Rock Group STYX from left, Chuck Panozzo, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, Tommy Shaw, James “J.Y.” Young and Lawrence Gowan. Portrait shoot at Macon City Auditorium on Oct. 4, 2014, in Macon, Georgia. Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for STYX

I have a bucket list of interviews that I want to do, unfortunately some of those on my list are no longer with us which makes chats difficult, to say the least. Fortunately, some of those artists and bands are still around like this week’s offering: in the very early years of my stint as a music journalist I received an album (vinyl, of course) by a band by the name of Styx, that self-titled LP was the start of my fondness for this group. “Lady” became a regular part of the dances I put on at Warsaw Junior High School and was on the playlists for decades to come, while such albums as “Styx II,” “Crystal Ball,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Edge of the Century,” “Brave New World,” and more recently, “Cyclorama” and “The Mission” have become the staples of my collection. So when I learned that the band was not only releasing its 17th album (its first in four years), titled “Crash of the Crown,” but also doing interviews, I requested a chat with either of the two original members of the band: Chuck Panozzo or James Young. Not long after, I got a phone call on June 7th and the caller asked if this was Lucky Clark, to which I responded in the positive.

Young: This is James Young of the band Styx.

Q: James, thank you so much for this call.
Young: Oh, you’re welcome.

Q: This is definitely a “bucket list” moment for me.
Young: How about that.

Q: Well, I’ve been doing this since 1969.
Young: Wow! I guess you’re as old as me.

Q: I was born in ’49.
Young: I was born in ’49, as well.

Q: Oh, wow! I’ve got to ask, to what do you attribute Styx’s longevity?
Young: Well, I guess we’ve collectively done some great work and we’ve had a mid-western work ethic about trying to get out there and bringing it to the people. But somehow our songs have connected and the band has evolved as we’ve lost members and gone forward, then regathered members (chuckle). I guess it’s just that we love what we do and there’s a lot of talent spread around in the band. If a producer came in, he might have moved things in a different way, or she might have moved things in a different way. Dennis DeYoung obviously was a certain kind of writer, I’m a certain kind of writer, Tommy Shaw is a certain kind of writer, John Curulewski was a certain kind of writer, Glen Burtnik, who contributed here and there when he was briefly in, was a different kind of writer. I guess we’ve focused on writing great songs and do a great job of performing them, and then we’re not afraid to get out there and play live shows to promote the whole thing. Some people don’t like leaving the house (chuckle), some people would rather leave the house and go to the recording studio, so I can’t pinpoint it except to say that one of our secrets is the diversity in the writing. It’s not all five boneheads going in the same direction, it’s five different boneheads going in five different directions (laughter).

Q: Well, in my opinion the diversity on “Cyclorama” made it Styx’s “White Album.”
Young: Well, how about that!

Q: That album just blew me away, then you turn around, wait 17 years and release “The Mission” which lyrically and musically was on another level entirely. You know, since I’ve been doing this music-journalism gig, the one thing that has always grabbed my attention has been vocal harmonies.
Young: (Chuckle) That we’ve always had!

Q: Yeah, from the first album all the way through to this brand new one, “Crash of the Crown,” that trademark sound has been consistent. You know, sir, Styx has been so influential not only on my personal development as a critic but also on the rock world in general.
Young: Well, I was so profoundly influenced by people like Jimi Hendrix, who I had the privilege of seeing five times, and I saw Cream in their initial incarnation and Yes in their initial incarnation. I also saw quite a few of the Chicago blues greats before they lost it and went on to the great blues club in the beyond, and I remain friends with the families of Bo Diddly and Willie Dixon.

Q: There was a lot of diversity in your development, as well, and the melodic nature of your band as well as the power that you guys can generate is also a contributing factor in your success, I believe.
Young: Yeah, there’s a certain diversity in what we bring and that’s been helpful, I think, in our (longevity). Dennis was a little too melodic for me in some of his things but his sense of melody brought some great things to some of the other songs that also had power, and Tommy has great lyricism on a variety of levels. Those two guys are great singers and I probably sing louder than either one of them but together those three voices, and John Curulewski, when he was the third voice and falsetto. The harmonies on “Lady,” that’s Dennis and JY and JC, as we referred to him, and that was our first real Top 10 chart single.

Q: I’ve heard the title track of the new album and that dropped my chin to my chest and your lead vocals at the opening set the stage beautifully for the following two parts that feature Tommy and Lawrence {Gowan}. I can hardly wait to hear the whole album.
Young: Well, I’ve always been impressed by guys who could sing with the low voice ‘because it’s very powerful’ {spoken in a deeper voice with every word) (chuckle), I seem to have that ability, more so than the other guys. And “Snow Blind” {on their “Paradise Theater” album from 1981} was listed as being written by me and Dennis but really Tommy played a big role in the verses that he sang, he’s not credited for the lyrics in there, but the three voices just are different enough that when they come together there’s this tremendous power. We’re not all the same kind of singers…it’s very full and very strong.

Q: Well, after at least 14 months of not touring or performing live in concert, it must be great to be going back on the road again this summer.
Young: My favorite part of what our career has been has been the live performances, studio to me is a necessary evil, there are great things that can happen in the studio, but that’s like hard work (chuckle), but the crowd just kind of gets the whole thing going, as this stage of our career anyway. And God bless and rest John Panozzo’s soul {Chuck’s twin brother who passed in July of 1996}, but Todd Sucherman on the drums right now is like a Sherman tank driving forward, he’s a phenomenal, clever drummer and he’s got that youthful energy that hasn’t been fried yet (chuckle). So it’s just a tremendous joy to take the stage, it’s a celebration. To me, anytime you perform live music even without amplification it’s something that really can move people.

Q: I guess I could safely say that rock can keep you young, then right?
Young:
For me, I do regress when I take the stage, I can delude myself in that I’m still 27 years old even though the last time on stage I was 70 by then, and I had to take a nap during the day, sad but true (laughter).

Q: (Laughter) I know that feeling all too well, that’s for sure! Is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article, James?
Young: Well, I guess just in the big overview of my seven decades of life and the five decades of being in this band, we signed our first recording contract on Feb. 22, 1972, so this coming February, it’ll be 2/22/22: our 50th anniversary. But this music is the universal force that can inspire, it can calm, it can sooth, it can motivate and it can bring you to tears, it has the power to move you in so many ways, and for anyone who’s seen a Styx concert or enjoyed one of our songs, it’s humbling the reach that our music has achieved. We’re excited to still be doing what we do. (www.styxworld.com)

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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