GH: Hi this is Garrett Hart with me is James Young of STYX and I am very interested to talk with you JY about your history with the band how things have have evolved for STYX over the years, and what’s happening for you and for the band right now.
JY: Well we signed our first recording contract in 1972 so as of the date of this interview we’re 41 years and counting in this whole program and you know it’s been amazing run. We had a great sort of 11 year run which in there was for triple platinum albums starting with the Grand Illusion through Paradise Theatre and ‘81 and in 1981 finally had our first number one with Paradise Theatre and sold out in 110 arenas across North America then went and sold out a bunch of arenas in Europe and ultimately went to Japan for the first time in sold-out 6, 6 arenas over there.
GH: What was Japan like?
JY: Well, back then it was it was… nothing was in… you know, Roman script, it was all you know Chinese symbols, so it was very hard to figure out where you were, and I went back 20 years later actually then you could there were signs in English so you could see where you are going, but still was and the thing I’ll never forget about being in Japan as they would have the to be uproarious applause for about 10 seconds and then it would stop dead and be silent. That’s just from the respect everyone learns there which would having come from either so may people in a small area they’ve learned to survive by showing each other human beings great respect at least, on the surface, of course, my colleague Tommy Shaw, it was the time we really knew he was emerging, because it would be dead silent but then you hear these young females going, “Tommy! Tommy!” may itself be breaking the dead silence. So we had a fantastic time there, and it was so culturally different and when we went back 20 years later was, you know, a lot more Americanized, still very culturally different, but you know you can get spaghetti in the restaurant kind of thing so …
GH: What’s what’s been your mm.. great memories or the places you’d like to play in Europe when you’ve toured with the with the band?
JY: Well, we we have history in England, it was the first place we went, and even most recently were there in 2011 with Journey and Foreigner and ourselves a great to three-act American classic rock package and played the Wembley Arena, not the stadium, the Wembley Arena which is a good 14,000 seats and sold that one out with the three bands and then went all the way up to Glasgow in Scotland which is kind of a fun place for us to play because our new keyboard player starting at ‘99, Lawrence Gowen, was actually born in Glasgow and I’ve got on my mother’s father’s side he’s pure Scott, and there is, going back in the genealogy of it all, there is… I’m descended from a woman named Agnes Angus going back to 200 years ago there Glasgow so…
GH: So, did you sport a kilt while you’re there?
JY: No, I did not… gotta to be a younger age… at least I think, a least to look halfway decent in it!
GH: I agree! I certainly wouldn’t attempt it! So England and Scotland great places for you to
travel, in the states places that you that you enjoyed arenas or experiences that you’ve
enjoyed on the tours ?
JY: Well, you know, I like to say that every venue has a unique charm whether you’re playing in front of 18,000 people indoors in an arena or you’re in front of a 780 people in the House of Blues in New Orleans, you know, they all have their own sort of special thing or an outdoor venue. I mean we’ve played in front of 50,000-60,000 people outdoors from time to time, headlined, the sold-out Busch Stadium make those what 45,000 people back in 1978. You know, they all have their own unique charm but I mean I can’t I can’t really say one over the other. because they all are just that the audiences are different and that’s what makes it fun when you’re what people expect to hear a lot of the same music out of us so the fact that it is a different setting in and it’s different faces to to interact with from the stage that’s what really keeps it fresh for me.
GH: Well, speaking keeping it fresh that the band is doing great; let’s talk about how how things are going for the band and the current line up starting in ‘99 and how things been going for the band.
