, founded 1970
, Chicago, Illinois
. Founding members were Dennis DeYoung
), James Young
), (vocals, guitar
), John Panozzo
), Chuck Panozzo
), and John Curulewski
(guitar, vocals). Band's core was the Panozzo brothers and DeYoung in the late 60's--a bunch of old childhood friends
who played music. Curulewski and Young joined in the early '70s, and the band at that time was called Tradewinds
. They settled on Styx
when they got their first record contract. Released several albums
on the old Wooden Nickel
), Styx II
), The Serpent Is Rising
), and Man Of Miracles
). Most of these did not bring the band widespread success
at the time (although the song Lady
off of Styx II
was a small hit when released, and became a bigger one in 1975
). They were your typical hardworking
rock band with a following in the Midwest
. The band's early albums are a relatively unique mix of pop rock
, progressive rock
and actual classical music
elements, sometimes spotty
, but always interesting due to the harmony vocals
of the 3 vocalists (although DeYoung sang most of the leads, all three singers would do their part as well.) Also, DeYoung's keyboards were typical of the progressive rock
genre of the time.
The band began to take its most popular, and possibly most musically rewarding, form in 1975 with the release of Equinox and a major label contract with A&M Records. Equinox was also Curulewski's last album with the band, to be replaced by Alabaman Tommy Shaw (also vocals and guitar) who DeYoung had seen perform in a Chicago bar. This quintet was the band most people think of when they think of Styx and was intact until their breakup in 1984. Shaw's first album with the band was 1976's Crystal Ball, the title track featuring Shaw's powerful lead vocal. Shaw's boyish good looks and long blond hair quickly made him the sex symbol of the band and brought the usual complement of screaming teenage girl fans.
The band's next albums would tend to follow a formula of progressive-tinged pop songs, with the harmony vocals of Shaw, DeYoung, and Young in every track, and with lead vocals usually by DeYoung, but at least one song each sung by Shaw and Young in the lead. Usually these were songs in which they were listed as principle songwriter. Generally songwriting credits were given to one or all of these three. Sometimes the songs reflected a medieval or mythological theme suggested by their name ("Lords of the Ring", "Castle Walls"), but never the epic pieces of bands like Genesis or Yes or lesser progressive rock contemporaries like Gentle Giant, say. They were more straight-ahead hard rock, but again, not like bands like Rush or Black Sabbath. There are some heavy overlaps with Kansas and in fact they and Styx sort of define a midwestern progressive rock sensibility.
In 1977, Styx released The Grand Illusion, which was fabulously successful on the strength of the power ballad Come Sail Away, and this era began the band's existence as American arena rock giants. Styx never was particularly popular outside of North America but could fill arenas here. Their stage shows were often very theatrical and elaborate--Dennis DeYoung eventually went to Broadway, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The rest of the 70s see the band releasing Pieces of Eight (1978) and Cornerstone (1979). Both have their hit singles--the former being Renegade and the latter being Babe, the song I most associate with the roller rink--it was the song they'd play and all the teenagers would skate in couples around the rink, while us 10 year olds would continue to play Asteroids until it was over. All this time the band continues touring to packed arenas and stadiums.
The '80s start with Paradise Theatre (1980), perhaps their most ambitious concept album to date, and really one of their high points as well. Songs like The Best of Times, Snowblind and Too Much Time on My Hands become FM radio staples.
After Paradise Theatre the band took 3 years to release Kilroy Was Here (1983), a dramatically different album--a concept album about a young boy in a futuristic age of machines where rock and roll is illegal. This is the album that brought us Mr. Roboto and Don't Let It End, brought the band's theatrical style full into the world of MTV, and brought a concert tour that was largely stage theatre, with DeYoung taking the role of Kilroy and the rest of the band taking on roles as well. It seemed popular enough, but it also seemed like the band collapsed under the weight of their own excesses--and broke up in 1984 after the tour.
A live album--Caught In The Act was released that year, with the one new track Music Time (with the corresponding messed up video.) DeYoung, Shaw and Young all went on to release solo albums--DeYoung and Shaw having minor hits with the singles "Desert Moon" and "Girls With Guns" respectively--the Panozzo brothers pretty much retired and everyone pretty much assumed that Styx was done with.
