In the summer of 1996, the members of STYX reunited for the first time in 13 years to tour the United States, much to the delight of their loyal fans who flocked to the shows making the "Return To The Paradise Theatre" tour one of that summer's most successful -- financially and critically. The gratification of the response to their return, encouraged Dennis DeYoung, James Young, Tommy Shaw and Chuck Panozzo to make the tour more than just a one-time reunion and to get back together as a recording and touring act.
Over the 13 years since they had each chosen to leave STYX, DeYoung, Young, and Shaw had the chance to experience working as solo artists, working with other musicians on a band level, and doing other types of projects. Yet, the experiences ultimately brought them back together. "Dennis and I both enjoy things about each other's music that just isn't there when either of us is working on his own, " explains Tommy. As a matter of fact, it was Shaw's departure in '83 that pushed Dennis to go out on his own as well. "I couldn't imagine STYX without Tommy, " Dennis admits, "so rather than try to replace him, we all decided to just let it be."
The reunion of last summer came about when A&M was planning a "Greatest Hits Vol. II" package and James JY Young called Tommy about playing on "Lady," one of STYX's biggest hits which had originally been recorded before Tommy had been in the band. "As soon as we started playing together, the old chemistry was back, " says JY. "From there, we didn't do a lot of talking about the future. We just said we'd do the summer tour and now that's led to the new album on CMC and another tour this summer and so on. "
The new album on CMC, "Return To Paradise, " contains three brand new STYX songs written or co-written by Tommy and Dennis. The rest of the album is newly recorded versions of STYX classics from the "Return To The Paradise Theatre" tour last summer. Among the new tunes is one called "Dear John" which was written by Tommy as a tribute to their longtime drummer John Panozzo, who passed away just as the band was getting back together. "That was the one down side of the whole experience, " Shaw admits. "It felt, and probably will always feel, as if something's missing without John. One night on the bus I was thinking about how much I miss having him around and that's when the song just happened. " Another new track, "On My Way" also written my Tommy shows that STYX can rock with the best of them. And Dennis' "Paradise, " a beautiful ballad from his upcoming musical "The Hunchback of Notre Dame, " maintains DeYoung's fascination with paradise.
The saga of the first group ever to have four consecutive triple-platinum albums doesn't start in some high-tech recording studio or on stage in some exotic city in front of 50,000 screaming fans. It starts in a tiny basement on the South Side of Chicago in the 60's where two 12-year-old brothers practiced their music in the afternoon. A neighboring kid, a year or two older and not too shabby on the accordion, heard them from the street and asked if he could play, too. And so Chuck and John Panozzo and Dennis DeYoung formed the nucleus of the band they'd be with for the next three decades.
They played their way through high school and college. Chuck took up the electric bass and Dennis learned to play a keyboard not strapped to his chest. Along the way they were joined by a couple of guitar players, including John Curulewski, another South Sider, and played an endless succession of VFW dances, high school mixers, and cheap beer nights under the names THE TRADEWINDS and TW4.
When one of those guitar players quit the band in 1970, TW4 found the perfect replacement in James "JY" Young. JY, between gigs himself since two of his former bandmates had left to become Jehovah's Witnesses, was at first a little hesitant about joining the band. JY was a rebel who started playing guitar at 15 to offset a conservative home life. He was Hendrix to TW4's Lennon & McCartney and he wasn't sure their styles could mesh. Dennis convinced JY to join, encouraging him to become one of the group's principal singers, and the melding of their two styles formed the cornerstone (so to speak) of the distinctive STYX signature sound.
Through constant gigs in and around Chicago, the group developed a strong regional following, attracting the attention of Wooden Nickel Records, a local RCA subsidiary label, who signed TW4 to a record deal in early 1972 -- but recommended a name change. The band considered hundreds of names before finally settling on "STYX" as the only name no one in the group actively hated. Although the band had a wealth of original material penned by Dennis, JY and Curulewski, Wooden Nickel insisted they record other people's material for their debut album STYX (1972). Despite Wooden Nickel's lack of confidence, it was "Best Thing, " a tune co-written by JY and Dennis, that found its way into the Hot 100.
STYX quickly learned that having a record deal doesn't mean you can quit your day job. Dennis continued to teach music and Chuck art in the Chicago public schools and JY, despite a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, drove a city cab for a time to make ends meet. STYX put out three more albums with Wooden Nickel - STYX II (1973), Serpent Is Rising (1973), and Man Of Miracles (1974) -- and each garnered less airplay and fewer record sales than the one before because of lack of support and promotion by their record label. (They'd later discover Wooden Nickel spent the whopping sum of $l6l to promote STYX II). STYX performed constantly throughout the Midwest, sometimes drawing thousands to a show, but could not break through the barrier of national radio airplay.
