Classic rock radio keeps Styx's music flowing

Styx's one radio success since reuniting was a cover of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus": "We would have never even bothered to record it," says Styx guitarist James Young (far left), "but a radio programer in Chicago heard us play it and said, 'Give me a copy of that and I'll put it on the air.' "

Photo by Ash Newell, Copyright 2010 Ash Newell Photograhy - All rights reserveda

Styx's one radio success since reuniting was a cover of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus": "We would have never even bothered to record it," says Styx guitarist James Young (far left), "but a radio programer in Chicago heard us play it and said, 'Give me a copy of that and I'll put it on the air.' "

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There are some bands that never fade from classic rock radio. In the 1970s and '80s Styx was one of the biggest acts in the country. And while the group is long past having new hits, the band's vintage songs — including "Renegade," "Lady," "Come Sail Away," "Babe" and "Mr. Roboto" — are probably as well known today as they were when the act's new albums could be expected to go platinum.

"It truly is an amazing thing," says Styx co-founder James Young in a call from Springfield, Mo. "Classic rock radio certainly keeps us front and center both with the boomers and any of the younger people who discover that radio format. The baby boom still has money and we still have an audience."

Young says the band's concert audiences have actually grown over the past decade. Since the band reunited in 1996, Styx has only had one year without a tour.

"It's always been my favorite part of what we do," says Young. "There's just something about a live rock show. There's just something about the energy of 1,000, 10,000, 50,000, people collected in the same spot. There's a kinetic vibration that you can't digitize and put in someone's house."

Young grew up in Chicago, but it was on summer vacation that he saw his first rock show — Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.

"I was sort of swept away by that, and it was kind of the beginning," he says.

Future Styx members Dennis DeYoung and brothers Chuck and John Panozzo began playing in groups together in Chicago in the mid-1960s. In 1970, Young joined them in a group that was called TW4. Two years later, the band signed with Wooden Nickel Records and changed the its name to Styx.

The band's first single, "Best Thing," from the self-titled debut album, entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 88.

"It was with a bullet the first week, no bullet the next week, and it must've had an anchor on the next week!" says Young. "It seemed easy to start with, but you'd been playing junior or AAA ball and suddenly you're up there with the big boys, competing with the best and the brightest and the greatest and the most talented."

The band toured relentlessly, but had little radio success. Oddly, it was "Lady," a song off the band's second album, that began to take off after the release of the group's fourth album. That success spurred A&M Records to sign the group. However, it wasn't until the release of the 1977 album "The Grand Illusion" that Styx hit the top.

"It was the right time and we had the right personalities, at least for the moment, and the right blend of skill sets to make some great records," says Young. "The 1970s were a fertile time when the baby boom was coming into its economic power and we were the kind of music they were looking for. We just happened to catch the wave and keep going."

The ride lasted until 1993, when the group lost its recording contract in a wave that left many formerly successful acts out in the cold.

Three years later, though, Styx was back on the road, paired with other classic rock acts, having successful tours. The band's relationship with DeYoung, the most recognizable lead vocalist with the group, has been on-again, off-again, since 1993. Since 1999, it has been off and Lawrence Gowan has performed DeYoung's vocals.

Young says new recordings will probably come, but, right now the group is just enjoying delivering the material audiences want. Younger audiences pick up on the band either through classic rock radio or references in movies. Adam Sandler has included Styx music in his films and even mentioned Tommy Shaw in the film "Big Daddy."

"We are part of the fabric of pop culture, for better or worse."

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