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.
Participants have until midnight on January 31 to join the world-class Styx drummer on an intense 26-week online course personally designed to hone, polish, and improve your skills behind the kit.
by Mike Mettler
photo courtesy Todd Sucherman
Styx drummer Todd Sucherman wants to work with you — yes, YOU — personally to take your rock drumming to the next level.
How can you do that? We’re glad you asked. Todd Sucherman’s Rock Drumming Masterclass is a 26-week online course that’s available via Drumeo, the well-respected home to online professional drum lessons. After you sign up here anytime between now and midnight on January 31, Todd will give you one new lesson each week, and you will always know what to practice and for exactly how long without any guesswork.
Among the skills you will master include being able to play anything in 4/4 time, create an arsenal of drum fills that will work in any rock setting, train your ear to hear patterns within the patterns in order to create musical motif ideas and hook fills to come up with your own musical language for soloing, and understand song forms and connect emotionally with musical and lyrical content to enable you to become part of the storytelling process. And that’s just for starters. “I’m going to guide you and push you to become the best rock drummer you could possibly be,” Todd promises.
Todd has structured the Masterclass in such a way to allow you to digest everything in enough time from week to week during this 6-month course to build upon the knowledge you’ll be gaining in real time. “Whether you aspire to play big arena shows or you just want to jam with your friends, this course gives you the keys to the kingdom,” pledges Todd.
The Masterclass is truly interactive as well, as you will be able to directly ask Todd any questions you have, step by step, to help with lesson clarity or get over any individual hurdles you may encounter along the way. Take it from your Styxologist, who’s observed a lot of drummers up close, in person, and backstage: Todd is one of the most personable, giving, thoughtful, and ready-to-share artists I’ve ever had the privilege to see in action both behind the kit and behind the scenes. Whether he’s playing complex time signatures behind massive, full-scale kits that show why he continues to win accolades from fans and drum professionals the world over year after year or improvising an entire set on a pizza box with drum brushes at a show when the power goes out, Todd Sucherman is a top-shelf, A-level drummer across the board.
The man’s mission statement is quite simple: “Drumming is the engine that propels a band’s music forward night after night,” Todd feels. “Music is truly a language. The rudiments are our alphabet, and we put everything together to form our sentences and paragraphs and tell stories. Playing the drums gives you an identity. Not only are you controlling the tempo, but also the energy and the dynamics. We drive the bus a lot more than most people would think. That’s our job.”
Todd’s invaluable firsthand experience playing with Styx since 1996 gives him a unique perspective on how music affects the fans. “I’ve been drumming in Styx for over 23 years now,” he clarifies, “and what I get to see night after night is what the music means to the audience members. When you walk out onstage, you see and feel the palpable energy of that audience. People have been waiting for months with their tickets in hand, and now the show is about to begin. It’s happening! It’s quite a heavy thing to experience.”
Find out what that energy feels like firsthand and how you can harness and build upon it yourself by signing up for Todd Sucherman’s Drumming Masterclass today!
Styx play The Mission in its entirety live for the first time in front of an audience, and put on one of the best shows of their entire career in the process.
Story & photo by Mike Mettler
After more than 10 intense days of private rehearsals and mini-suite tryouts in front of other audiences on the West Coast, Styx finally played the entirety of their triumphant 2017 concept album The Mission live for the first time to a rabidly enthusiastic sold-out crowd at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas on January 20. For 44 enthralling minutes of that evening’s complete opening set, Styx took everyone lucky enough to be in the room on a journey previously unseen and unheard to the nth degree, supplemented by each song’s Mars-centric visuals on the massive screen wall behind them and beyond-spectacular light show. To borrow a line from “Locomotive,” one of the album’s most key songs, “No one else on Earth has ever been so far.” In short, the debut of The Mission in full was a show for the ages — and, as many attendees said and felt once the evening’s 65-minute hits-driven second set concluded, it was without a doubt one of the best shows of Styx’s entire 47-year career.
With Mission producer and guitarist/background vocalist Will Evankovich onstage for the full album ride — not to mention co-founding bassist Chuck Panozzo making a few significant appearances along the way — the mighty men of Styx stormed through the record’s 14 interwoven songs with fire and determination. From the elegiac liftoff of the opening “Overture” to the talk-box roll of “Hundred Million Miles From Home” to the post-prog proto-metal thrust of “Red Storm” to the joyful tongue-twisting endgame of “Mission to Mars” — plus a newly added reprise I’m calling “The Afterture” — Styx put forth their most sacred Mission like true champions of the world.
Within a few minutes of Set 1 ending at exactly 9:00 p.m. Pacific time, The Mission’s chief architect, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, could hardly contain his excitement as we stood face to face in the dressing room hallway while the rest of the band came offstage, everyone smiling, laughing, hugging, and back-patting each other, along with enthusiastic exclamations of “Good job!” and “That was so good!” and “Those solos were f---ing awesome!” and even “Let’s do it again!” heard all around us. “Whew! The first one! It was exciting! That’s the most number of people I’ve ever seen singing along to The Mission,” Tommy noted while also sharing one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen on his face. “This show was kind of a test to see how we’d do with it, and it worked. I’m so used to listening to The Mission by myself in my car or at home and having these feelings after listening to it. To be able to see the audience having those same feelings after listening to it while seeing us doing it in front of them was really something special.”
