Styx (LR): Lawrence Gowan, James Young, Tommy Shaw, Todd Sucherman, Ricky Phillips and Chuck Panozzo.
By Brian M. Howle
The year was 1974, the place was The Copper Door on the Rosewood Strip in Columbia, SC, and the band that made me forget about my beer (and friends for about half an hour before I could speak) had a killer keyboard/guitar sound, and one song in particular that I couldn’t believe wasn’t on the radio. The band was comprised of hippies from Chicago who became my best friends during the smoke breaks.
I should have made a video of that. Oh wait, there were no video cameras yet. Probably best, anyway though … have to check the statute of limitations before I share that story. But for the record, the band was Styx, the song was “Lady”, and I got to scoop all of my friends – and the world – for nearly three years before they broke out nationwide with “Lady”.
And now you can join me in hearing it – and all the others – again as Styx brings a long list of hits to House Of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Friday, April 9, 2010.
Spawned from a suburban Chicago basement in the early ‘70s, Styx would eventually transform into the virtual arena rock prototype by the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, due to a fondness for big rockers and soaring power ballads. The band – founded by brothers Chuck and John Panozzo – was heavily influenced by lead vocalist and keyboard wiz Dennis DeYoung, who wrote almost all of the lyrics along with most of the music. James Young’s distinctive guitar style complimented the style, along with guitarist John Curulewski.
Early on, Styx’s music reflected such then-current progressive rockers as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Moody Blues, as evidenced by such releases as 1972’s self-titled debut, 1973’s Styx II, 1974’s The Serpent Is Rising, and 1975’s Man of Miracles. While the albums (as well as non-stop touring) helped the group build a substantial following locally, Styx failed to break through to the mainstream, until a track originally from their second album, “Lady” started to get substantial airplay in late ‘74 on the Chicago radio station WLS-FM. The song was soon issued as a single nationwide, and quickly shot to number six on the singles chart, as Styx II was certified gold.
By this time, however, the group had grown disenchanted with their record label, and opted to sign on with A&M for their fifth release overall, 1975’s Equinox (their former label would issue countless compilations over the years, culled from tracks off their early releases). On the eve of the tour in support of the album, original guitarist John Curulewski abruptly left the band, and was replaced by Tommy Shaw. Shaw proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle for Styx, as most of their subsequent releases throughout the late ‘70s earned at least platinum certification (1976’s Crystal Ball, 1977’s The Grand Illusion, 1978’s Pieces of Eight, and 1979’s Cornerstone), and spawned such hit singles and classic rock radio standards as “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man” and “Fooling Yourself.”
The band decided that their first release of the ‘80s would be a concept album, 1981’s Paradise Theater, which was loosely based on the rise and fall of a once-beautiful theater (which was supposedly used as a metaphor for the state of the U.S. at the time — the Iranian hostage situation, the Cold War, Reagan, etc.). Paradise Theater became Styx’s biggest hit of their career (selling over three million copies in a three-year period), as they became one of the U.S. top rock acts due to such big hit singles as “Too Much Time on My Hands”. It also marked the first time in history that a band released four consecutive triple-platinum albums.
A career-encompassing live album, Caught in the Act, was issued in 1984, before Styx went on hiatus, and the majority of its members pursued solo projects throughout the remainder of the decade. A re-recording of their early hit, “Lady” (titled “Lady” ‘95”), for a Greatest Hits compilation, finally united Shaw with his former Styx bandmates, which led to a full-on reunion tour in 1996. But drummer John Panozzo fell seriously ill at the time (due to a long struggle with alcoholism), which prevented him from joining the proceedings — as he passed away in July of the same year.
Although grief-stricken, Styx persevered with new drummer Todd Sucherman taking the place of Panozzo, as the Styx reunion tour became a surprise sold-out success, resulting in the release of a live album/video, 1997’s Return to Paradise, while a whole new generation of rock fans were introduced to the grandiose sounds of Styx.
However, a long-simmering riff over “creative differences” between DeYoung and the rest of the band came to a head. The band was united in not wanting to pursue a more theatrical-laden stage show (after the critically-panned live reviews of their Kilroy Was Here tour in support of that album). 1999’s Brave New World was rife with personality conflicts that drove the band members apart, as well as illness issues, and as a result DeYoung was essentially fired by the band and replaced by Lawrence Gowan. Gowan’s dead-on vocals and keyboard expertise made the transition surprisingly acceptable, except for some pro-DeYoung diehards out there. But the music is always the star of the show, and as anyone who has had the good fortune to attend a recent Styx concert at HOB can attest, this incarnation cranks out that legendary Styx sound with ease.
Now comprised of original members Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young on guitars/vocals, along with Lawrence Gowan on keys and lead vocals, Todd Sucherman on drums and Ricky Phillips on bass (along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo), Styx continues to conquer the planet, one venue at a time.
The stage at House Of Blues at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, SC, was made for a show like this, as Styx will be rocking out our own Paradise on Friday, April 9, 2010. Doors open 7:00 p.m. For info call 843-272-3000; for tickets call 1-877-598-8497; or visit http://www.livenation.com .
This article also appears in Alternatives NewsMagazine, March 25-April 8, 2010, Page 25; and online at http://www.myrtlebeachalternatives.com