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Styx – Return of the Wanted Men

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Styx performing at American Music Theater in Lancaster, PA.  Photo copyright 2014 by Ally Abramson.

Styx performing at American Music Theater in Lancaster, PA. Photo copyright 2014 by Ally Abramson.


Return of the Wanted Men

by Ally Abramson

Styx has been a major influence in the music world for over four decades. Over the years, they have gained a loyal fan base spanning many generations. These loyal followers come from all over and enjoy Styx on the road during their numerous tours. Since Styx began, they have produced some mega hits such as “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away,” and “Mr. Roboto.” Though some of their members have changed, their music has stayed consistent with a classic rock sound that is instantly recognizable and loved by many. Members include Chuck Panozzo, James “J.Y.” Young, Tommy Shaw, Todd Sucherman, Ricky Phillips and Lawrence Gowan.

Gowan recently chatted with us about all things STYX, giving us an inside look into one of today’s most well known classic rock bands.

Who would you say inspires you as an artist?

I would say Beethoven, Woody Allen, John, Paul, George and Ringo, Freddie Mercury, and Salvador Dali.

How do you use their influence in your daily life?

I think somehow, like anyone who has people that they admire, incorporate some of the ideals of that person into your own existence. Some of the ways that you do that are subtle and some of them are very obvious. For myself, obviously, the musical inspiration that I have manifests itself in my pursuit of music. But also what people can do artistically I find astounding as well. I’d have a couple more names to add to that list… I’ve never made one like that before and I like it. I’m going to add Neil Armstrong and Bobby Orr.

How would you describe Styx’s sound overall?

It is much like the show that we put on. It’s a big epic adventure and in some ways it’s all encompassing of the classic rock medium.

Well, I’m excited to see it! How do you keep the music fresh over the years?

I think that freshness is all in the ears of the beholder. Music is a thing that you can’t describe. It goes in and out of relevance depending on the listener. In the years that I’ve been in the band it’s gone from an era where classic rock was just getting back, but then increasingly it’s taken a large part of the world’s stage again. We have to be there to meet the demand. We play over 100 shows a year around the world. Because of that we’re on the mark when it comes to people’s desire to see Styx. That’s how we’ve been able to do so much with it.

Obviously Styx’s music has been around for a long time. When you go and perform, do you see a lot of fans from this generation as well as others?

That’s the most notable change that I’ve observed over the last nine years. About nine years ago I began to notice looking at the audience every night as I do, little pockets of people that were younger than the demographic you would expect at a classic rock show. Then about eight years ago I noticed that that number was increasing steadily. It has increased in such a way now that during the tour we just did over the summer, I would say that at least 50% of the audience each night is under the age of 30. Which means that they weren’t born in the seventies when the biggest Styx records were recorded and many of the songs we’re playing. I find that an amazing phenomenon. It attests to the fact that classic rock has crossed generations and spanned enough decades now that it’s enjoyed by all ages. We have to have a show that reflects that.

That’s partially because the music has stayed consistent but also grown with the times, it’s understandable as to how so many people cold enjoy it at the same time.

I think it is too. When I was growing up, a rock concert was the greatest form of entertainment. It still is to this day.

Take us through the process of producing an album. Do you start by throwing some ideas around or do you have some already? How does that work?

We always have a wealth of ideas, things we want to get into the studio and onto the tour. That’s just something that we do in our lives, an ongoing process. That’s how we live each day. The process of making a record has differed a lot over the years, because now you can just pop it out on your computer if you want. In the past you could take your time and spend months at a time in a recording studio isolated from the world. You could create your own world in there. Its that matter in which we try to record, however in recent years the demand for Styx live has affected our recording schedule. We just don’t have time. We try to find time to work on songs one by one.

What was your favorite part about making some of the newer stuff?

Well the most recent release we had was a DVD of us doing some stuff back to back in shows. We just filmed another one in Las Vegas, so that’ll be coming out soon. We’re still including some stuff from our newer records in the show, but the demand right now is mostly for us live so that’s what we’ve been focusing on.