And though no one is officially saying when or even if more Mission-in-full shows will be slated and/or announced, the band is quite aware of the #fomo factor felt by all the fans unable to attend this specific event-spectacular show. (#fomo stands for fear of missing out, for those who may not know what that particular hashtag means.) “To me, The Mission record is one for the ages, and that was no accident,” Tommy continued. “And I think we’ll stick with that, because it seems so appropriate for Styx. When we made the record, this was always a goal, to do this — to do it completely live like this. I’d like to do a few more of them, but we’ll see.” Tommy took a slight pause to exhale a loud, satisfied sigh before concluding, “Ahhh! I’m so happy!”
As Tommy headed to his dressing room to towel off and change shirts for the second set, just a few feet away, co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young was himself visibly beaming about what just went down onstage. “Whenever I see the crowd react like that, it gives me a little oomph,” he observed. “No one is out there critiquing the set like I do in real time, but I felt the performance was all there, and I didn’t make any high-volume mistakes. I really had a chance to step out front and let loose during ‘[Trouble at the] Big Show,’ and I also got to go way out front during ‘Red Storm,’ as did Tommy. And at the end of ‘The Outpost,’ I have the opportunity to do that Edge/U2 thing. It’s showbiz people — showbiz!!” he thundered with a broad smile and booming laugh.
I told JY that I liked the times where he’d bow his head and extend his right arm to point at keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, bassist Ricky Phillips, drummer Todd Sucherman, and Tommy during particularly “heroic” performance moments. “The lead singer I had in my band in the late ’60s would do that,” he revealed. “It might have even been something [The Rolling Stones lead singer Mick] Jagger did too; I don’t know. He picked it up somewhere, but when guys like Todd and Tommy do something extraordinary, I like to point it out: ‘Pay attention, mother----ers!’ We got such a great reaction out there during that whole set, so I guess we have another couple years left.”
Back in his room, I told Tommy “Red Storm” was my favorite live performance of the first set and how I felt that whenever the band was seen in shadow in front of the massive screen imagery behind them, it reminded me of some of the most iconic visual moments of Adrian Mabey’s legendary 1972 concert film, Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. He nodded in agreement, also concurring that “Red Storm” is “one of the heaviest things we ever did.” Agreed manager Charlie Brusco, “I had Pink Floyd dancing in my head during that set too. And this crowd — they knew the entire album. That’s why they bought the tickets.”
Tommy, clearly relieved at completing an indisputably successful Mission in Set 1, looked ahead to the next task at hand: “Now we get to do the jukebox set — the classic songs.” Charlie added, “Let’s give them a great second set! Now the crowd’s going to be even more excited!” And they sure were, especially those in it who were experiencing the full unbridled muscle of the modren, er, modern-man encore opener “Mr. Roboto” for the very first time before an elegiac ride through “Renegade” put the final stamp on such a marvelous night.
After the show was over, Tommy expressed his gratitude much like he did onstage: “We survived long enough as a band to make this record, and I’m so grateful to the crowd and the fans for sticking with us throughout this process. We’ve made some good records over our career, and this one is right up there with them.”
Without question, wherever The Mission takes both Styx and their loyal fans next, great things are sure to follow. See you there!
story & photo by Mike Mettler
Yep, it happened again.
Almost 2 years to the day after Styx played an improvised acoustic set in the dark at the Sunset Center in Carmel, California, the power went out in the same venue once again at 9:23 p.m. Pacific time last night, January 16, just a few minutes before the band was about to take the stage to commence their second set of the evening.
Instead, after a brief delay, Styx came out and played a 40-minute, created-on-the-spot, fully unplugged set — as in, a set with no microphones and no amplification, just the power of their voices and acoustic instruments to carry them. This truly unique, truly amazing set included “Pieces of Eight,” “Lights,” “Boat on the River,” “The Greater Good,” “Khedive,” “High Enough,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Girls With Guns,” “Come Sail Away,” and “Renegade,” the latter being a live debut of the special “down home” way the band harmonizes on a key portion of their usual set-closer in guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw’s dressing room before every show.
The signs for the blackout to come were already in place as treacherous weather had been plaguing much of California proper the past few days. In fact, the power went out for almost 5 minutes in the Sunset Center during soundcheck earlier yesterday afternoon around 4:31 p.m., smack dab in the middle of a run-through of “Locomotive,” a key track from The Mission (which the band is rehearsing in advance of the album’s debut played-in-full performance in Las Vegas at The Pearl at The Palms on January 20). With only some lighting effects aglow behind him and the rest of the band onstage, Tommy joked, “You just ruined our gag for the show!”
The band even made a few references to the previous blackout gig of January 18, 2017 during the first set itself. “We actually have electricity tonight!” Tommy said on more than one occasion — well, he was right about that point for the first full hour of the gig, anyway. . .
But as soon as the lights went out for real last night, it was all hands on deck backstage, as both band and venue representatives immediately checked with the local authorities to see if the power would be coming back anytime soon (it still hasn’t, as of this posting) and that the safety of everyone in the building was accounted for above everything else. (Unfortunately, drum tech Paul Carrizzo was stuck on the elevator between the stage floor and the dressing-room floor for about 45 minutes before the fire department could get him out, but he was absolutely a-ok when I spoke with him in person after the show outside, standing next to the band and crew buses during loadout.)
