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Profile of '70s & '80s Arena Rock Band Styx

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Profile of '70s & '80s Arena Rock Band Styx Album Cover Image Courtesy of A&M

Formed:

Mid-1960s in suburban Chicago, Illinois as Tradewinds - and then TW4

Core '70s & '80s Band Members:

  • Dennis DeYoung (born February 18, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois) - Lead vocals, backing vocals, keyboards, primary songwriter
  • James Vincent "J.Y." Young (born November 14, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois) - Lead guitars, rhythm guitars, lead vocals, backing vocals, primary songwriter
  • Tommy Roland Shaw (born September 11, 1953 in Montgomery, Alabama) - Lead guitars, rhythm guitars, lead vocals, backing vocals, primary songwriter
  • Charles Salvatore "Chuck" Panozzo (born September 20, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois) - Bass guitar
  • John Anthony Panozzo (born September 20, 1948, died July 16, 1996 in Chicago, Illinois) - Drums, percussion

Early Years:

The roots of Styx stretch as far back as the early '60s, when twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo first hooked up with neighbor DeYoung in a teen garage rock outfit. By 1965, the group had changed its name to TW4 in an attempt to avoid confusion with another U.S. band. Soon to be college students at Chicago State University, the trio continued to play locally, eventually adding guitarists John Curulewski and Young in 1969 and 1970, respectively. A record deal with Wooden Nickel came along in 1972, and at that point the quintet had settled on the mythical name Styx and forged a Yes-inspired progressive rock sound.

Finding an AOR Niche:

The term album-oriented rock (also known, somewhat pejoratively, as AOR) came into its own at around the time Styx began to flirt with commercial success. In 1975, the guitar-heavy DeYoung love song "Lady," released initially on 1974's Styx II, became a bona fide hit. This success prompted the group to move in a more mainstream direction, toward arena rock, classic rock and occasional power ballads. Strong rockers "Lorelei" and the epic "Suite Madame Blue," both from 1975's A&M Records debut, Equinox, helped make an even bigger name for Styx. A bump in the road, however, came when Curulewski left late that year.

Shaw & the Classic Styx Lineup:

The slightly younger Shaw joined Styx quickly as Curulewski's replacement, and his injection of youth and songwriting prowess helped steer the band to year after year of successful studio releases. Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight made the band household names, as songs like "Come Sail Away," "Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)," "Renegade," and "Blue Collar Man" became FM radio classics instantly and permanently. With its last two albums bursting through the multi-platinum stratosphere, Styx returned to the studio in 1979 to record another eventual chartbuster. Still, band tension had ignited.

The '80s - A Fractious but Successful Start:

Styx released Cornerstone toward the end of 1979, and DeYoung's uncharacteristic but highly popular keyboard ballad "Babe" became both a blessing and a curse for a band trapped in an uncomfortable zone between pop and rock music. Despite the advantages of a No. 1 pop hit, Shaw and Young readily expressed their disillusion with the move away from hard rock guitars, and the rift that would eventually end the band's association with founding member and frequent lead vocalist DeYoung began to widen. Even so, music fans continued to hunger for Styx's platinum offerings, and commerce convinced the band to press on.

Ongoing Conflict in "Musical Direction":

Throughout even the late '70s halcyon days for Styx, Shaw and Young had always favored hard rock guitar over the theatrical, keyboard-laden approach championed by DeYoung. Even so, this clash came to a head rather spectacularly with the release of the band's last two original albums featuring this classic lineup. 1981's Paradise Theatre was a concept album and a huge hit, spawning hit singles "The Best of Times" and "Too Much Time on My Hands" as well as one of the group's fiercest rockers, "Snowblind." However, in comparison to 1983's Kilroy Was Here, that record was a truly multi-faceted portrait of Styx.

Robots - A Step Too Far?:

At the peak of the group's success, Shaw and Young had a hard time opposing DeYoung too much concerning his vision. After all, success spoke for itself, but when that voice turned robotic and dependent more on thespian pursuits than rock and roll, serious trouble surely loomed. DeYoung asserted Kilroy's theme and gobbled up all its hits, in the form of emblematic '80s classic "Mr. Roboto" and the rather toothless ballad, "Don't Let It End." As a result, the record became a swan song for classic Styx. The group would not record or perform together in any form again until 1990, sans Shaw.

'90s Reunion & Meltdown:

Unfortunately for Styx fans, the successful Return to Paradise tour, video and live album of 1997 was just a one-shot deal, as DeYoung would ultimately be forced out by 1999. That hasn't stopped the ongoing version of Styx, led by Shaw and Young, from touring and recording ever since. However, without the songwriting and lead vocal contributions of DeYoung, the band's output has become necessarily thinner in quality and variety. After all, as in many popular and successful rock bands, creative tension fueled the proceedings quite richly. Going forward, a full-tilt reunion continues to seem very unlikely.
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