Posted October, 2016
Few bands have impacted the seventies and eighties like Styx. With monster hits like Lady, Renegade, Come Sail Away, Too Much Time On My Hands, and many others, it’s no surprise that the band’s music still permeates airwaves and stereos all over the world as well as being prominently placed in movies and TV shows.
The current configuration of this iconic band consists of founding member and bassist, Chuck Panozzo; co-founder/guitarist, James “J.Y.” Young; Tommy Shaw (who joined the band in 1976 as a guitarist); drummer, Todd Sucherman (with the band since 1995; Ricky Philips (rhythm guitar and bass, joining the band in 2003); and Lawrence Gowan, keyboardist/vocalist who joined the band back in 1999.
Of the replacements, Gowan undoubtedly had the toughest role in stepping into the big shoes left vacant with the departure of Dennis DeYoung.
Fill ‘em, he did, and quite well, thank you. Already a huge, chart-topping artist in his own right in his native Canada, Lawrence was quite up to the task.
I recently spoke with the band’s keyboardist and vocalist, Lawrence Gowan, to discuss the band’s new DVD, “Styx Live at Orleans Arena Las Vegas” as well as the latest happenings with the band.
I started off by asking Lawrence if, in his wildest dreams, he ever imagined joining a band like Styx.
“In Styx, I think that’s one of the best cards that life has dealt me. I thoroughly enjoyed my solo years. I had a fourteen solo career prior to joining Styx. I had several platinum records and gold records in Canada and a greatest hits album had come out just prior to them calling me and I just figured, ‘You know? I think Act 2 being a member of this legendary band - as far as my career goes - it would be a great little adventure.
“It’s been everything that I could have anticipated and far more, because we’ve played around the world so many times. This line-up of the band has played more shows than any previous era of the group and I’ve seen over the past ten years younger and younger people coming to the shows I’d say over the past ten years, younger and younger people come to the show. Now, on any given night, Randy, half the audience is under thirty years of age and weren’t even born when some of the biggest Styx records were at the top of the charts. It’s a fantastic thing to be a part of and to witness and to enjoy and see the smiles on so many people’s faces every night.”
“So as I look back on it, on the one hand I am surprised, on the other hand I just think ‘this just seems really natural to me’. Who would ever want to give up the experience of some of the greatest moments of my life are just standing in the audience listening to Pink Floyd or being at a Paul McCartney show. It’s an amazing thing to experience so why would you stop that?”
To Gowan’s comment that the demographic of more and more people are under the age of thirty, I asked if he thought that it was shows like South Park incorporating Styx music into some of their shows was instrumental in introducing the band to younger crowds.
“I think I remember J.Y. (James Young) saying this when I first joined the band because the movie ‘Big Daddy’ featured a scene at the end where Adam Sandler is sitting there and looking at his young son in the witness stand and he went on a radio announcer – I can quote it exactly – and the lady says, ‘Did your Daddy teach you anything? He says, ‘Yes.’ ‘What did he teach you?’ And the little kid says, “I think ‘Styx’ is the greatest band in the world and that the critics are just a bunch of cynical assholes.’ It’s funny, that was the first kind of major cultural reference to the band from a new generation, Adam Sandler.
“Shortly after that I joined the group and then from there, as you say, ‘South Park, ‘Scrubs,’ ‘Sex in The City,’ all these various shows made all kinds of reference to Styx and how they connected to the band.
“I believe because young people seem to do their own programming because they are so internet savvy - they’re aware of bands from the classic rock era and they could do a quick little bit of research on it and find out that, ‘Wow, it wasn’t just Cartman saying, ‘Come Sail Away.’ It’s actually this band that’s been around since the 70s and there’s the original version of that song and there are all these live versions of it that have come out since then, and the band is coming to town. I might just go and check them out.’
“Once you’ve seen the group live, that’s when they become really galvanized to the whole experience and they seem to embrace it to the same degree as people that grew up with the band and that is a phenomenal thing to witness - the impact and how it’s crossed generations.
“I see it as we, on stage, we represent a culmination of the efforts of everyone that’s ever been in the band and, there’s only ever been eleven people in Styx, and for a band to be around and in its sixth decade of existence that’s a very, very low number. At least, to my mind, that’s really what we’re carrying forward into the future is all of that legacy and history that amassed to us at this point.”
As to what has been the most surprising aspect of being part of a band such as Styx, Lawrence said:
“Well, I think we just touched on it. I did not expect when I joined, I mean we figured ‘Oh, there’s probably at least four or five years of life left in the group.’ Now I think the most phenomenal thing is to have witnessed the fact that, no, it went well beyond those expectations. I think the most phenomenal thing is - an incremental thing - that I’ve noticed over the years is somehow I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a band with guys that are continually and endlessly looking for ways to up the ante and kind of improve and somehow extend what the experience can be to come and see the band live and to keep it a vital and breathing entity. That’s been the most impressive thing that has not wavered one little bit ever since I first stepped on stage with the group.”