Once it was determined that there were no imminent fire hazards and that the safest option was to keep the audience in the building all together rather than sending anyone outside to fumble around in the pitch darkness, band and crew huddled to figure out what could be played. The phrase “haven’t we been here before” ran through my mind as Tommy and keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan stood face-to-face in the dimly lit area between the elevator bank and the stage itself (lit by the backup-generated safety lights, that is). “I could even take a stab at ‘Mr. Roboto’!” Gowan offered at one point, with a certain gleam in his eye. (Ahh, if only. . .!)
The rest of the band — co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, bassist Ricky Phillips, and drummer Todd Sucherman, in addition to special guest guitarist/vocalist Will Evankovich — soon sidled up to Tommy and Lawrence to see what could realistically be done on such short notice. Production manager Brian Wong grabbed a blank piece of paper and a Sharpie and said, “Okay, what are we doing?”
A number of song ideas were thrown around before the bulk of the above-noted set was locked in, and bodies quickly scampered down two flights of stairs for a brief vocal warm-up on the harmonies of “High Enough” in the dressing room, centered around Lawrence at the piano in the room. (He would soon play on a black piano that was already onstage, different from the mini spinner he played during the 2017 blackout.) Meanwhile, Todd found the perfect surface to use his drum brushes on — namely, a mostly full pizza box from local eatery Mountain Mike’s. (Once the set wrapped up, Todd opened the box and offered the remaining slices to the crowd down in the front row.)
After the truly magical set finished, Styx went downstairs to towel off and change, and they were in a combined state of excitement, relief, wonder, and bemusement. “It’s unbelievable! Can you imagine the Vegas odds on this happening again?” noted Ricky. I asked Tommy how he felt, and he grinned and said, “How cool was that? It was fun! And how about ‘The Greater Good’? Man, that was f---ing great!” When I then observed that “Girls With Guns” wasn’t initially planned for as far as I could recall, he added, “I wouldn’t have done that if they hadn’t asked for it!” JY chimed in, “I think my booming voice always comes in handy in moments like these,” followed by a hearty chuckle. For his part, Will (who has, in fact, played acoustic versions of songs like “High Enough,” “Renegade,” and “Girls With Guns” with Tommy before) observed, “I’m just happy my hands remembered the chords! It was like MTV Unplugged out there, if anybody even remembers that show. . .” (We do indeed, but thiswas a truly unplugged set from top to bottom!)
So, if there’s one clear takeaway from this once-in-a-lifetime show (or is that technically twice-in-a-lifetime?), it must be this: Neither rain nor sleet nor radio silence-slash-no power will stop Styx from doing what they do best. Stay tuned to see what live hurdles they vanquish next.
Songs from The Mission make their unannounced live debuts with help from featured guest Will Evankovich in the band’s beyond-exhilarating first live show of 2019.
Story & photo by Mike Mettler
Styx kicked off 2019 in fine fashion during the first of two nights on the rotating stage at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona on January 11 by debuting a pack of song from their triumphant 2017 studio release The Mission with a special, surprise guest — guitarist/background vocalist Will Evankovich — joining them onstage for a key portion of the second set of the evening.
Evankovich, who also produced The Mission, played on five songs culled from the album over the course of 17 minutes in Set 2 (some of which were being played live in front of an audience for the first time ever): “Time May Bend,” “Ten Thousand Ways,” “Red Storm,” “Khedive,” and “The Outpost.” (Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw handled the space-lock vocal duties for “All Systems Stable,” the super-brief transitionary piece between “Red Storm” and “Khedive,” by himself.) “Red Storm” was most especially thrilling, as Evankovich played mandolin during the first half of the song and then switched to electric guitar for the “heavy prog” section that’s fueled by drummer Todd Sucherman, not to mention his joining the four-man guitar army — which also included Shaw, co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, and bassist/vocalist Ricky Phillips playing a sea-foam green guitar — during the showcase piece for keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan, “Khedive.” (“Onward, soldiers” indeed!)
“How did it feel? It felt right,” Tommy Shaw told me backstage just a few minutes after the show came to a close right before 11 p.m. Mountain time. “And it made perfect sense having Will join us onstage tonight, because he was there every step of the way for the making of The Mission. Everyone in the band agreed we needed him there with us tonight, so I’m really happy we made that decision. There was so much energy out there coming back to us, and the fans seemed to love it too!”
For his part, Evankovich was both honored and humbled by his virgin experience as a featured performer with Styx. “These guys are my heroes. Not only was it an honor to make this record with them, but to be able to be a part of it myself by sharing the stage with all the talent that worked on it was really something special,” Will told me in his dressing room a few minutes after coming offstage as the band soldiered on upstairs with “Suite Madame Blue” to carry them into the home-stretch of the evening. “What words would I use to describe the whole experience? Exhilarating, musical, and accepting. These guys are like family to me, so it’s been a dream come true.”
Evankovich was originally on hand in Phoenix to partake in two full days of the meticulous, detail-oriented Mission rehearsals in preparation for the full album’s live debut at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas on January 20. To their credit, Styx recognized early on in the proceedings that they needed Will in tow for more than just these rehearsals to keep the Mission-prep momentum going. And but a mere 4 hours before Friday evening’s show itself, the band collectively decided which Mission songs would be swapped out with other, more vintage tracks initially slated for Set 2 in order to, as Tommy likes to put it, “get the stank off of them.” (To see the complete play-by-play of exactly how that decision process went down in real time, you can read this coming Monday’s Styxology post if you’re a member of the Styx Lounge. If you haven’t joined us yet, you can do so here.)
