In Advance of His Show at the Goodyear Theatre, Dennis DeYoung Talks About Why the Rock Hall Has Snubbed Styx

Dennis DeYoung, who founded the prog rock act band Styx back in 1970 and played with the group until 1999, comes to the Goodyear Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Though he can't legally tour and record as Styx, DeYoung, who wrote and sang lead vocals on seven of the band's eight Top 10 hits including "Babe,” "Mr. Roboto,” "The Best of Times,” "Show Me The Way,” "Lady,” "Don't Let It End,” "Come Sail Away" and "Too Much Time On My Hands,” promises he’ll play all the band's hits as well as some “deep tracks.”

In this recent phone interview, he talks about his career and about why he thinks the Rock Hall continues to snub the band, even after it has recently inducted prog acts such as Rush and Yes.

Some of your contemporaries have recently been inducted into the Rock Hall. Do you think Styx will eventually get in?
I don’t know. I think, if I’m not mistaken, Leonard Cohen and Madonna have our spots. But that just might be me. Joan Baez has just joined that group. You can go to my Facebook page if you want, and you’ll see that I’ve written in depth about all this. In my mind, they could solve a big problem by calling it the Contemporary or Pop Music Hall of Fame and shut up all the imbeciles who have an opinion on it. I put myself in that category. If you try to define what rock 'n' roll is, you’re in for trouble. I’m happy for the people who get in. Ask me about it off the record, and I’ll tell you the fuckin’ truth. I dare you to go back and look at the first two or three bunch that got inducted. Not to single anybody out but if you looked at what they could all do, they could all write and sing. They knew they were in show business. They weren’t protesting anything. They wanted a new Cadillac. What’s wrong with that? Look at Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and Little Richard. Look at all those people. They wanted a better life. They weren’t trying to be smarty pantses. They were putting on new suits and playing this new music they discovered. They were stealing from everybody. It was mostly about fun, driving around in cars and getting girls. That’s what it was. Somewhere in the middle of the '60s, people started to write about it and think big things. I started to say to myself, “The fun is going out of this shit.” I jumped on the bandwagon and started to think big things. Where did it get me? I’m still on tour and not with the band that made me famous.

You started singing in a band when you were 14. What was it like to start out at such an early age?
I played the accordion since I was seven. Oh God, forgive me. My mother was Italian, so it was the law. At 13, I quit to play football. I said, “I had enough of this.” All those years, I never played in any band but an accordion band. The accordion could convert Hitler if you played it long enough. One day in 1962, it was really hot and I heard music coming from inside the Panozzo house. Chuck was on bass and his brother John was on drums and they had another kid on accordion. I came up, and the kids were just noodling around. Their parents put them together. They all went to the same music school. I heard it and back then you didn’t have a chance to hear live music. Maybe at a wedding or church you’d hear it. I heard that playing and got intrigued. I loved the way it sounded. A hundred accordions at Soldier Field wasn’t my thing. After the kid playing accordion left that band, they brought their stuff over and we formed a band on the spot.

What made you want to play the synthesizer?
Guitarists are showoffs. Along comes Keith Emerson and suddenly he could be part of the band instead of just standing behind the band. I played Hammond organ before I owned a synthesizer. I played some electric piano too. The first time was in 1972 and they had a Moog in the studio. You had to patch it like a telephone operator. Somebody patched it for me. The first Styx album is me going, “Look at this!” I went from accordion to synthesizer. Rock critics hate both those things, unless you play synthesizers in an English band like the Pet Shop Boys. That’s okay. Explain that to me? The whole thing for me is that I played every keyboard they invented. That’s what I did. I couldn’t play guitar. I wished I had.

When Styx broke up for the first time, it was widely reported that Kilroy Was Here was the cause. Was it?
Styx never broke up. [Guitarist] Tommy Shaw quit the band. I’m tired of hearing about it and tired of reading about it. That’s not true. Tommy quit to have a solo career. He was working on it with A&M, and we didn’t know about it. He had done some demos in Japan. He quit. The four of us were left standing there. [Guitarist] JY and [bassist] Chuck [Panozzo] wanted to replace Tommy on the spot. They were not happy with him leaving. They wanted to do a stadium tour the next summer, which we had been promised. I thought, “What a minute? Does anyone know who Tommy Shaw is to our band?” I thought it was a mistake. I thought he would get his solo albums out of his system, and we’d be back where we belong. Certain guys belong together making music. The band never broke up. We just didn’t do anything for four years. I thought it was a mistake so sue me. Oh wait, they did.

After your lawsuit, you lost the rights to tour as Styx. What’s it been like for you to see your former members tour with a replacement singer?
I’ll use the word “interesting.” There ain’t nobody on this planet who’s as good as being Dennis DeYoung as I am. I’ve been practicing for 70 years. A lot of it comes pretty natural. [Current Styx singer] Lawrence Gowan is a fine Lawrence Gowan, but he's not Dennis DeYoung.

In 2010, you formed your backing band. Talk about that.
I handpicked them to recreate the spirit and sound of the band I was in. That’s it. One guy is from New Jersey, one from Florida, one from Nashvile, one from Salt lake City and one from Alaska via California. You can go to my website and you can listen to Live in L.A. and tell your readers to go to my website and hear the music. They can either say, "It sucks and I ain’t going or "It might be something to see." I still sound like me [sings “Lady”]. There seem to be a lot of guys who sound like Steve Perry. I went to the [grocery store chain] Jewel, and they’re lined up to get groceries. But I’ve never heard anybody who sounds like me.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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