And the least surprising thing?
“Ha! Ha! The least surprising thing to me is that - it’s kind of funny, when I first joined the band I had a hit with a song in Canada called ‘Criminal Mind’. That was kind of a signature song for me. When I opened for Styx in 1997, that’s the song I ended the show with, and of course, the audience in Montreal helped me sing every word of that song.
“After the show, Tommy Shaw came out to me and was very congratulatory on how the night went. When I first came to Tommy, I was just basically testing our voices with J.Y. and he and myself. Before we even played a Styx song, we played ‘Criminal Minds’. He wanted to do “Criminal Mind” at the end, so we did that. ‘We gotta make that a Styx song now.’
“So the least surprising thing to me is that the very first time we played that song in Canada - in Toronto, in fact - the audience’s response was overwhelming. It was a shock to me on the one hand, but on the other hand I thought ‘this is going to slay them’ because the audience there knows the song so well and to hear a classic band like Styx play it, I wasn’t surprised at how well it went over. And I don’t mean to say that in an immodest way. It just was like a tremendous moment.
“What else has been the least surprising? I think the least surprising is that the band has this legacy and that it has continued. I’m not all that surprised by it because rock music is the greatest form of entertainment that I’ve ever came up against in my life - probably yours too, Randy. And although we talk about it being over one day, I really can’t imagine that because it’s so much fun.
“So, on the one hand, it’s lovely to see, but, again, not to sound immodest, it really is a great time to be alive making this type of music. I’m not overwhelmed and I’m not completely taken aback at the fact that it’s continued to be such an embraced form of entertainment.
“So as I look back on it, on the one hand I am surprised, on the other hand I just think, ‘This just seems really natural to me.’ Who would ever want to give up the experience of some of the greatest moments of my life are just standing in the audience listening to Pink Floyd or being at a Paul McCartney show. It’s an amazing thing to experience so why would you stop that?”
Turning our chat to the band’s new DVD, Gowan had this to say:
“We’ve done a couple of live DVDs over the years. This one ‘Styx Live at The Orleans Arena Las Vegas,’ was recorded about a year, getting close to two years ago, that we actually recorded that show. But we wanted to kind of show a lot of the behind the scenes machinations or the way the whole thing comes together. So we included a lot of our crew and a lot of the experience of touring is included in this DVD, did you get to see some of that?”
“So I think that people are getting more of a behind the scenes view of what it is to be a band that is effectively touring as Styx are to this day. That’s really what the DVD focuses on - as much on that as on the show and the overwhelming response of the audience and just how the whole lifestyle and this life commitment and devotion that all of us have that’s driving this forward is captured on this ‘Styx Live at The Orleans.”
As for similarities and differences fans will see between that show on the DVD and then seeing the band during this tour at the fair, Lawrence said:
“Well, I don’t think it will be difficult for them to kind of connect the dots between the two. But, ultimately, I think that because we live in a world now where so much of is connected to small screens. We all go around with our iPads and laptops and can virtually delve into all kinds of aspects of the world and it really is very informative and it has a gigantic upside.
“Having said that, there’s nothing like the live experience of having something happen in real time with a few thousand people around you and experiencing this great, instantaneous communication of music in a fantastic arena. I’ve touched on that before. I think it’s the ultimate form of entertainment and it’s too large to be contained on a small screen. You go get a taste of it and then maybe it will whet your interest. But there’s nothing like that experience of seeing a band live and getting swept up in it like we do along with the audience.”
As for what’s on the band’s radar for the next year, Gowan says:
“We always little projects behind the scenes going on that we don’t want to overly focus on so there’s nothing imminent that I would like to make any pronouncements or announcements about other than the fact that I’m looking at my itinerary now and noticed we’ll finish up in December. We will have played 112 shows through 2016 and I’m already seeing about forty or fifty on the itinerary for next year. We try to keep our focus as close to that and over the next few months as possible. But, as I say, there are great things going on behind the scenes and projects that we’re working on that will, hopefully, see the light of day sooner than later.”
I couldn’t let Lawrence Gowan go without asking him if he had any plans for any solo work.
“Yeah, I still do a good number of solo dates. I was able to do nine this year so far in Canada. I actually did my first little solo adventure last year in December - did one in Baltimore, which was the first time I had done anything like that. So many Styx fans, they know all aspects of the band, they know Todd Sucherman, our drummer – who was voted Number One Progressive Rock Drummer in Modern Magazine now for several years. His drum clinics around the world are highly attended. Most of them are sold out. Our bass player, Ricky Phillips, used to play in the Babys and in Bad English, so there’s a lot of history there. Tommy with Damn Yankees, so there’s a lot of peripheral things that the band that somehow keep themselves a little bit involved in that can help to amass the overall effect of the band when we come together on stage.”
Keep up with all things Styx at their website, www.styxworld.com.