What will Styx and Evankovich pull out of their collective hats next? Well, there may still be a few tickets left for the second show slated for tonight, January 12, at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, and choice live Mission selections could surface during the remainder of this January run leading up to Vegas — see our TOUR page for a link to find out what might be available for all of these upcoming gigs — and possibly beyond, but who knows? Regardless of what Styx choose to do next on the live stage, one thing’s for sure: The Mission has entered its next phase in the most exciting way possible. Come on out and see what’s happening for yourself, won’t you?
We're excited to announce a collection of 2 LIMITED EDTION custom vintage STYX t-shirts available for a limited time only.
An EXTREMELY LIMITED QUANTITY of these shirts will be available on Friday January 11th at 10 AM EST until quantities are gone.
*Shirts will be available for sale on Friday January 11 at 10AM EST
**Available only while supplies last
Join us in our celebration of Equinox, which was released 43 years ago today on December 1, 1975.
by Mike Mettler
Sweet, sweet sounds fill the air: Please join us in our celebration of Equinox, which was released 43 years ago today on December 1, 1975. Equinox was Styx’s first album on A&M Records, after releasing their first four LPs on Wooden Nickel/RCA. Right out of the gate, Equinox's lead track, “Light Up,” fused the band’s best instincts for how to blend harmonies, keyboard hooks, and power chords together to memorable effect, resulting in a song that continues to grace many of Styx’s live set lists today. Two other hard-driving singalong Equinox songs, “Lorelei” and “Suite Madame Blue,” are also in regular live rotation.
“Equinox really was the start of some great records for A&M,” says Styx co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young. “We had an evolved sense of who we were, and what we could accomplish. And our goals were then set that much higher. In the context of Styx, I think it all came together on that record.”
Says guitarist/lead vocalist Tommy Shaw (who had joined Styx only a few weeks after Equinox was released, replacing original Styx member John “JC” Curulewski), “The first time I ever heard anything from Equinox was at my audition for the band, in Chicago,” he recalls. “And the first thing I heard was JY singing ‘Midnight Ride,’ which just blew me away.” (Say, wouldn’t it be great to hear “Midnight Ride” in some future Styx sets? How about it, JY. . .?)
Equinox ultimately reached #58 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in 1976, and has since been certified at Gold status, or 500,000 copies sold. (We here in Styxworld are more than sure Equinoxhas loooong since gone platinum — so we hereby decree/demand on official recount, o hallowed members of the RIAA!) The album’s only single, “Lorelei,” reached #36 in the U.S. and #6 in Canada in 1976.
JY adds that, after having done 1974’s Man of Miracles at Golden Voice Studios in South Pekin, Illinois on a budget, recording Equinox at Paragon Studios in Chicago with producer Barry Mraz at the controls was clear evidence that things had very much changed for Styx. “We went in there with tremendous confidence of our own validity, and I think the album sounds like it,” JY reports. “For one thing, it was the first time I played a Marshall amplifier, ever, in the studio. I always wanted to sound like The Who, and that’s the album to me that really sounds like The Who. ‘Lorelei’ — you can totally hear The Who there. ‘Light Up’ — Dennis DeYoung gets the credit [JY hums the song’s signature keyboard-and-guitar intro], but adding the power chords between the phrases is something Townshend trademarked. Thank you, Pete! We happily lifted that.”
Coming on the heels of the aforementioned Man of Miracles, Equinox really set the template for where Styx was going next. “Man of Miracles is raw Styx,” observes Tommy. “I’d listened to that stuff and I knew it was raw, and rocking, and melodic. But Equinox was refined. Styx had just evolved. From writing to performing to making records — everything just really fell into place on that record. ‘Lonely Child’ and ‘Mother Dear,’ ‘Prelude 12’ and ‘Suite Madame Blue’ — it was all just very daring, and you didn’t know what was coming next, from ‘Midnight Ride’ to ‘Suite Madame Blue.’ There weren’t that many songs on the record [eight, in total], but they were all big songs.”
The album’s cover art was also very important in making a statement about Styx’s ongoing evolution. “On the cover, you see the cube in the fire, and I really, really liked it because it was transitional,” notes original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo. “And equinox can also mean the change between seasons, which I like too. Equinox left me with a good feeling about where we were going as a band. We, as musicians, were becoming extremely professional about what we were doing. It was one of those life-changing events. You could feel it, even if you didn’t know exactly what was coming.” >span class="eop">
Canada actually embraced Equinox earlier than the U.S. did, a phenomenon that was not lost on keyboardist/vocalist and longtime Canadian resident Lawrence Gowan. “Well, ‘Lorelei’ was on Canadian radio, and that’s where I first became aware of the band,” confirms Gowan, who joined Styx in 1999. “In Ontario, we didn’t have ‘Suite Madame Blue’ — we had ‘Lorelei.’ And when I heard it, I remember going, ‘Oh, what band is this?’ — because I thought they were British. I was into anything that had synthesizer on it from that era and I had just started learning the name of synthesizers then. So about ‘Lorelei,’ I’d go, ‘That sounds like an ARP 2500 that was on The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley.’
