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Two Fine Blue Collar Men Honor Friends and Help Fight Cancer

Tommy Shaw and Will Evankovich performed a special acoustic version of “Blue Collar Man” at the 9th annual T.J. Martell Foundation Nashville Gala event on February 27.

by Mike Mettler

photo by Rick Diamond / courtesy of Tommy Shaw

“Blue Collar Man” continues to give back to the people. At last night’s 9th annual T.J. Martell Foundation Nashville Honors Gala event at the Omni Hotel in Nashville, Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw and frequent Styx collaborator, guitarist/vocalist Will Evankovich, performed a touching acoustic version of Shaw’s “Blue Collar Man.” This song, as many of you know, is one of the pivotal tracks on Styx’s mega-multiplatinum 1978 album Pieces of Eight, and it remains one of the linchpins of the back half of every live Styx show. “Yesterday was truly unforgettable,” says Tommy of both the evening’s event and performance.

The T.J. Martell Foundation supports flagship hospitals in the United States and, to date, has raised over $270 million for leukemia, cancer, and AIDS research. Find out how you can get involved at http://www.tjmartell.org/.

The February 27 Gala event was once again hosted by Charles Esten, who plays Deacon Claybourne on CMT’s hit show Nashville (no spoilers here in case you haven’t yet caught up with Season 5), and the evening featured special appearances by the likes of George Strait, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, Kelsea Ballerini, and Frankie Ballard.

Continues Tommy, “The event honored several key members of the board for their contributions to the Foundation over the years, with personal tributes and acoustic performances by a select group who all brought their A game. And it was truly an honor to perform ‘Blue Collar Man’ with Will joining me as we celebrated Rod Essig’s Lifetime Achievement Award.” Essig, a well-known and quite popular music agent at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), has been a longtime loyal fixture at many Styx shows over the years. (He’s seated second from the left in the front row in the above photo.)

Tommy (whose hand is on Rod’s shoulder in the photo) adds that the honorable Megan Barry, the new Mayor of Nashville who’s standing in the back row in the above photo between George Strait (in, of course, the black hat) and Will Evankovich, has become a good friend. “She is a powerhouse, and she has a big political career ahead of her,” feels Tommy.

When the time came to perform “Blue Collar Man,” Tommy and Will made an on-the spot gametime decision. “We each went backstage during the awards looking for guitars to warm-up with, and we ended up working out a slightly different version of the song than we’d planned,” Tommy reports.

“It’s so much fun to perform acoustically with Will,” Tommy continues. “He’s such a versatile musician, and I can always count on him to hold down the fort — even if I wander off. Our hours onstage together with Shaw Blades and at last May’s acoustic performance with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra [CYO] in Cleveland gave us so many opportunities for spontaneity in songs like ‘Blue Collar Man.’ You are truly alive in those kinds of situations. They’re one of a kind, never to be repeated.”

Will agrees the night was special for him as well. “It was an honor to be asked to perform with Tommy Shaw last evening,” Will confirms. “There were a myriad of talented performers that made up a special night of raising money for the research of fighting cancer. One of the things I truly love about working with Tommy is that almost every version we do of this song in the acoustic format changes somewhat. It always has a unique improvisational element to it. That constantly keeps things fresh and inspired whenever we do it, and we really enjoyed last night’s rendition. Plus, it’s always a treat to see the audience singing along to the line, ‘gonna be a Blue Collar Man’ at the end of the song!” I’ve got the power, and I’ve got the will…

Styxologist aside: Speaking of power and of Will, we will be posting an exclusive in-depth interview with the esteemed Mr. Evankovich in the Styxworld News space fairly soon, so stay tuned!