"Lady, " a song Dennis wrote about his wife Suzanne continued to receive such tremendous crowd response that radio station WLS in Chicago began getting constant requests for the song -- "Lady" broke all previous records for requests at the station. The program director vowed to play the song every night until it became a bit. Finally, in January of 1975, two years after its first release, "Lady" entered the Billboard Top 40, where it peaked at #6 and propelled STYX II to gold record status.
STYX took advantage of their sudden success and went label shopping, signing a deal with A&M Records, which released Equinox STYX's first self-produced album, in 1975. Equinox helped STYX to define and sharpen their signature sound and with cuts like DeYoung's "Suite Madame Blue," an allegory for the decline of America, they discovered their niche as social commentators. "I'd stopped writing lyrics to fit the music and started writing about what I believed in," Dennis notes.
Less than a week before the start of their tour in support of Equinox, guitarist John Curulewski left the band. STYX's road manager remembered a young guitar player he'd seen playing clubs on Chicago's Rush Street and, with the helpful intervention of Directory Assistance, managed to track down 23-year-old Tommy Shaw in his native Alabama, where he'd just finished a stint with a band called "MS Funk."
Tommy proved to be the ideal addition to STYX. His slightly bluesy/slightly country playing was the perfect counterpoint to JY's screaming guitar licks just as his friendly good looks complimented JY's towering and imposing onstage persona. And his songwriting seemed to bridge the gap between Dennis' mainstretch pop/rock and JY's more metallic tendencies. By the time Crystal Ball was released(1976), Tommy was no longer just a hired gun, but a full-fledged member of the band, having co-written four of the tracks on the album, including the title cut.
STYX soon began what would seem to be an everlasting road trip, performing nearly 400 live dates for Equinox and Crystal Ball in less than two years. "Music is meant to be performed live, " Dennis says, "Records cannot be a true substitute. " They gained a reputation for being the best supporting act on the road - and in some circles, as an opening act too hot to follow. Their appearances in Canada, where they became superstars several years before they would in the U.S., were met with the same kind of fervor that met the Beatles when they first came to North America.
It was on 7/7/77 with the release of their 7th album, The Grand Illusion, that STYX finally broke from the ranks of supporting bands and became superstars in their own right. With Dennis DeYoung's Top 10 hit, "Come Sail Away, " and tracks like Tommy Shaw's "Fooling Yourself" and JY's "Miss America, " The Grand Illusion stayed On Billboard's album charts for 2 years, becoming the first in STYX's string of triple-platinum albums. The Grand Illusion was STYX's first album with an underlying metaphor, about believing in yourself and your dreams and not buying into media hype. It was a theme that would reappear throughout STYX's music and it attracted legions of new fans, both in the U.S. and abroad.
After another exhaustive tour, STYX followed up with a second triple-platinum winner, Pieces of Eight (1978), which featured the Tommy Shaw hits "Renegade" and "Blue Collar Man." The accompanying tour, called "The Main Event," pushed the envelope of the traditional rock & roll concert, combining theatrics and special effects with STYX's already dramatic and theatrical music. "People are tired of seeing four guys in blue jeans jamming for an hour. They want to see a show," says JY. And the people responded in droves, selling out major venues around the world.
STYX's 1979 release Cornerstone was a major departure for the band. It featured new musical styles (Dennis' ballad "Babe, " Tommy's mandolin-driven folk song "Boat On The River"), new instrumentation (the horns and strings of Dennis' "Borrowed Time" and "Why Me"), and throughout, a softer, more melodic sound. It was a risk that could have cost them fans, but instead it gained them a whole new audience. "Babe" became STYX's first and only #1 hit in the U.S., while "Boat On The River" went Top 10 in nearly every country in Europe.
The great irony of STYX has always been that, even with #l records and sold-out stadiums, the band was virtually ignored by the national rock & roll media and many times reviled by the local critics. STYX certainly didn't win its popularity by becoming the darlings of the media. Says JY "We were never hyped. We were never one of those bands that made the covers of magazines because someone wanted to give us an easy shot. We worked for our success." STYX found its success the old-fashioned way by winning fans over one at a time, through the power of their music. And their fans rewarded STYX in 1979 by voting "Babe" the People's Choice Song of the Year and in 1980, by voting STYX the Most Popular Band in America in a Gallup poll.
So what contributed to their immense popularity? Catchy melodies, elaborate stage performances, and excellent musicianship, as well as the ability to speak directly to their audience, to relate to working people, share their concerns, and give them hope. And in 1981, the American people were looking for a little Paradise.