JY: Well, the band, I suppose, is anchored by me, who’s played the most STYX shows of anybody and was an original member there. Tommy Shaw is really, he’s I call him the alpha dog although, then he says, “ No, JY, you’re the alpha dog” , so I guess we’re the alpha dog tag team. But Tommy really wrote and sang Renegade and Blue-collar Man and Too Much Time on My Hands and Fooling Yourself/ The Angry Young Man and Crystal Ball and on and on and on. That was always,as you and I talked off-air before the show went on a few minutes ago, Tommy’s really the star of this show and Lawrence Gowen, then, is on keyboards, and who started with us in’ 99 when we parted ways with original keyboardist, and Lawrence’s… was a superstar in Canada but never really broke through the states, so his goal was always to make it down here, and so he’s really had a chance to be on the biggest stages in America with us and he brings a great rock sense to the keyboards and many ways a big star in Canada so he would do great when the band goes to Canada. And we always did before him, so now it’s like it’s doubly great. And then the original original drummer, Chuck Panozzo,, passed away in 1996 God rest and God bless his soul, John was a true monster powerhouse behind the drums but the his replacement is a you know younger fellow who grew up in Chicago listen to us in the was a fan of ours and Todd Sucherman is his name, and he is astoundingly talented and in fact was voted in a readers poll of Modern Drummer Magazine 2009 was voted Number One Rock Drummer and typically now is always in the top three or four in the voting; he just he’s just astounding, and it’s for me is like having a new engine under the hood of this racecar and I love taking up or drive!
GH: And it’s cool that drummers really do help to to drive the sound of the band you have great guitars and keyboards and vocals to run with it. The sound of the band is as fresh now when you first put records out in the ‘70s and there’s a strength and resiliency to the band. Talk about that.
JY: But I mean there is there’s a real power having a brilliant drummer at the center of it all ‘cuz it REALLY is about the pulse in so many different ways. I failed to mention our bass player, Ricky Phillips, who along with Chuck Panazo, our original bass player, almost died from AIDS, had prostate cancer and is still alive and is actually sitting downstairs while you and are talking tonight. He comes out and plays about a third to half of the shows and he’s on stage with three or four numbers; we bring him out towards the end, but Ricky Phillips, our bass player, was the founder of the band The Babies along with Jonathan Cain, who went on to Bad English and Journey, of course, and that John Waight was an that one, with Bad English, and the so I mean Ricky is, Ricky’s… Ricky has seen …and Ricky’s stepsister is Kathleen Kennedy whose been Spielberg’s main producer throughout his career so, he knows everybody in LA in the music business, he knows everybody in LA in the film business, and he’s …he’s just a great player so he just really adds a great sort of pedigree to this band. So it’s it’s just a real joy with this line up of people take the stage every night. It’s… this is the racecar always I always wanted to drive in!
GH: The …um… the energy on stage and what what the crowd gives you in their excitement and what you’re able to get back with the performances, that’s got to be something that for you as a veteran performer now to be able to feel that fresh kind of sensation, that’s got to be really rewarding?!
JY: Well, it is truly an addictive thing to take the stage and have people from the first word of the first song singing along with you as far as the eye can see, and it’s amazing how often we see in a 50, 75, 100 of the same faces, down near the front of our audiences so, it is it’s an incredibly joyful thing to do this and to have the people respond the way they do, and to know that not only are you have these faithful that have seen more than 100 shows, maybe a couple hundred, 300, yet there is there’s new young people and, even yourself are telling me about, that are in their teenage years are in their 20s the you know what all this music are the first phase of our career was long over even before they born, that they found our music and have learned to love it so.
GH: with a new audience discovering that, that’s got also be something that’s great for you to share!?And what’s great about the music that that I sense is, it’s the energy and it’s it’s just it’s clean guitar lines and it’s great storytelling along with the the the songs themselves. that that process that you guys put together and now continue to to be able to share and
JY: It’s humbling, it is you know exhilarating…we obviously did some things right, and we surely worked hard enough at it, and then, you know, the talent comes, it all comes from a higher place.