“When ‘Lorelei’ came on the radio, I really liked it right off the bat. I thought, ‘Hmmm!’ And when I found out they were American, I thought, ‘That’s the first progressive rock band not from the U.K. to suddenly be noticed.’ And,” Gowan adds with his signature chuckle, “I had a feeling that I better learn these songs, because you never know.”
You never know indeed. And now, during many an exciting Styx live gig, you can hear Mr. Gowan take full charge of “Suite Madame Blue” as he moves from behind his keyboard to the top of the elevated stage perch positioned up behind drummer Todd Sucherman, with full, rich harmonies in tow by all other singing Styx members including bassist Ricky Phillips. So light up, everybody, and bask in the that eternal ice-fire glow that Equinox provides upon every listen.
STYX AND LARRY THE CABLE GUY
SET TO ROCK AND GIT-R-DONE WITH SEVEN UNFORGETTABLE SHOWS
“LAUGH. ROCK. SERIOUSLY.”
STARTING MARCH 21 IN FARGO, ND;
MAP OUT FIRST BATCH OF HEADLINING SHOWS FOR 2019
STARTING JANUARY 11 IN PHOENIX, AZ
November 26, 2018 -- Legendary Platinum rockers STYX and comedy legend Larry the Cable Guy are joining forces for the first time ever to rock and GIT-R-DONE. They’re coming together for seven unforgettable nights of hits and jokes billed as “Laugh. Rock. Seriously.” starting March 21 in Fargo, ND at the Scheels Arena. The short trek will bring them to Minot, ND on March 22, Billings, MT on March 23, Lincoln, NE on March 27, Sioux City, IA on March 28, Cedar Rapids, IA on March 29, and Champaign, IL on March 30. Tickets for the shows go on sale Friday, November 30 at 10am local time at Styxworld.com.
Check out the official trailer for the “Laugh. Rock. Seriously.” shows:
“We first ran into Larry the Cable Guy at a convenience store in Sarasota, Florida many moons ago,” says STYX guitarist//singer Tommy Shaw. “Now we are pairing up for a fun night of music and comedy, something we could all use a big dose of! I’m ready! Are you? Let’s do this!!!”
Larry the Cable Guy, on the other hand, has a hidden agenda as to why he is performing the shows. As he explains, “Ever since I ran into Tommy at a convenience store in Florida, I’ve always wanted to work some shows with the iconic band STYX. Not only because their music has been a soundtrack to my life, but also to try and get back the 18 bucks I loaned him for honeybuns and coffee from that day in Florida.”
In addition to these shows, STYX is already starting to map out their on-going headlining tour in support of their critically acclaimed 16th album, THE MISSION, which was released June 16, 2017 on the band’s label, Alpha Dog 2T/UMe. At a very special tour stop, STYX will be performing THE MISSION, which critics have called “a masterpiece” in its entirety for the first time ever on Sunday, January 20 at The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort as part of a two-act concert event. The second act will feature all of STYX’s classic hits.
Tickets are $49.95, $69.95, $79.95 and $129.95, plus applicable fees, which are on sale now. Doors open at 7pm, the show starts at 8pm, and guests under 21 must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets can be purchased at the Pearl Concert Theater box office, any Station Casinos Rewards Center or online at Ticketmaster.com. For more information, please visit www.stationcasinoslive.com or www.palms.com.
Check out STYX at the following tour stops, including the shows with Larry the Cable Guy, with more dates to be added to Styxworld.com in the coming months:
Fri 1/11 Phoenix, AZ Celebrity Theatre
Sat 1/12 Phoenix, AZ Celebrity Theatre
Sun 1/13 Santa Clarita, CA Santa Clarita PAC at College of the Canyons
Tue 1/15 Bakersfield, CA Fox Theater
Fri 1/18 Anaheim, CA City National Grove of Anaheim
Sat 1/19 Beverly Hills, CA Saban Theatre
Sun 1/20 Las Vegas, NV The Pearl
Fri 2/8 Milwaukee, WI UW Milwaukee Panther Arena
Sat 2/9 Waukegan, IL Genesee Theatre
Tue 2/12 Joliet, IL Rialto Square Theatre
Sat 2/16 Lake Charles, LA Golden Nugget Casino
Wed 3/6 Plant City, FL Florida Strawberry Festival
Thu 3/21 Fargo, ND Scheels Arena (w/ Larry The Cable Guy)
Fri 3/22 Minot, ND All Seasons Arena (w/ Larry The Cable Guy)
Sat 3/23 Billings, MT Rimrock Auto Arena at Metrapark (w/ Larry The Cable Guy)
Sun 3/24 Cheyenne, WY Cheyenne Civic Center
Wed 3/27 Lincoln, NE Pinnacle Bank Arena (w/ Larry The Cable Guy)
Thu 3/28 Sioux City, IA Tyson Event Center (w/ Larry The Cable Guy)
Fri 3/29 Cedar Rapids, IA US Cellular Center (w/ Larry The Cable Guy)
Sat 3/30 Champaign, IL State Farm Center (w/ Larry The Cable Guy)
by Mike Mettler
One With Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, was released by NewDoor/UMe 12 years ago today on November 14, 2006. It also shares a birthday with the Godfather of Styx, co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, who was born on November 14, 1949. Happy birthday, JY!
