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Styx still over Dennis DeYoung on The Big Interview with Dan Rather

Icons of 1970s FM rock radio, Chicago-based Styx, were and still are rocking in the free world and at the top of their game, despite a fractious history that involves a founding member, Dennis DeYoung.

How much do you know about Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, and Lawrence Gowan of the chart-topping band?

The guys sit down with Dan Rather tonight for a revealing chat. With four consecutive multiplatinum records, the guys may be pensioner-aged, but they have no intentions of retiring.

Asked by Rather why they still continue to do what they do, frontman Lawrence Gowan quipped: “We’re completely unqualified to do anything else on the planet!” Singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw added: “My charm wears off pretty quickly at home — I don’t recall my wife ever being in tears when I left again.”

Where are Styx from and who are they?

The band hails from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Back in 1961, brothers and rhythm section John and Chuck Panozzo teamed up with vocalist and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung to form The Tradewinds.

After Chuck left for a year, Tom Nardin was brought in to replace him. When he came back, Chuck began playing bass while Nardin was on guitar, with John the drummer and Dennis DeYoung going from playing accordion to organ and piano.

They later changed their name to TW4 (There Were Four), before being joined by guitarists John Curlewski in 1969, when Nardin left, and James “JY” Young in 1970, forming a quintet. The band then altered their name again in 1972 to Styx — and luckily this time it stuck.

Guitarist Tommy Shaw replaced John Curulewski back in the mid-70s. Tragically, Curulewski suffered a fatal brain aneurysm in 1988, while John Panozzo died in 1996 from cirrhosis.

His spot was filled by drummer Todd Sucherman, while DeYoung was replaced by Lawrence Gowan in 1993. Bass guitarist Ricky Phillips joined in 2003.

When did they break worldwide?

Most music experts agree it was 1977’s The Grand Illusion where Styx found their biggest worldwide success. They followed this with three top-selling LPs, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone, and Paradise Theater.

By 1980 they were voted as America’s number one band in a 1980 Gallup poll. Their success was minimal at best in the United Kingdom.

Who are some of their famous fans?

Judd Apatow, who used their music in the cult TV classic series Freaks and Geeks is one of the biggest. An excerpt from a 2000 New York Times article on the band reads:

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Styx,” Mr. Apatow, [then 32] confessed with a hesitant laugh. He recounted playing air guitar with a tennis racket to Styx in his suburban Long Island bedroom and also enduring the agony of a nearly burst appendix to attend a Styx concert. “We put Styx music in the show [Freaks and Geeks] in the same way Lawrence Kasdan put Motown in The Big Chill,’ he said. ‘And there is an argument to be made that ‘Renegade’ is as good a song as Ain’t to Proud to Beg.'”

When did things go south for the band?

After the release of 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, the band reportedly was at loggerheads about the direction of their unique sound. AXS TV reported that prolific Styx songwriter Dennis DeYoung “continued to push the band into a more theatrical and pop direction” while Young and Shaw “wanted a return to their heavier roots”. DeYoung also had health issues that forced his contentious exit and replacement.

Even Tommy Shaw lost it while touring for that album at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD, smashing his guitar then storming off stage.

Will DeYoung rejoin the band in the future?

According to both Shaw and Young, they are in the “no” camp — with Shaw likening their relationship with DeYoung to a divorce.

He tells Dan Rather: “You get married when you’re young and everything’s rosy. Then, as you start to get a little older, you realize you didn’t have that much in common and then you go through a tough divorce…

“We still have songs that we co-wrote together, and those are our children, and we’ve managed to find a way to keep those things in play.”

 Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, and Lawrence Gowan
Styx today are survivors with great stories to tell while still touring the world

Gowan took over on lead vocals following DeYoung’s departure and has never looked back.

Gowan tells Dan Rather: “I hear the angst and the history that they had to live through as a band, and I’m respectful of that…I look at it as if we are a great band, and what’s made us great is that we are the culmination of the efforts of everyone who’s been in the band…

“Sometimes in life you need a blood transfusion. Although I’m Canadian, apparently I was a match.”

Styx on The Big Interview with Dan Rather airs April 17 at 9pE/6pP on AXS TV.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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