The triple-platinum Paradise Theatre album spawned two Top 10 singles -- Dennis' "Best of Times" and Tommy's "Too Much Time on My Hands" -- but it was an album about more than just hit records. Thematically linked to the closing of the majestic Paradise movie palace in Chicago, Paradise Theatre was the band's statement through music on the condition of the country, the human condition, and the condition of the heart. It was a bold and innovative piece of work, the tour that accompanied it was an artistic as well as commercial success, and STYX was rewarded with their only #1 album.
With 1983's Kilroy Was Here STYX went beyond the simple thematic "concept album" and wove a complete story through songs, film, and music videos, putting STYX on the cutting edge of the video and multimedia generation long before it became mainstream. Dennis DeYoung's cautionary tale of a future where ultra-moral politicians decide what the people can see, hear, or do is all too meaningful in these days of record labeling and the V-Chip. The Kilroy Was Here album produced two Top 10 hits with "Mr. Roboto" and "Don't Let It End" and the Kilroy tour was one of the most ambitious rock & roll tours ever, incorporating scripted dialogue, numerous set and costume changes, and an 11-minute film staring the band members directed by Brian Gibson ("The Juror, " "What's Love Got To Do With It?, " "the Josephine Story").
After 15 years of nearly constant touring, STYX decided to take a hiatus in 1984, after the release of their double-live album and concert video, Caught In The Act. As JY explains, "We came to a point where we had creatively exhausted ourselves. We needed a chance to refresh and reenergize, a chance to work with other people an explore new areas. " The three principal singer/songwriters developed solo projects of their own. Dennis DeYoung released three albums of solo material (Desert Moon A&M 1984/Back To The World A&M 1986/Boomchild MCA 1989), while JY worked with Jan Hammer on City Slicker and STYX drummer John Panozzo on Out On A Day Pass (both on Absolute/Whitehouse Records). Tommy Shaw put out three solo albums (Girls With Guns A&M 1984/What If A&M 1986 (both released on Absolute/Whitehouse Records in 1996)/Ambition Atlantic 1987), and then teamed up with veteran rockers Ted Nugent and Jack Blades to form DAMN YANKEES (Damn Yankees Warner Bros. Records 1990/Don't Tread Warner Bros. Records 1992).
At the end of the 80's several attempts were made to reunite STYX, but errors in timing and various availability problems hindered progress. Finally, in 1990, four out of five Stygians reunited. Although Tommy Shaw had wanted to be a part of the reunion as well, he was committed to Damn Yankees and honor bound to uphold his commitment, A&M singer/songwriter/guitarist Glen Burtnik was tapped to fill his slot, with Tommy's blessings.
The resulting album, Edge of the Century, brought the band into the 90's. While keeping true to the distinctive STYX sound that had sold nearly 25 million records, they injected some new ideas and a fresh vitality into the music. Dennis' prayerful ballad "Show Me The Way, " which caught on due in part to the Gulf War crisis, rose to #3 on the charts, making STYX one of only a handful of group's to have Top 10 hits in three decades. The tour which followed brought STYX's legendary live shows to standing room only crowds of fans both old and new and was among the most successful tours of 1991.
After the 1991 tour, the band members went their separate ways once again. While Tommy continued touring and recording with Damn Yankees, Dennis, long the champion of "Rock Theatre, " found a niche for himself in the legitimate musical theatre, playing the role of Pontius Pilate in the national company of "Jesus Christ Superstar" to rave reviews. He cut an album of show tunes, 10 On Broadway (1994), for Atlantic Records and wrote an original musical "Q-Modo," based on "The Hunchback of Notre Dame. " JY formed the "The James Young Group" with some of the best and brightest Chicago-area musicians and toured in support of their Raised By Wolves (Absolute/Whitehouse Records 1995).
In 1995, A&M Records wanted a bonus track to include on STYX Greatest Hits album. Unable to license the original "Lady" from RCA/Wooden Nickel, STYX decided to record it, and this time include Tommy, who wasn't on the original. The vibe in the studio was so positive and so strong that it was only a matter of time before plans were underway to take the show out on the road for everyone to enjoy.
Once DeYoung, Shaw, Young and Chuck Panozzo made the commitment to take STYX beyond a one-time reunion, along with new drummer Todd Sucherman, they began planning their next recordings and shopping for a new label. "We liked CMC, " explains JY, "because while they respect our heritage and our past, they seem to believe, as we do, that STYX can still be as relevant as ever in the 90's and the next century. We've never felt pressured to fit into whatever is 'happening' musically at any point in time, we've always just played our music our way? " We wouldn't be able to keep doing this if all we wanted was to keep re-hashing our old stuff and rest on our laurels, " adds Panozzo. "Next to being onstage and seeing all those fans singing along with our music last summer, recording new material has been as exciting as it was in the beginning."
For the band and fans alike, having STYX reunited onstage and in the studio is definitely a return to paradise.
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