I saw Tommy Shaw in 1987 open for Rush, and he played mostly Styx songs. Shaw shortly after joined Ted Nugent in Damn Yankees which had its own share of commercial success.
in 1990, a reformed Styx made Edge of the Century, this time Tommy Shaw being replaced by New Jersey native Glen Burtnick. Shaw had committed to Nugent and Damn Yankees and gave the rest of Styx their blessing to work with Burtnick. The album is mostly typical late 80s power pop, and the song Show Me The Way became a minor hit when it was first released, then a major hit during the Gulf War when a DJ made a version with clips of various people wishing the troops well and saying other patriotic things. The band toured in this incarnation for a while, but did not make any more albums, and again Styx went dormant.
We were not to hear from them again until the mid-1990s, when A&M decided to release greatest hits compilations, and the late 70s lineup actually recorded some new material for the albums (notably, "Lady", even though Tommy Shaw didn't perform on the original recording, because RCA wouldn't release the song to A&M.)The classic lineup then went out on tour, doing sort of a tribute show of their own stuff. This was captured in the 1997 live album Return to Paradise, and the band recorded the album Brave New World in 1998.
Sadly, in 1997 John Panozzo died after a battle with liver disease. John was replaced by Todd Sucherman on drums.
After Brave New World was released, DeYoung decided he was done with touring and all the hassle and returned to Chicago to work on theatre and the like. Tommy Shaw and James Young, since about 1999, have been out on the road with a new band they're calling Styx consisting of themselves, Canadian Lawrence Gowan on vocals and keyboards, Glen Burtnik back again on bass this time, and Sucherman on drums as well. Sometimes, Chuck Panozzo joins them for a few songs as well (Interestingly, Chuck came out last year, and also publicly acknowledged he has AIDS and wasn't receiving the best treatment due to being closeted, and thus has been in poor health He is now taking medication and doing better, but this is part of why he's not touring with the band.) In late 2003, Burtnik left the band to work on his solo albums and live at home in New Jersey, to be replaced by well respected session bassist Ricky Phillips.
Styx is now constantly on the road, playing lots of state fairs and arenas. They frequently tour with contemporaries REO Speedwagon, (although itself a derivative of the original band) and Kansas, as well in other 70s and 80s package tours (think Bad Company, 38 Special, and Journey).
Just in March of 2002, I got to see Styx perform at a trade show. You know what? They still rocked. The band is clearly comfortable playing together, Sucherman is a better drummer, technically, than John Panozzo was, and although Gowan doesn't quite have the sheer vocal talent of DeYoung, he held his own on the songs that DeYoung originally sang. And Shaw and Young can still sing and play their instruments. It's hard to accept them as the original band, but as a current group they're quite respectable.
On February 18, 2003 Styx released Cyclorama, their first album without Dennis DeYoung. Online reviews are overhwelmingly positive, talking of a return to form, the only holdouts people who are missing DeYoung. The album has guest appearances from Brian Wilson, Tenacious D, and John Waite.
Styx had a freak hit on iTunes and many classic rock stations in late 2004 with a cover of The Beatles' I Am The Walrus and will be releasing a new album of cover tunes in 2005--including a cover of their own Blue Collar Man.
Dennis DeYoung is out there solo--he's performing shows that are either Broadway standards or a rock show where he performs classic Styx songs that he wrote and performed. Even though he's in his late 50's his voice is still as crystal clear as it was 25 years ago. It's certainly one of the best voices in rock music. He had sued the band over the use of the name Styx after he left, and settled out of court. Around the same time he was diagnosed with a sensitivity to natural light, and now remains indoors during the day.
At their best, Styx are an engaging, exciting band, all five members' talents working to create some really cool music. At their worst, they're horrifically self-parodying. But, I always have liked them. The music press often seemed to think of Styx as the younger equivalent of progressive rock bands like Yes and Genesis and Pink Floyd, I think because they appealed more to preteens and young teenagers as well as college kids--sort of the training bra of progressive rock. At any rate, they're probably the most successful band ever relative to the venom the rock critics would spit at them.
The band was probably a vanguard of a certain style of Midwestern rock also popularized by the aforementioned REO Speedwagon, and promulgated in the 80s by bands like Night Ranger, and even non-Midwestern bands like Bon Jovi. In fact, there's a direct lineage between Styx and many pop metal bands of the 80s--in that most of them probably listened to Styx growing up.
(sources: The All-Music Guide, styxworld.com, the liner notes of the albums, personal recollection, and an excellent Styx history at http://18.104.22.168/dwfh/styx/history.html)