brilliant in their conception and execution of these things. I don't know. Videos are a two-edged sword: if you do the wrong thing you can put people to sleep. Also people can like the songs... until they see the video - I know a lot of times that's happened. We are just finally beginning to learn video's true value. Three years ago when MTV was a new thing, everyone said that you have to make a video to be part of this new era of what's going on. I think that now people are taking a second look at that idea, at whether or not it's worth it to spend elaborate sums of money on a video that might never get aired - whereas they could possibly use that money to tour. I think they have to be carefully considered, there are no rules carved in stone about it. It just takes a certain gut feel and artistic sense.

RS: In all your years in the music business. has a 'rock star' status changed your personality?
YOUNG: I think I really resisted it for a long time, and I think it has changed me to a certain degree, but I think I've really fought hard against it affecting me in the way I treat the average individual that I meet. I try and treat everyone as a human being and, to me, that's the most important behavioral characteristic that a lot of rock stars let themselves get away from. They expect to be treated like they're special and they expect people to wait on them. Sure, there's a small element of that in all of us, whether we're rock stars or not. I think I've kept it pretty well in perspective.

RS: Are you political at all?
YOUNG: Well, I was a little bit more political a few years back when I was very much into promoting alternative energy sources. I don't like nuclear energy, and I felt solar energy was a real good way to go with things. It seems that since oil prices have gone down to about half of what they were a couple years back, people don't care so much. They're not quite as worried about the price of gasoline, or about this country being vulnerable if we run short of energy. Politically, at this stage, my whole philosophy is that my political views are the views of the private citizen, and I'm not endorsing any candidates or any causes publicly.

RS: What do you think of the current state of the world?
YOUNG: I think we're in deep shit! I think that the communications have changed the way we live. I mean, we're able to find out about strange and unsettling things that are happening all over the world, whereas thirty years ago that stuff would never even get printed in the papers. I think man, as a creature, has not really changed much. Many people are out for themselves, and many companies are out for themselves, and that's just human nature, self-preservation. I think that the world is a cyclical place, things were very liberal over the last ten or fifteen years, and we're seeing them shift back towards more conservative ideas. I suppose I've become a little more astute as to history over the last couple of years. in view of the current separate vacations of the Styx members. I just sorta look back and see that yes, there's been economic booms, and there's been economic busts, and there's been wars and other things. The one thing that really scares me is that our generation has never seen an armed conflict. I guess you could count Vietnam, and we have, but we've never really felt threatened by a foreign power in our country; war is a terrible thing, and people that haven't lived through wars don't really understand how terrible it is. I'm just hopeful that the people who inherit the power in our country at least weigh the alternatives very carefully... But - you've tricked me into expressing my political views!

RS: You were easy! Do you see yourself more as a singer, songwriter or guitarist?
YOUNG: Really being into the sound includes all of those things. Sound is the first important thing, and then the emotional and lyrical content of the spoken part of it comes next. If something sounds good to me, I may not even pay attention to the lyrics. I consider myself an instrumentalist first, probably a songwriter second, and a vocalist third. I consider my guitar dearest to my heart!

RS: We'd like to close now by letting you make a pitch for your album - directly to your fans - so let 'er rip!
YOUNG: If you like 'Miss America,' if you like 'Snowblind' from the Styx days, if you like hard-driving rock'n'roll, you're gonna like City Slicker!

Rock Scene magazine, October 1986

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