One With Everything emerged from the magical show Styx played with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on May 25, 2006. From the opening rush of “Blue Collar Man” to the majesty of the JY-led cover of Willie Dixon’s “It Don't Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace)” to keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan’s ever-haunting “A Criminal Mind” to the uplifting all-in “Renegade” finale, One With Everything has, well, just about everything a Styx fan could want. In addition to semi-regular airings on PBS affiliates and AXS TV, this concert event is also available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Orchestral highlights include violinist extraordinaire Lavinia Pavlish joyously trading licks with JY on “It Don’t Make Sense” — “Give Lavinia some love!” guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw exclaimed at the song’s conclusion — as well as cello co-principals David Ellis and Eric Tannenbaum dueling quite furiously together during the intro to “Fooling Yourself.”
Back in May 2016, Lavinia recalled for me how it felt playing “It Don’t Make Sense” onstage with Styx. “That song is so amazing. Some of their songs are so beautiful,” she noted with a smile. “Oh man — that was the highlight of my 17-year-old self! The solo was a written part, but JY is such an awesome musical communicator. He made me look good. It was all him!” the ever-humble Lavinia added with a chuckle.
This amazing event came about due to the sheer will of CYO conductor Liza Grossman, who has since become Styx’s official go-to conductor any time the band performs with an orchestra. Liza was at the podium when Styx did a pair of shows at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville in February 2015 and at the beautiful outdoor Ascend Ampitheatre on May 21, 2016 with the Nashville Symphony. Liza also helmed Tommy Shaw’s solo turn with the CYO at the Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University on May 27, 2016 (which is now available as Sing for the Day! on CD and Blu-ray), and she most recently conducted Styx and the world-class Colorado Symphony at the historic Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado on August 29, 2016, an evening both Liza and Styx feel were career highlights. (Your Styxologist was there, and I very much concur with that assessment.)
“She just shined,” Tommy recalls about rehearsing and playing with Liza and the CYO in 2006. “She was a rock star from the way she took the stage and presented herself, and the respect she got from her kids. It was just a treat working with her. It was clear from the beginning that she was an engaging and enthusiastic person, and that the Contemporary Youth Orchestra was her creation, her idea, and her dream. She put it all together. We just love her, and we’ve continued to support the Contemporary Youth Orchestra because it’s such an awesome thing.”
Liza herself looks back on One With Everything with much personal and professional joy. “I still get, to this day, emails from fans who love that DVD and love that show, and they ask me about specific players in that orchestra: ‘Where are they now? What is she doing? What is he doing?’” she recounts. “I’ve been showing One With Everything to the musicians who are in CYO now. The youngest members of the orchestra were babies between the ages of 3 and 8 when we first did this, so they haven’t seen it. I think it’s important that they understand it and see there’s a history to it. It gives them a chance to see how relationships can develop with musicians who are already at a certain level in their careers. I think it’s going to be really effective for them. Since then, the orchestra has evolved immensely, and hopefully, I have as an educator and a conductor as well. I certainly know the band has evolved as musicians.”
by Mike Mettler
Cornerstone, Styx’s ninth studio album, was released 39 years ago today by A&M Records on October 19, 1979. It was the band’s third triple-platinum-selling album in a row (cementing them as the first band ever to have achieved that vaunted sales feat, with another one to follow), and it spawned their first #1 single, “Babe.” The intimate, Dennis DeYoung-penned ballad reached the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for 2 weeks in December 1979 (specifically, on the charts dated December 8 and December 15). The album itself peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart.
Cornerstone contains a number of key tracks in the Styx oeuvre. For example, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw’s mandolin-driven “Boat on the River” is, in fact, the band’s biggest hit internationally, having topped the charts in Switzerland and reaching the Top 5 in countries like Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. It’s also the band’s most-covered song, with many of those covers having been done in languages other than English. “It still amazes me how much impact that song has had on people over the years, and how far and wide it has reached all over the globe,” Tommy admits.
For “Boat on the River,” original bassist Chuck Panozzo tried something new by playing a bowed, stand-up double bass. “It was something I hadn’t done before in the studio,” Chuck recounts. “Some people were skeptical about it, but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying it. I thought it was the right thing to do for the song, and I think it worked out perfectly.”
The album’s vibrant lead track, Tommy’s ever-uplifting “Lights,” has become a staple in the back half of the band’s current extended live set, and it was a standing favorite for Gary Loizzo, the band’s late, longtime live engineer and studio co-producer who passed away in January 2016. Live, “Lights” features an original percussion intro written and performed by drummer Todd Sucherman, Shaw on acoustic guitar throughout the entire song, and co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young replicating the Ed Tossing-arranged middle horn section from the studio version on his electric guitar.
Cornerstone was recorded at Loizzo’s own Pumpkin Studios in Oak Lawn, Illinois. “For me, Cornerstone was one of those albums that went together very well,” Loizzo told me in 2015. “I was very hard on Johnny [John Panozzo, Styx’s original drummer, who passed away in 1996] because I made him play nothing but foot, snare, and kick on a couple of tracks, and then he’d have to go and overdub toms and other stuff. Sometimes, the sound itself isn’t the most important thing — you’ve also gotta get the feel.”
The album was named by JY, as they often are. (He also named Man of Miracles and Equinox.) Cornerstone’s stunning artwork, which features a barn-door opening down the middle of the back cover that opens up to printed lyrics on both interior half-sides and a shiny, futuristic silver LP sleeve, was designed by Mick Haggerty. (Unfortunately, some of the latter-day LP reissues don’t include the barn door.)
