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It's time for football!
We're at it again with the 2019 Styx NFL Pool.
Sign up starting today: http://bit.ly/STYXNFLPool2019
This year's prizes:
TOP 5 Slots will win prizes.
1st place: 2 tickets to a STYX show of choice in 2020 (with a mutually agreed upon date) AND a signed NFL Football by STYX OR a signed Guitar.
2nd place: Either a signed NFL football or a signed Guitar (whichever one 1st place didn’t choose)
3rd place: A signed The Mission Vinyl and a signed 5.1 The Mission Album
4th & 5th place: will receive a vintage signed Styx Poster
By Tommy Shaw
Photo by Jason Powell, taken backstage recently at Sweden Rock Festival, June 8, 2019 — Jimmy Johnson in the black t-shirt in the middle, leaning on the shoulder of Todd Sucherman, with Tommy Shaw aiming his guitar at the camera, James Young in the background, and Ricky Phillips in sunglasses
It is with profound sorrow that I am announcing my dear friend and right-hand man, guitar tech and inventor Jimmy Johnson, passed away in his hotel room in the early hours of the morning here today, July 24, 2019, on the Southern Coast of California. When he failed to show up for lobby call, fellow crewmembers contacted hotel management, broke into his room, and discovered him there.
Our love and deepest sympathy go out to his wife Susan and the rest of his family, who, like us, are just hearing what few details are available at this time.
Anyone who has seen STYX over the last couple of decades and seen my many guitar changes or caught a glimpse of my onstage guitar vaults — this was Jimmy Johnson’s domain. Always from his hand to mine. What you didn’t see were all of the electronics he also managed, from amplifiers, backup amps, effects, wireless transmitters/receivers, and an always-expanding collection of tools he never stopped collecting. He took great pride in being able to produce the proper tool for any situation that might arise, knowing how beneficial it would be for getting things back on track.
In the past few years, we had taken on nicknames for each other. I was Tommy Joe, and he was Jim Bob. On the rare occasions when there was some kind of guitar glitch, I could always count on Jim Bob to immediately hand me another one, recently strung and “Gorgomyted” (look up Gorgomyte — it’s Jimmy’s product, loved and used by the best players on earth).
And above it all, we were friends who always departed with a sincere “Love you!”
I knew he was planning on seeing his old friend and dear friend Neil Peart of Rush here yesterday. I hope he did.
I can’t believe he’s gone. So many miles, gigs, guitars, laughs, tears, inside jokes, and shared experiences. He takes that with him, as I’ll hold onto here. He’ll live in my heart for the rest of my days, and now the extremely talented heavenly band he’s running with will never need worry about anything technical again.
We will find a way to take the stage tonight in your honor, as I know you’d insist.
Rock on Jim Bob!
by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Come on in and see what’s happening: Styx’s biggest-selling album, The Grand Illusion, was released 42 years ago today by A&M Records on the cosmically cool stardate of July 7, 1977 — or, as it’s better known on the back of many a Styx t-shirt, 7/7/77.
Demo’ed at S.I.R. Rehearsal Studios and ultimately recorded at Paragon Recording Studios in Chicago in early 1977, The Grand Illusion was engineered by Barry Mraz and Rob Kingsland, but the overall production credit was given to the entire band in the liner notes as simply, “Produced by Styx.”
The Grand Illusion reached as high as No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, and it spawned two Top 30 singles — “Come Sail Away” reached #8, and “Fooling Yourself” reached #29. The album has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA for selling over 3 million copies (though GI has likely sold over 6 million copies to date, so we demand a re-certification!). The Grand Illusion was the first entry in the band’s groundbreaking string of releasing four multiplatinum albums in a row — a feat no other band had ever done before, BTW. The album’s iconic cover art by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse is modeled after Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s 1965 piece titled Le Blanc Seing, a.k.a. The Blank Check.
Styx played The Grand Illusion in its entirety when it was paired with Pieces of Eight on a 2010 tour that’s since been commemorated on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray. Its core songs remain as indelible fixtures in the band’s live set, which can also feature other sweet Illusion gems like “Miss America,” “Man in the Wilderness,” and “Castle Walls” during many a headlining show.
As noted, three of the album’s core songs appear in every show: 1) the title track, “The Grand Illusion,” which is either the first or second song performed just about every night and is sung with much aplomb and panache by keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan; 2) “Fooling Yourself,” which, if he’s in the house that night, will also feature original bassist Chuck Panozzo playing on the entire track and taking its brief but iconic bass break the moment guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw calls out, “Chuckie!”; and 3) “Come Sail Away,” which closes every main set with great cosmic bombast, and, at the song’s conclusion — if you’re lucky, and if the venue allows it — features cannons releasing lots and lots of confetti into and onto the audience from either side of the stage.
As easy as it is to sing along to it, “Fooling Yourself” is actually one of the most complex musical pieces the band has ever composed. Both its intro and outro are performed in 6/8 time, while the vocal sections are in 4/4. The synthesizer solo section is in 7/4 before returning to 4/4 for the final chorus. Two measures of 5/8 follow the brief intro recap with a return to 6/8 and another synthesizer solo before the fadeout. In fact, bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips cites “Fooling Yourself” as having always been his favorite composition by Styx: “People ask me, ‘What is it that gives Styx their sound?’ The way Tommy and JY play together has been a huge part of that sound, but it’s also the odd time signatures like you get in this song.”