JY: What you’re in the background at this time is Tommy Shaw’s daughter Hannah who was out on the road with us, and she is very much into numerous different charity, charity-type things in the animal rescue. “Big cat rescue” really was kind of her main thing and we said, “Well, Hannah, why don’t you come on out and we’ll auction off a guitar every night, and then have a local charity help you out with the process when we play at our shows, and and ultimately we we we raise money for good causes that are somewhat local, in the and then when she was out on the road with us and the Boston Marathon, you know, a terrorist thing happened, we decided that at that point we were on the road with REO and Ted Nugent, and we all decided to sort of send a large sum of money to, you know, to the people, you know,who were caught in the crossfire that whole thing. So that is the charitable side of the band, STYX, is trying to do in its own way, give give back a small something to our audience and to this great country.
GH: And I think that recognizing the resiliency in others that are dealing with with adversity and am really serious issues, that the band’s got an open mind and an open heart to that is really pretty cool!
JY: Well, I think if if you’ve survived as long as we have, you recognize that you know this thing is is greater than any one of us. I was talking to a Phil Ehart, the drummer for Kansas whose he scanned the business guy of that band, and I’m sort of somewhat business-minded myself, so we have in common. And, you know, we just kind of decided it’s it’s not about any one person, in virtually no band can you point “to this is all about one person”, it’s it’s a collective effort and and so we all had have been humbled enough to recognize that we’re part of a bigger picture and you know where we’ve gotten a lot from you know from people you know good will and and we we should be giving back something is or try to do.
GH: For yourself, what’s the song that when you play it, when you’re performing it, what’s the one that takes you to that place where you know you’re hittin’ the note, that it’s that it’s all good for you? What’s that? Is there is there a song or a couple of songs? What is it for you when the performance goes?
JY: I mean, there’s two songs you do it typically near the end, there at the end of the show, Renegade, being one song that is really you have an incredible life of its own; and, Tommy sings it, Tommy wrote it but I help sort of punch in, and he was kind of an Allen Parsons song when he started out, kind of quiet and introspective and a little bit dark, and we knew we needed to turn this into the arena rock song, as we really need at this point back in 1978 and and we would trade guitar solo different songs in and I got, I got the chance play the guitar solo on that, and then really probably the best one I have on record, and it’s been recognized some places. I love… love just the reaction the song gets first of all, and the fact that I play the guitar solo on there and to get a chance to play that every night is great and also in Come Sail Away, there’s there’s a moments when we have sort of the of the song starts starts out soft and then there’s a big powerful chorus up-tempo then it goes into this kind of outer space, you know ethereal thing but when it comes back on out of that there is this incredibly powerful “re-entro” and all heck kind of breaks loose at that point in time and I think that moment we come back out of the of the ethereal section, the outer space section as I would call it, into into that you know that is as powerful moments as there is on any stage, at any moment in time it is bad; that always brings a smile to my face!
GH: For me, STYX, in the music today is positive there’s a celebration there is a joy that was was really part of the recording process is as difficult as that may have been to bring all of that together, that when you’re on stage it still comes through as just just a great celebration of life, of survival and and being able to become resilient know whether it’s Renegade or Fooling Yourself or Snow Blind, there are, it’s it’s dealing with issues overcoming them and surviving.
JY: I couldn’t have said it any better; I was the one who was supposed to be talking! (Laughing…) No, honestly, absolutely, the um… I love being onstage, I love the feeling that I get from it, and I think the crowd senses the joy that each one of my bandmembers and myself really project and there there sending that love back to us and that joy back to us and by the end of the night I like to say that we’re all surfing this giant wave of joy that the started in a higher place and was just channel through our human forms, and to, to have difficulties traveling as we do from place to place and this goes wrong and that goes wrong,this is not on time, that’s delayed and and the this one didn’t go the way was it was supposed to on that, in all those things are sort of washed away and forgotten once we’re on stage because this the music just kind of takes over everything and reorients the molecules in your body and outside your body and then all of a sudden everything is just fine….