While most of the attention given to Cornerstone continues to shine on Side 1, lyrics from key Side 2 tracks like Tommy’s album-closer, “Love in the Midnight,” have occasionally been sung by its author before launching into other songs acoustically onstage. The hard-charging “Borrowed Time” (the album’s second single, which reached #64) has been discussed only in passing as a song that might be revisited live someday, and when I once suggested to JY that I’d love to hear “Eddie” played live, he replied, “You might have to wait on that. But I’d keep it in the original key.” (I’m still waiting, JY. . .)
Cornerstone remains a strong pillar in Styx’s recorded legacy, and it’s an album worth revisiting via its finely remastered vinyl form. And all roads lead to tranquility base. . .
to Perform Special Two-Act Concert Featuring THE MISSION in its Entirety and a Set of The Classic Hits at The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort
Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 at 8 p.m.
Tickets on sale – Friday, Oct. 12 at 10 a.m.
LAS VEGAS – Oct. 8, 2018 – Legendary rock band STYX—Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), James “JY” Young (co-founder, vocals, guitars), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards), Todd Sucherman (drums) and Ricky Phillips (bass), along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo—return to the Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 at 8 p.m. where they will perform two sets in one night. Tickets start at $49.95 plus applicable fees and go on sale Friday, Oct. 12 at 10 a.m.
After 14 years, STYX’s sonically sweet 16th studio album and its most ambitious, most challenging, and most rewarding album to date, THE MISSION, was finally released June 16, 2017 on the band’s label, Alpha Dog 2T/UMe. Now, for the first time ever, STYX will perform the album that critics have called “a masterpiece” in its entirety for the first time as part of a two-act concert event. The second act will feature all of STYX’s classic hits.
“The idea of performing THE MISSION live in its entirety for you is something we’ve envisioned ever since we recorded it,” says guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw. “That time is here! We’ve set the date! And we can’t wait to get our hands on the wheel of that rocket-mobile!”
THE MISSION debuted on various Billboard charts, including: No. 6 Top Rock Albums, No. 11 Physical Albums, No. 11 Vinyl Albums, No. 13 Current Albums, No. 14 Billboard Top Albums, No. 16 Retail, No. 17 Mass Merch/Non-Traditional, No. 29 Digital Albums, and No. 45 Billboard 200 (includes catalog and streaming). A special two-disc reissue of THE MISSION was released on July 27, 2018 via Alpha Dog 2T/UMe, which includes a CD of the original album, as well as a Blu-ray of THE MISSION mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound by singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw and producer Will Evankovich accompanied by stunning visualizations for each of the album’s 14 songs based on the album artwork. Other extras on the Blu-ray include: “The Making of The Mission Documentary” of exclusive interviews of SHAW and Evankovich, four music videos—“Gone Gone Gone” (official video), “Gone Gone Gone” (video created by NASA), “Radio Silence” (lyric video) and “Radio Silence” (live video from Syracuse, NY)—and three hi-res audio playback modes.
The six men comprising STYX have committed to rocking the Paradise together with audiences far and wide by averaging more than 100 shows a year every year since (yes) 1999, and each one of them is committed to making the next show better than the last. Founded in Chicago in 1972, STYX has the unique distinction of being the first band in rock history to have four consecutive certified multimillion-selling albums in a row: 1977’s The Grand Illusion, 1978’s Pieces of Eight, 1979’s Cornerstone, and 1981’s Paradise Theatre.
STYX draws from over four decades of barn burning chart hits, joyous singalongs, and hard-driving deep cuts. Like a symphony that builds to a satisfying crescendo, a STYX set covers a wide range of stylistic cornerstones. From the progressively sweeping splendor that is “The Grand Illusion” to the hunker-down fortitude of all that is the “Blue Collar Man,” from the majestic spiritual love for a special “Lady” to the poignant rumination on the fleeting nature of fame in “Miss America,” from an individual yearning for true connection as a “Man in the Wilderness” to a soul-deep quest to achieve what’s at the heart of one’s personal vision in “Crystal Ball,” from the regal reach-for-the-stars bravado of “Come Sail Away” to the grainy all-in gallop of that rugged “Renegade” who had it made, STYX draws on an unlimited cache of ways to immerse one’s mind and body in their signature sound.
Tickets for STYX are $49.95, $69.95, $79.95 and $129.95, plus applicable fees and go on sale Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 at 10 a.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. and guests under 21 must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets can be purchased at the Pearl Concert Theater box office, any Station Casinos Rewards Center or online at Ticketmaster.com. For more information, please visit www.stationcasinoslive.comor www.palms.com. For exclusive ticket pre-sale information connect with Palms Casino Resort and the Pearl on Twitter @Palms and @PearlatPalms, Instagram @Palms and Facebook.
by Mike Mettler
Crystal Ball, Styx’s sixth studio album and the first to feature Tommy Shaw on guitar and vocals, was released 42 years ago today on October 1, 1976. Recorded at Paragon Studios in Chicago and produced by Styx with assistance from Barry Mraz, Crystal Ball reached #66 on the Pop Albums chart, and “Mademoiselle” (with lead vocals from Shaw) reached #36 on the Pop Singles chart. Crystal Ball has been certified as Gold by the RIAA (with sales of over 500,000), but considering how long ago that certification was done (i.e., in the pre-CD era!), it’s much more than likely to be well over the million-selling mark at this point (and perhaps even over 2 million, for that matter).