Towards the end of the recording sessions for The Grand Illusion, an Oberheim 4 Voice analog synthesizer arrived in the studio to further enhance the proceedings. “Its rich sounds unleashed another dimension of textures no one had yet taken advantage of,” observes Tommy Shaw. Lawrence Gowan has since made sure to program that vintage Oberheim sound into his current touring rig so that he can call it up for whatever song that needs it.
Eagle-ear listeners will also note that vintage Oberheim sound quite deliberately lends a certain authentic weight to Styx’s most recent studio album, The Mission, which was released on June 16, 2017 on LP, CD, and digital-download formats via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe. Tommy confirms the sound of The Grand Illusion — along with that of 1978’s Pieces of Eight and Side 2 of 1975’s Equinox — was instrumental in that key Mission production/performance gear decision.
And now, in a Styxworld exclusive, all six bandmembers recount the impact The Grand Illusion has had over the years — and continues to have, night in and night out. The stage is set. . .
James “JY” Young (co-founding guitarist/vocalist): Dennis [DeYoung] is the one who gleaned the idea that it was our seventh record. I think the release date had originally been scheduled for 7/8/77, or something like that, and we went, “No, we want it on 7/7/77.” Just trying to stack the deck — not that we’re superstitious, or anything. (chuckles) So they changed the original release date to the 7th — which is fantastic! It has such a beautiful resonance and synergy.
Dennis wrote the lyrics, but as the man behind [the title track to 1974’s] “Man of Miracles” [which features lines like, “He was a man of miracles/Riding golden meteorites/Ruler of distant galaxies/Born of the Northern Lights”], I had suggested “Come Sail Away” become not a song just about a sailing ship, but that it should morph into a song about a starship, which was my idea. “Come Sail Away” was also lifted by the release of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the same year, so ’77 was the year for outer space.
We have the good fortune of The Grand Illusion continuing to be a resonant topic, and The Mission resonates with The Grand Illusion in a variety of ways. The theme of Tommy Shaw’s “Man in the Wilderness” intersects with “Radio Silence” — an individual against the forces of nature, wherever you happen to be. And there’s no greater wilderness than the absolute zero-temperature environment of outer space! (laughs)
Tommy Shaw (guitarist/vocalist): It’s 7/7 again — the date that changed everything! We made a record that sounds really good, and we worked really hard at trying to get it right. It wasn’t always romantic and sometimes we lost sleep over it, but what matters is how it turned out. It’s the creative process.
I run into people almost daily who tell me that “Man in the Wilderness” and “Fooling Yourself” are the songs that helped them get through high school. I like hearing that. And now, to look out in the crowd when we’re playing “Man in the Wilderness” and see people singing along who weren’t even born yet when it came out — that’s very satisfying.
Chuck Panozzo (co-founding bassist): The Grand Illusion was the right album at the right time. Why is it our best-selling album? It has the best songs. And it was a true collaboration.
Lawrence Gowan (keyboardist/vocalist): When we did The Grand Illusion-Pieces of Eight tour in 2010, we discovered what a cohesive composition that album is from beginning to end. Delving into the parts and playing the songs in the actual running order reignited my enthusiasm for that album as an album. I was a fan of it then, and I’m a fan of it now.
I should also mention that the album’s artwork has stood the test of time. It looks so engaging today. I love seeing that equestrian image mixed with the forest and the woman’s eyes whenever it gets projected onscreen behind us. It’s one of the great visual icons of rock history.
Ricky Phillips (bassist/vocalist): “Fooling Yourself” has always been my favorite composition by Styx. But being able to play “Castle Walls” is awesome too, because I come from a heavier place. I appreciate that it’s a great track — and it’s bass-heavy, on top of that.
The first time I heard [the song] “The Grand Illusion” was when I was with The Babys, when we were touring with Styx. It has that very clever, “Welcome back my friends/here we are tonight” vibe — it’s grand and pomp, with that bolero beat. So very cool.
Todd Sucherman (drummer): The Grand Illusion will always have a soft spot in my heart because it’s the first full Styx record I ever heard, or bought. My uncle Dennis happened to put that one on during one of our visits with him, shortly after that record came out.
My brother and I immediately went home and bought it, and we would play that record every day. It was the first record I ever bought from the band, and I continued to buy all of their records in succession after that. To me, that album was the genesis of me liking the band, really.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – All announced concerts for the 2019 season in Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion will be held in other locations or cancelled.
The change of venues is a result of structural concerns with the Portsmouth amphitheater’s roof. The City of Portsmouth will keep the venue closed for the entire year while installing a replacement for the roof discovered faulty in 2018.
Styx is rescheduled to Monday, June 24 in Chrysler Hall. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. All tickets purchased will be honored.
