Dueling versions of Styx make it a world for two
By THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Criticemail@example.com October 31, 2011 7:02PM
Tommy Shaw and Ricky Phillips of the current touring version of Styx perform in July at Ribfest in Naperville. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
◆ 8 p.m. Thursday
◆ Rialto Square Theatre, 15 E. Van Buren, Joliet
◆ Tickets, $35-$95
◆ (815) 726-6600;
◆ 8 p.m. Saturday
◆ Blue Chip Casino, 777 Blue Chip Dr., Michigan City, Ind.
◆ Tickets, $35-$45
◆ (800) 745-3000;
Updated: December 2, 2011 8:12AM
For a band that seems to argue and bicker a lot, the original members of Styx currently agree about one thing: No reunion — not now, not anytime soon, probably not ever.
“I don’t think [a reunion] is realistic,” Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw recently told Rolling Stone. “We tried it in 1996, and we realized what was true in 1983 was only more true in 1996. We’d just gone our separate ways. Rather than having a positive effect on each other, we have a very negative effect on each other.”
Former Styx singer Dennis DeYoung is less definite. In a recent interview with the Sun-Times, he answered the reunion question by reminding us he never meant to leave the band in the first place (in the ’80s). Or the second (in the ’90s).
“Of course, I’d like that, but a reunion decision has nothing to do with me,” DeYoung said. “It’s not within my power.”
In a separate interview, founding bassist Chuck Panozzo said he’s just happy to have some gigs. “A reunion? No clue,” he said. “We’re working through next year, that’s all I know, and that’s a good thing. We have a song that goes, ‘Never Say Never.’ ”
The tempestuous tale of this South Side-born classic rock band is well-known — and it made for possibly the most hilarious and entertaining episode of VH1’s docu-series “Behind the Music” in 2000.
Panozzo and his late brother John started jamming in 1961 with DeYoung, their accordion-playing Roseland neighbor. Several proms, weddings and incarnations later, they became Styx, recruited Shaw and began recording platinum albums of increasingly theatrical pop-rock. DeYoung’s flair for the dramatic went a synthesized bridge too far, and after “Mr. Roboto” (1983) — the butt of many jokes, but a successful one — the group splintered.
By 1990, Shaw had re-formed Styx as a studio band. DeYoung went full-force into theater, touring in a “Jesus Christ Superstar” revival and recording an album of Broadway tunes. DeYoung rejoined Styx in the mid-’90s, but when it came time to tour in 1999, DeYoung was sidelined by illness. The band hit the road without him, for the first time, and they’ve been separate entities ever since.
“Behind the Music” aired the following year. But DeYoung insists it does not present the real story.
“The narrative you’re speaking of began with that ‘Behind the Music’ in 2000, but prior to that there was no such narrative,” DeYoung said. “The decision to go ahead with that show — at the moment of a divorce — had nothing to do with me. That narrative is just flat not true. This is not Tommy vs. Dennis. It never was.”
DeYoung still sounds jilted from the experience, insisting, “The decision to move on without me was not mine.” And “no convincing on my part could change their mind.”
Panozzo fondly remembers the good old days of the band’s origins in his parents’ basement. “There was a moment with Dennis where we went, ‘What’s going on here?’ We realized early on this would work and maybe become our whole lives. When you realize you’re with guys who know what they’re doing, you don’t let that go.”
Ultimately, though, they let it go. “I don’t want to overanalyze it,” Panozzo said. “There were two camps about touring and not touring. I like to tour. Otherwise, you just sit at home waiting to tour. Dennis had issues about that. We had to make a decision to go on the road or not. The ones who wanted to go out did.”
Panozzo doesn’t tour regularly with Styx anymore because of health issues, but he does make occasional appearances. In 2001, Panozzo revealed that he’s gay and HIV-positive.
Fans now can choose which branch of Styx to see. This week in Chicago, both camps perform within two days of each other — the band Styx (featuring Shaw, fellow founding member James Young, DeYoung’s replacement Lawrence Gowan, bassist Ricky Phillips and drummer Todd Sucherman, plus an appearance by Panozzo) on Thursday in Joliet, and DeYoung performing his “Music of Styx” show (the billing he’s allowed to use after a naming-rights lawsuit 10 years ago) on Saturday in Michigan City, Ind.
Styx has toured continuously since the last split with DeYoung, and just this year released a two-disc set of re-recorded Styx songs, “Regeneration: Vol. 1 & 2.”
DeYoung produced his acclaimed stage musical of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in Chicago in 2008, and released his latest album, “One Hundred Years From Now,” the following year.
The DeYoung show of Styx material is both authentic and pretend. He re-creates Styx with the help of a Tommy Shaw impersonator, August Zadra, as well as DeYoung’s wife, Suzanne, on vocals, guitarist Jimmy Leahay, keyboardist John Blasucci, bassist Craig Carter and drummer Tom Sharpe.
“The last 10 years I didn’t do any of the [Styx] songs I had not written or sung. I didn’t feel right about it,” DeYoung said. “But a couple of years ago, my son called me in the middle of the night and said, ‘Go down to your computer.’ He pointed me to this video of this band called Grand Illusion, a Styx cover band doing all the Tommy Shaw songs, It was astonishing. I contacted the kid [Zadra], and he came out and auditioned. At that moment I knew in my heart that I could duplicate the sound of those records onstage. We’ve been doing this show together for about two years. August does the Tommy songs — ‘Renegade,’ ‘Too Much Time,’ ‘Fooling Yourself,’ ‘Crystal Ball’ and such — and I do mine, plus a couple from my solo career, like ‘Desert Moon.’
“It’s what Styx fans have wanted for 10 years. I mean, I know what Styx fans want. They want a reunion. That’s what they want. Short of that, this show is sonically as close as you can get at the moment.”