When you’re planning out the shows do you make the list of songs first that you want to do first or do you base the music on the idea of the show?

A bit of both, quite frankly. When we play there are definitely some standard Styx songs that we must play, like “Come Sail Away” and “Renegade.” Those songs we definitely have to include. We base it a lot on what we think that audience for that night is going to like. Sometimes we just decide to bring back something that we haven’t played in a few weeks.

It must be interesting to make each show different. That way, no concert is the same for you or the audience.

Yeah, that is something we feel is important. We try to address that not only by changing up the set list, but by changing the order of things and how they’re introduced, the whole production. We have a brand new stage this year. The whole way our presentation is put together is different every year, although much of the music is the same.

What’s the best part about touring?

I think it’s seeing thousands of people on their feet after a show, the great emotional release. It’s very positive and it puts forth a great vibe. That’s what we’re really doing it for, you know? That, and the fact that we’re not very good at much else!

Do you have a favorite place that you’ve performed at?

Last night we performed at the LA County Fair, so that’s my most recent favorite, but it really varies. Once a night has gone really well and an audience responds the way that they did last night, that becomes my latest favorite, so it’s a very moveable target.

So it depends on the audience as much as the place where you’re playing.

Just as much if not more so. We can sometimes go somewhere that we’re really excited to go to, but if the audience isn’t at the level of where we had it last night then it won’t be as great.

Which Styx song, if you can even pick one, would you say has the most meaning to you?

Well again, that’s a bit of a movable thing. Recently, I particularly like singing a song called “Pieces of Eight.” Overall the song I enjoy the most is one I don’t sing lead on, Tommy Shaw sings lead on it and that’s “Renegade.” I love that song and what I see from the audience when we perform it. I can relate well to the character in the song who has to keep moving on in order to divide.

Where do you see the band going next? Do you think you’ll continue touring?

I do. I see us next going up the coast of California, because that’s what we’re doing. I don’t think we can really see where a band is going to go any more than we can foresee what the future is going to bring. We have to become very adept to living in the day and living in the now. Taking all of the experiences that the band has acquired and funneling that into the best transition into today that we can manifest.

If you could say anything to your fans, the ones who have stuck with you and the newer ones, what would it be?

Well, first of all, thank you for coming along for the ride. It’s a great experience, sharing a musical journey together. That’s the highest form of entertainment and the most mysterious form of communication that exists, music. It’s great to have shared that with so many people for such a long time.

You guys started Rock To The Rescue. What can you tell me about that?

Well, Rock to The Rescue is a charitable endeavor that we started shortly after 9/11 because we wanted to raise money for the families of the port authority of New Jersey. We lost 37 people that day. We did a series of concerts to raise money for that and then we kind of put the charity on hold. About a year ago after the Boston Marathon bombing, we were on tour and we wanted to donate some money there. We decided: why don’t we do this on a daily basis? Somehow find a way to benefit a local charity of whatever city we happen to be playing in. It’s an ongoing effort. It’s a way of us saying thank you to all of these cities, communities countries for their years of support of what we love to do.

I think it’s a great cause. Now for a fun question: Do you guys have any pre-show rituals that you do?

We do have some pre-show rituals. My personal ritual involves me doing about a half hour of yoga, followed by about an hour of me doing my classical technical exercises on the piano, followed by all of us getting together in a room and doing a vocal warm-up as a group, so we begin to tune our voices with each other. Then right before we go on stage, Tommy usually hands me the pick to his guitar and Ricky usually hands me the pick to his bass guitar. I cross my hands over and play a little bit of Tom’s guitar while he’s playing the left hand I play the right hand. That’s a private little show we do before we go on. It’s been recorded a few times actually.

Do you still get nervous?

Nervous is a tough word. I get a good feeling of anticipation, more to do with excitement.

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: September 23, 2014. 

Photos by Ally Abramson © 2014

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