Celebrating the resonance of Styx’s last full-length studio album prior to The Mission, which was released on February 18, 2003.
by Mike Mettler
Cyclorama, Styx’s last full-length studio album of all-original material prior to the June 2017 release of The Mission, was released 16 years ago today on February 18, 2003 by Sanctuary/CMC International. The album was produced by Tommy Shaw, James Young, and Gary Loizzo, and it contains such enduring tracks like “One With Everything,” “Yes I Can,” “Killing the Thing That You Love,” “More Love for the Money,” and “Fields of the Brave.” Cyclorama (which also saw a wonderfully enveloping 5.1 surround-sound mix done by the late, great Loizzo for both the DVD-Audio and DualDisc formats, via the Silverline label) reached #127 on The Billboard 200 Albums chart.
In a Styxworld exclusive, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw recalls the unique location for recording some of the album’s vocal tracks, the initial and wisely discarded title for “One With Everything,” and the evergreen poignancy of “Genki Desu Ka.”
Tommy Shaw: Cyclorama was a fun record to make. It was a real “California experience” type of record. We recorded some of the vocals standing outside. That was in my home studio up in Beachwood Canyon in Los Angeles, where I lived for quite a few years before moving to Nashville. After we released the album, we went on a great tour with Journey and REO Speedwagon, and sold out arenas all across the country [from May to August 2003].
Lawrence [Gowan, keyboardist/vocalist] had been in the band for three years at that point, and it was our first album with him. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Glen [Burtnik, bassist/guitarist/vocalist] would be leaving that year around my birthday in September, and that was when [bassist/background vocalist] Ricky Phillips came into the picture. [Glen’s last show with the band was on September 14, 2003 at the Los Angeles County Fair, just three days after Tommy's birthday, and Ricky’s first gig as a member of Styx was October 24, 2003 at the Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi.]
I remember both Lawrence and me standing underneath a palm tree, getting this great vocal sound outside. It’s something we learned from [Damn Yankees producer/engineer] Ron Nevison, who had told us about recording Paul Rodgers outside singing the song “Bad Company.” So we tried it, and we loved it.
[Styxologist aside: In an interview conducted on June 9, 2014, Paul Rodgers told me about that very recording of the song “Bad Company,” where he was indeed standing outside Headley Grange in England while cutting the song live in November 1973: “When I came to do this vocal, I thought it would be nice to get some atmosphere. We were in an old mansion and we had a mobile unit outside — Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, actually. We stretched the mike leads waaaay across and into the fields out there. I waited until midnight and the full moon, and then I sang it. It was very atmospheric. To me, that’s what music is — creating a mood, and taking the listener to the place that you’re going.”
And when I spoke with Ron Nevison about “Bad Company” on June 28, 2016, he added, “It was up against the wall. It was a really cold night. If you listen to the song as it’s fading, you can hear him sing, ‘And the cold wind blows…’ And it did! We only did one vocal take. We tried it. It was a house where we had rooms. For me, on a vocal, you don’t want coloration. You don’t want a room to color it. You don’t want the room’s reverb; you have your own, you know? You want as dry a place as possible — and you can’t get drier than outside. As long as, you know, there are no trucks running past, or anything. (laughs) But it was pretty quiet out in the country there.”
History lesson duly concluded! We now return to the continuation of Tommy’s Cyclorama narrative...]
Tommy Shaw: We had a great time jamming on those songs. “One With Everything” was this amazing song that went through all sorts of changes. It had a different name at first — something crazy, like “My Beautiful Pompeii.” That was one of those songs where my wife Jeanne would come over and I’d say, “Listen to this song!” We’d start playing it and she’d go, “What the hell — ‘Pompeii’? WHAT???” (laughs heartily)
We realized at that point in our enthusiastic joy of creating this great piece of music that we hadn’t really thought about what we were singing! (laughs again) So there was a quick rewrite to “One With Everything” — which actually had a great deal of meaning. And now we play “One With Everything” every chance we get. It’s one of our favorite things, especially because of the great, progressive middle section in there.
“Yes I Can” was another one of those California-based songs. The imagery is the California scene.
And right up until we began incorporating songs from The Mission into our set, we used the song “Genki Desu Ka” as our walk-off music. “Genki Desu Ka” is Japanese — a very polite way of saying, “Do you feel good?”
And speaking of California, our friend Billy Bob Thornton makes an appearance [doing lead vocals on “Bourgeois Pig”], and Tenacious D is in there somewhere too! [Jack Black and Kyle Gass — a.k.a. Tenacious D — appear on the hidden track “The Chosen One,” which follows directly after “Genki Desu Ka.”]
Cyclorama also had this great Storm Thorgerson album cover, our final Storm album cover. He did Pieces of Eight (1978) as well. We were proud to be associated with him and his great, iconic album covers. [Thorgerson, who passed away on April 18, 2013, is perhaps best known for designing album covers and related artwork for the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin with partner Aubrey Powell in the British graphic design firm Hipgnosis.]
Cyclorama was kind of an experimental record, just to see where we were as a band after having reformed in 1999. We were stretching our legs in the studio, and there was a lot of growth and moving forward. That’s how I look at that album. Whenever I think of Cyclorama, it puts a smile on my face.