An Interview with Dennis DeYoung of Styx
This Pop Stops feature interview was originally published in The Star Newspapers on May 29, 1997

STYX
Back in the Act with a Return to Paradise
and the Rosemont Horizon

Styx in 1997

It was 13 years ago that one of Chicago's most successful rock acts ever closed out a decade-long run of hit albums with a double live farewell, Caught In The Act. Now, in 1997, the band has opened a new "act" in its recording career — also with a double live album. Return to Paradise, released this month, documents the last show of Styx's 1996 reunion tour (recorded at Rosemont Horizon), as well as offers three new studio tracks. The band promises a full studio album to follow its summer tour, which stops at Rosemont Horizon on June 6.

The "rebirth" of Styx has also meant a new label home; after more than 20 years with A&M Records, Styx now calls CMC International Records home. The new label has given the veteran rock band strong backing.

"They've been first class all the way," says Styx ringmaster Dennis DeYoung. "They created fantastic art for the new album; it's beautiful. And there's going to be a live video of the Return to Paradise tour available in June. They've created TV commercials, run full page newspaper ads — they've been very supportive."

DeYoung says the band signed to CMC for two albums, and will begin working on a new studio album in the fall.

"They wanted us to do the studio album first, but we had this live project ready to go, so they agreed to release that first."

There simply wasn't enough time for the band to ready a new album this Spring, DeYoung explains. The writer of Styx's top 10 hits "Babe" and "Lady" produced the new live album in his home studio, and has been working on staging his musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in between attending to his reanimated Stygian activities over the past year. That musical is now set to open in Nashville on September 3, immediately following the band's 40-date tour.

That'll be a long trek for DeYoung's local fans to take to catch his latest musical endeavor.

"It's gonna get to Chicago," he promises. "With these things you need a chance to go to someplace quiet to work it all out. We were originally thinking of opening in St. Louis. But we're opening the show in Nashville because I wanted to work with the director who runs the Tennessee Repertory. We're doing the casting now."

Writing a musical was a natural extension for DeYoung, who spent a couple years of his "off time" from Styx playing Pontius Pilate in a touring company of Jesus Christ Superstar. He followed that long-standing performance with 10 On Broadway, a solo collection of Broadway musical cover songs. Certainly Styx has never been a stranger to "theatrical" tours. The 1983 tour for Kilroy Was Here opened with a 10-minute movie and found the band members playing "roles" throughout the concert. The 1996 Return to Paradise tour was a re-staging of the band's hit 1981 Paradise Theater tour which featured — as you might surmise — a theater.

This summer's tour celebrates, in part, the 20th anniversary of the release of Styx's seminal album, The Grand Illusion. "Come Sail Away," the grandiose anthem about pursuing one's dreams from that LP, defined '70s rock for many. DeYoung promises a proper homage this summer.

"As our Grand Illusion, we're going to try to make the Paradise Theater disappear," he says. "We should know in a week or so if it works! We've got an all-new show — with new sets and laser animation."

Last year the band restaged Paradise Theater, this year, The Grand Illusion...the natural question is, has Styx returned to life simply to exist as a nostalgia act?

"We need a new album," DeYoung laughs. "We'll work on that this fall. Our next tour will be an all-new concept."

If you need early proof of the continued creativity of the 1990s version of Styx, it can already be heard on the new studio tracks on Return to Paradise and Greatest Hits II. The latter disc, released last year, includes a Tommy Shaw rocker "Little Suzie" and a beautiful Glen Burtnik vocal ballad in "It Takes Love." (Burtnik filled in for Shaw on the band's Edge of The Century album in 1990.) The studio tracks on the new Return to Paradise album include DeYoung's "Paradise," a picture perfect adult contemporary single lifted from his Hunchback musical. It also has a hook-laden Shaw roadsong in "On My Way." The album concludes with one of the band's most poignant releases ever — "Dear John," about Styx founding drummer John Panozzo, who died last summer in the midst of the band's triumphant reunion tour. Panozzo had been unable to join the band on the road due to illness.

"Tommy and I worked together on that as a tribute to John, but it's basically Tommy's song," DeYoung notes.

One thing is guaranteed: if Styx plays "Dear John" live this summer, there won't be a dry eye in the house when Shaw sings "heaven help me/how I miss my friend."

For a long time it looked to fans as if Styx would never fully reunite and play together as a band again. DeYoung and Shaw each released three solo albums in the '80s. Then Shaw achieved chart-topping success with Damn Yankees. DeYoung and the rest of Styx reformed sans Shaw in 1990 for the Edge of the Century album, but despite two hit singles, and a fine singer-songwriter addition in guitarist Glen Burtnik, something was missing; the timing was off. DeYoung dropped plans to continue with the reformed Styx and went off to play Pontius Pilate and record a fourth solo album — 10 On Broadway for Atlantic Records. In the meantime, guitarist James Young put together the James Young Group and released a couple solo albums on a Chicago independent label. Finally, in the fall of 1995, Shaw, DeYoung, Young and John and Chuck Panozzo regrouped to re-record a version of "Lady" for an A&M Styx Greatest Hits set. The magic was still there, and it wasn't long before the most successful lineup of Styx was officially back together and working on the two brand new songs that turned up a few months later on Styx Greatest Hits II.

The full regrouped lineup was short-lived however, with the death of John Panozzo last summer. Local drummer Todd Sucherman stepped in to handle percussion on the Return to Paradise album.

So, more than a year into their reformation, how is the reformed Styx camp getting along after years of separate career paths and musical growth?

"Things have never been better," says DeYoung.

 


 

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