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updated: 5/22/2012 5:22 AM

Despite a low-key suburban life, Styx guitarist still rockin' on tour

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  • Styx co-founder and guitarist James "JY" Young, a resident of the Western suburbs, performs with the band.

      Styx co-founder and guitarist James "JY" Young, a resident of the Western suburbs, performs with the band.
    courtesy of Jason Powell

  • Styx originated in Chicago, and grew to become one of rock-n-roll's most famous band. Several of its members live in the suburbs.

      Styx originated in Chicago, and grew to become one of rock-n-roll's most famous band. Several of its members live in the suburbs.
    Photo courtesy of Styx

  • Styx originated in Chicago, and grew to become one of rock-n-roll's most famous band. Several of its members live in the suburbs.

      Styx originated in Chicago, and grew to become one of rock-n-roll's most famous band. Several of its members live in the suburbs.
    Photo courtesy of Styx

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Styx has put out nearly a dozen albums since the band's heyday in the 1970s and early '80s, but few people other than die-hard fans have ever heard them.

Once, in an effort to get its new songs on the radio, the band hired an independent promoter to talk with radio station program directors, but "they laughed at him," says Styx guitarist James "JY" Young, 62, a longtime resident of the Western suburbs.

Only Greg Solk, then the program director at WLUP-FM, agreed to play Styx's 2004 live version of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus." It immediately shot up to No. 2 on the classic rock charts, Young said.

"It's hard to get new music played. But the demand for us as a live concert act is there," Young said. "For us, the reality is our future is on the live concert stage unless something magical happens."

There's been a lot of magic -- and drama -- in the legendary Chicago band's 40-plus year history. Through it all, Styx has remained a hot concert ticket, still doing 110 shows a year playing mostly greatest hits, including "Come Sail Away," "Lady," and "Blue Collar Man."

Styx will perform Sunday, June 24, at the Charter One Pavilion in Chicago, sharing a bill with Illinois natives REO Speedwagon and onetime Palatine resident Ted Nugent.

Nugent recently made national headlines with his anti-Obama comments, but Young says he ignores that stuff.

"My relationship with Ted involves music. I don't think politics should be mixed with music. We have fans on both side of the aisle," he said. "Ted's an amazing personality. And he's the best self-promoter I've ever come in touch with."

A South Side native who spends half the year on the road, Young prefers to live in the Western suburbs (near several Chicago Bears players and Survivor's Jim Peterik) because of the proximity to O'Hare International Airport. When not touring, jamming on the guitar or writing music, Young lives a low-ley life with his wife of almost 40 years, and he's a huge Chicago Bears fan.

"When I have a day off, people say, 'Where do you want to go?' And I always say, 'Home,'" Young said.

Today, Styx consists of original member Young, longtime guitarist Tommy Shaw, bass player Ricky Phillips (occasionally original bassist Chuck Panozzo joins the band), Lincolnwood native Todd Sucherman on drums and singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan.

Gowan replaced Dennis DeYoung, the band's co-founder who parted ways with the band in 1999 over creative differences, which erupted during their theatrical "Kilroy was Here" album tour.

Young says DeYoung and the other band members are all "very different human beings, all with a slightly different agenda." After the split, both DeYoung and Styx have maintained successful but separate music careers. DeYoung still actively tours and is doing a "The Music of Styx Unplugged" show June 14 at Navy Pier in Chicago.

To this day, Young and DeYoung remain estranged, even though they live near each other in the Western suburbs.

"We haven't spoken or seen each other since 1999," Young said. "Dennis is incredibly talented, he's incredibly bright and he's incredibly strong-willed. He always thought (Styx) couldn't exist without him, and I thought that it could. We're now in our 14th concert season without him. I wish him the very best. I wish him health and happiness and creative success as he goes down the highway."

Styx's soap opera story is rock 'n' roll legend, documented in a popular "Behind the Music" episode on VH1.

Young says their music still resonates with audiences -- Chris Daughtry sang the Styx song "Renegade" on "American Idol."

During a phone interview last week, Young said he believes the current incarnation of Styx is as strong as the original one, which started playing parties on Chicago's South Side in the mid-1960s.

"Music goes through cycles," he said. "We've, in some ways, come back to where we were in the beginning."

It's difficult for baby boomer rock bands like Styx to navigate the current music and radio industry, which has dramatically changed from the days when they topped the charts. But even if they're not on the radio as much as they'd like to be, as a live band, Styx is as popular as ever.

"I've been told this current incarnation of Styx is the best that's ever taken the stage," Young said. "But (the fans), of course, will be the judge of that."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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