GH: And and after the show, I mean, there’s so much that you guys give onstage, that that it’s gotta be exhausting to go after the show that’s gotta be a time to cool down and just sort of, you know, you you gotta rest up, because you got another date? …and I gotta get on the road to get to the next thing?
JY: Well, depending… it usually.. I’m, I’m usually wound up at the end of the show unless I really was tired to start the show, and so I can be up 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 hours once we’re done, because that is truly, that’s that’s the 90 minutes that I live for, for the most part, and the so sometimes it’s sometimes it’s hard to go to sleep until 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning, so fortunately, we don’t have to perform the next night until 8 o’clock!
GH: So is there… do you have a hobby? Is there something that, aside from the music, and aside from from this life that you have, that is inspiring to you or or gives you another creative outlet? Is there anything like that for you?
JY: Well, I love NFL football and I’m involved in the lots of different the betting pools, you know, just for fun kind of thing, but and I lie love the game and have and I just I pride myself on knowing my stuff and then actually I do with it with a different radio network actually when it gets in the playoffs I’m sort of the the rock rock ‘n roll voice of picking …picking the games and usually I…I think I did eight at 11 last year something like that.
JY: Well and I is I love the game and I played a little bit of sports, but realize it wasn’t big enough or tough enough or fast enough to actually play myself but I just know I love, I mean, it’s really like, I suppose, like playing a Risk, the board game, and you have all the armies in you align them, and you go through little moves you do here and there, and and to watch how other teams adjust and all that it is just, I guess, or something that is gladiatorial about the whole thing, and then there are a bunch of NFL players that are huge STYX fans and vice versa, so that that I enjoy rubbing shoulders with those guys. Yeah, the I kind of …I like the, I like like NFL football, I like automobile racing; I’m… a lot of spectator sports, the I suppose cautious or smart enough or dumb enough to to not risk my own Neck! (Laughing)
GH: A wise choice! Have you ever been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
JY: I have never been there and…
GH: You’re officially invited! I can hook you up whenever you want to go!
JY: That’s fantastic! We also have player who will remain nameless, who I think was on one of the top 15 in the final 15 for one of the recent ballots. He definitely wants us to perform there for him if he gets in, and then I’m not going to mention his name right now but I feel like we’re going to get there eventually!
GH: Well, great, Well just so you know, if you’re ever in the neighborhood, let me know and we can have something together for you! I I really appreciate you taking the time! The tour, you’re doing 100 of about 100 dates a year, and and that that that’s through the year, so you take some time off, you play some dates and, how does that work for you?
JY: For.. well,it’s fine. I mean, you know, we were out for a month and a half, from mid-the July through the end of August, and I did go home pretty much every day off, but there weren’t that many days off. At the end of that, I think we were all tired of each other in a way, but then it was it was a magnificently successful from performance to performance to performance, and some of the cast of the show Breaking Bad was out at one of our shows and they’re big fans of our! Of course, we’re huge fans of that show and so you it’s it’s it’s exhilarating to be part of it, but that’s also exhausting and so you need some time to recover and we did the first half of September off, then we’re out the rest of September, the the first half of October off, and now we’re starting up for October.
GH: The way you pace it so that that the shows are fresh, you’re fresh, there’s something that when you get in front of that crowd, they know that they’re gonna get the music that they are expecting and that you’re able to give the performance that you want to give.
JY: Yeah, absolutely! The a… I think we’ve…our hard partying days are long in the rearview mirror and my pal, Tommy Shaw, who on Behind the Music Scene on VH1 sort of admitted to, you know, numerous indiscretions, back in the day, has been clean and sober for 20 years; and we’re all kind of crazy health nuts at this point in time.
GH: That’s one of the things about getting older is, you do things just cleanup, you just you find a way to make your life a little better and enjoy just being healthy enjoy your your good fortune and you had great good fortune with the band and with the touring and I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
JY: Garrett, it’s always my pleasure!
GH: James Young, JY, from STYX; this is Garrett Hart.