Picking Up Styx

Styx pick up where their displaced '80s brethren left off.

In the Mood for Love
The stage on the main floor at the Rock Hall is usually reserved for live musical performances, but on March 28, it was turned into a two-tiered set that looked like something out of a game show. The reason: the announcement of a summer package tour featuring Styx, Bad Company, and Billy Squier. It's a billing that could have happened in 1982. But given that nostalgia for the '80s remains high these days, the Styx/Bad Company/Billy Squier tour, which starts with an acoustic Styx/Bad Company show at the Rock Hall on May 7, then kicks off a 40-city tour with a May 10 show at Blossom, isn't really so strange.

Stacks of speakers blared the bands' hits from yesteryear -- Styx's "Grand Illusion" and Bad Company's "Can't Get Enough" played at full volume and were nearly deafening for those in the media/V.I.P. area sectioned off near the front of the stage. As the band members were brought out to their respective seats on the stage, a pecking order was established: Original members, such as Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers and Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw, sat in the front row, and the others (including the tour's opener, 19-year-old guitarist Joe Stark) sat in the back. After introductions, various band members and promoters made a few short statements to hype the show, insisting, "It's gonna be a monster" and "It's gonna be a fun thing to be out on the road with these guys." Afterward, band members were ushered downstairs to a V.I.P. area, where there was a spread of vegetables, fruit, and cookies. Members of the media had full access to the band members; a small but enthusiastic group of middle-aged women who had driven up from Columbus huddled outside the roped-off area and jockeyed for position in an attempt to obtain autographs and take pictures.

While Styx has been touring steadily since reuniting in 1996, its lineup has shifted since then. Notably absent from this tour is original singer-keyboardist Dennis DeYoung, who has filed a federal lawsuit trying to prevent the band from performing under the name Styx; and original drummer John Panozzo, who died in 1997 of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging brought on by alcoholism. Guitarist Tommy Shaw, whose disheveled blond hair and goatee made him look like a scruffier version of comedian David Spade, acknowledged that he was aware of the DeYoung lawsuit, but said he had no idea when it would be resolved. ("If you find out, will you let me know?" he quipped.)

"Styx has had a few people in it over the years, and all of them have been important," Shaw said. "You miss the ones who aren't here. But it's kind of like a family, you know. Over a 30-year period, people come and go. You learn to embrace the ones who come into your life. They're all part of our history, and we're proud of every bit of it."

For Styx, which formed in 1970 and disbanded in 1983, creative differences between DeYoung and the rest of the members came to a head when the group released Kilroy Was Here in 1983. A theatrical concept album that spawned the single "Mr. Roboto," it could well have served as the inspiration for This Is Spinal Tap -- especially when the group went on tour wearing costumes and memorizing bits of dialogue that kept with the concept-album theme.

"Who knows?" guitarist James Young said when asked if the band would have kept going had it not released Kilroy. "It was the next thing in line to do. We didn't want to do it, but Dennis wanted to, and he was very persuasive and insistent. That was ultimately what tore the band apart. But here we are today, and as much as our old fans said 'What the fuck is this?' when 'Mr. Roboto' came out, there's a whole new group of fans who were maybe seven or eight years old, and it was the first song they heard. We have a whole new audience that learned about us as a result of that song."

Styx's comeback, ironically, has been fueled by a less-than-flattering Behind the Music special on VH1 and the fact that "Mr. Roboto" was recently used in a Volkswagen ad. Young said that the group played at the Super Bowl (its appearance didn't air) and has plans to perform at the Olympics in Salt Lake City. He's even thinking there's a chance the band will one day be inducted into the Rock Hall.

"We're having fun, and whatever comes as a by-product of that I welcome," he said with a gummy smile. "If an actor doesn't win an Academy Award, that doesn't mean that they didn't do some great work and have fun. Or weren't fulfilled. The fans here show that there's interest in what we're doing. If a group of our peers don't recognize us at some point in time, well tough shit."

Young maintained that the group has recently attracted a new cadre of young female fans. When asked if having nubile young women in the audience makes him play better, he responded by saying, "I suppose it's not a negative."

And then he lifted his eyebrows, stuck out his chest, grabbed the lapels of his black leather jacket, and flapped his arms while making a loud cackling sound, as if he were a large, overgrown rooster.

Or would that be a cock?

About The Author

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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