“We knew right away Tommy was a superstar,” says original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo. “His songwriting, playing, and singing on Crystal Ball immediately elevated the band. And,” Chuck adds with a laugh, “he’s a pretty decent-looking guy too.”
Shaw had been recruited to replace original Styx guitarist/vocalist John “J.C.” Curulewski once the tour to support the band’s fifth album, Equinox, got underway in December 1975. As recording commenced for the new album in 1976, Shaw reached back to his days in MS Funk to emerge with key elements for songs like the quite apropos album opener “Put Me On” and the “Crystal Ball” title track itself, which, as he notes, “was a song I was playing in my $200-a-week bowling alley gig back in Montgomery, Alabama. It came to me pretty much all at once one time when I was visiting my mama at home.” During his spoken-word intro to the song on some of the band’s most recent live shows, Tommy confirms that he brought the song with him when he traveled up to Chicago for his aforementioned band audition.
Observes co-founding guitarist/vocalist James "JY" Young, “I have a lot of people come up to me and say 'Crystal Ball' is their favorite Styx song. It seems to have an added layer of importance today with all of the uncertainty in the world, especially with people who are searching for deeper meaning in their own lives.”
As such, “Crystal Ball” remains a fixture of the band’s live set to this day, and Tommy has also recently resurrected some of the lyrics that were edited out of the recorded version, which now serve as the song’s live coda.
You can see an example of just how Tommy adds those long-lost lyrics back in during his solo performance of the song with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra (CYO) on the Sing for the Day! Blu-ray release, which was recorded in Cleveland back on May 27, 2016. Sing for the Day!, which is also available on CD and via digital platforms, was released by Eagle Rock Entertainment on June 29, 2018.
One lifelong fan of “Crystal Ball” is Loverboy lead singer Mike Reno. “It’s one of my favorite songs,” Reno admits. “That song is a total inspiration to me. When I was living in Calgary and playing in a bar band, I was hoping I could be like Styx someday and write songs that good myself. And now I’m proud to call Tommy my friend.”
Dennis DeYoung masterfully performed French composer Claude Debussy’s impressionistic 1890 instrumental “Clair de Lune” (which translates to “moonlight,” and was inspired by French poet Paul Verlaine’s 1869 poem of the same name) on piano as the intro to the album’s final heartfelt track on Side 2, “Ballerina,” which immediately followed the poignant tribute to DeYoung’s father, “This Old Man.”
At the beginning of Side 2 came “Shooz,” featuring some Southern-flare slide guitar courtesy of the band’s Alabama native, counterbalanced by co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young’s patented Hendrixian fire. “I think they were only going to let me have one of those moments on the album,” chuckles Tommy. Adds JY, “I do love The Allman Brothers and I’m not sure if we did them justice, but that was our attempt to go there. Our style had already been established, but Tommy was known for doing that kind of stuff in the clubs. I actually hoped we could have moved the band more in that direction."
BTW, if you happen to like hearing that kind of Allman Brothers-inspired vibe, keep your ears peeled for whenever Tommy and JY play certain riffs in tandem on “Man in the Wilderness” and “Radio Silence” during Styx’s extended live sets.
By Mike Mettler
Some long-gestating sonic missions are simply worth the wait. Case in point: Styx’s June 2017 studio concept album The Mission (Alpha Dog 2T/UMe), which recently entered into the 5.1 stratosphere via the 24-bit/96kHz surround sound mix found on the just-released two-disc CD + Blu-ray Edition of the album. As good and enveloping as The Mission sounds in stereo, it sounds even better in its hi-res 5.1 mix — and that’s due in no small part to the creative synergy between the record’s three chief sonic architects: Styx guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, producer/guitarist/vocalist Will Evankovich (Shaw-Blades, The Guess Who), and producer/engineer Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco, Dixie Chicks).
A good bit of The Mission’s secret sonic sauce came from how it was recorded in the first place. “The best thing about working on this record was the spirit in how Tommy and Will wanted to make it,” Jim Scott told me. “Tommy said, ‘If we want to make it sound like 1979, how do we do that? Well, we perform it and we record it like it’s 1979.’ Creating the soundscapes and putting the extra music in between the songs was born out of studio fun. It wasn’t just hanging around with these guys and figuring out how to make outer space sounds without flying into outer space with microphones — it was pure fun. And that was the best part about it — not knowing the whole story until the whole thing revealed itself.”
With the Blu-ray version, you also get 62 minutes of behind-the-scenes “Making Of” documentary footage and three videoclips — not to mention a way-cool Visualizer option that you can select to run with or without the lyrics scrolling — for 162 minutes of total runtime. I’ve subsequently added one specific sequence from The Mission in 5.1 to my go-to list of benchmark reference tracks. Namely, it’s the furious, 38-second, six-channel maelstrom that occurs during a critical juncture in “Red Storm.” If you’re literally playing along at home, this sequence appears from 30:45 to 31:23 on your Blu-ray player’s readout.
Once the Blu-ray was released out into the world’s orbit, I conducted a pair of follow-up conversations with both Shaw and Evankovich to further delve into the making of the surround sound mix of The Mission, quantify each of their respective favorite 5.1 moments, and see what these masterful Mission 5.1 maestros might like to tackle in the format next.
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