This must be the place: Ode to Styx, ode to being ‘born for adventure’
In the vast, rich musical landscape of 1970s/1980s rock-n-roll, few bands sold as many records and played as big of shows as that of Styx — numerous platinum albums and sold out stadium gigs from coast-to-coast.
“I’m humbled by the whole thing, starting out as five bums from the South Side of Chicago,” said guitarist James “J.Y.” Young. “Wanting to make records, wanting to get a recording contract, wanting to have a career in the music business — I don’t know that I ever could’ve dreamt this big.”
Emerging from the hardworking, blue-collar attitude and ethos of Chicago in the early 1970s, siblings Chuck and John Panozzo, alongside Dennis DeYoung, Young and Tommy Shaw, forged a new voice in the awe-inspiring, ever-expanding world of progressive rock — a whirlwind, rollercoaster genre that included the likes of Yes, Rush and King Crimson.
“We were young men out running around the country trying to establish a [following],” Young said. “Sometimes we’d hit home runs, other places nobody seemed to care. But, you just stay focused on the goal and keep writing — you’ve got to keep writing.”
The mystical aura swirling around Styx only intensified with the evolution of its trademark sound — searing vocal harmonies coupled with razor-sharp guitar licks. And both of which wrapped tightly by a keen lyrical aptitude that dealt with the existential depths of everyday humanity in a world seemingly gone mad.
“We were trying to differentiate ourselves from every other bar band that was lucky enough to get a record contract,” Young said. “We decided to stretch as far as we possibly could with our imagination and take a run at it.”
Chasing their wildest aspirations within the music industry, only to hit the highest levels of rock success, Styx, by the numbers, has released 17 studio albums, nine live albums and 39 radio singles. Sixteen of those singles reached the Top 40, with eight sliding into the Top 10. To date, the band has sold over an estimated 50 million albums.
“The world doesn’t come to your front door — you’ve got to find your space and then own it,” Young encouraged. “You’ve got it get out there and play it. Get out in front of people and let’em hear what you’re doing, see what you’re doing — eventually someone finds value in [what you’re doing].”
For Young, the electric guitar remains as alluring and mesmerizing as ever, with artistic discoveries and creative musings constantly revealing themselves each time he picks up the six-string and walks underneath the bright lights of another raucous, fevered audience.
“I saw [Jimi] Hendrix five times and I’m just trying to channel him every time I get up onstage,” Young said. “And I saw Eric Clapton and Cream and I’m trying to channel him when I’m up there — learn from the best and carry on with that, never give up.”
Within the live realm, Styx remains a powerhouse ensemble, one aimed at finding that ideal balance between the major hits that defined the group worldwide (“Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “Too Much Time On My Hands”), and yet still intently focused on showcasing its core essence of hard, fast-paced, intricate rock.
“We’ve always been a band that could carry [its] weight onstage and make it sound like the records,” Young noted. “If [playing music] is your dream, you just can’t give up — patience, persistence, talent and luck, PPTL is the acronym for success.”
And now, some 52 years into its continued musical journey, the ongoing history of Styx is forever chiseled deep into the walls of rock music and in the memories of its die-hard fans who’ve never forgotten what the Chicago ensemble and its singular tone meant to them throughout all of these decades.
“My goal has always been to think big, to think if this opportunity made itself clear and open to us, what would I do with it?” Young said. “At this point [in our careers], it’s really just to get out there and play concerts — to play the music that people love.”
When asked about the kickoff track for Styx’s self-titled 1972 debut album “Movement For The Common Man” and how the lyrics (written by Young himself) — “Don’t trust anyone else to run your life and set your goals/You gotta be able to live with yourself when you are getting old” — have aged over a half-century later, Young paused for a moment and chuckled at the query.
“I don’t know if this an evolution from what I was saying back then or not, but, to me, you have to live each day to the fullest,” the 74-year-old said. “You’re not offered the opportunity to do this day over or tomorrow [either] — do it right the first time, put as much of your energy and your brain power [into your dreams].”
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Great article and very insightful to what the band is at its core. Never a disappointment and I've seen them over 500 times. They bring it every time. True talent and they have fun doing it as you see the joy on their faces when they perform.