Styx celebrates the impact and influence of their longtime producer and live sound engineer, who passed away on January 16.
by Mike Mettler
photo by Jason Powell
“I feel blessed to have worked with Gary for so many years, and to call him my friend. He was a good man, and a straight shooter whose opinions I respected and always took to heart.” — Tommy Shaw
Longtime Styx producer and live engineer Gary Loizzo passed away in Chicago on January 16, 2016, surrounded by his family. He was 70.
Prior to his stellar production career, Gary was the lead vocalist/guitarist of The American Breed who sang the band’s 1968 Top 5 hit single, “Bend Me, Shape Me.” He also got to sing “Bend Me, Shape Me” with Styx as his backing band at the Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre in Tinley Park, Illinois on September 5, 2015, bringing everything full circle — and also created a YouTube favorite in the process. Long as you love me, it’s all right…
“Gary started a band called Gary and the Knight Lites in Chicago before they became known as The American Breed, and they played around a lot and got a lot of local publicity,” recalls Styx cofounding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young. “And my band at the time even opened for them at one point. I did get to sit down with him and reminisce a bit in December. He was one of a kind.”
“What really stands out the most is the person Gary was — a man who led by example,” says guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw. “All of us crazy people out here on the road — he was the guy you looked up to as the most calm and straightforward guy, and the one you could count on at all times to be that person. In fact, he got the name ‘Dad’ from a lot of the younger crew members.”
Adds original bassist Chuck Panozzo, “I loved working with Gary. As a musician himself, he understood exactly how to mix us live and how to get the best out of us when we were in the studio.”
“Gary was extremely dedicated, and extremely meticulous in everything he did,” observes keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan. “He would never let anything just slide. He was always very helpful to me in making sure the keyboards sounded exactly like they were on the records — and there were a lot of keyboards. And I also loved to hear him laugh. I’ll miss that.”
Notes drummer Todd Sucherman, “Gary was a dream mixer, because I knew he could pull out what are called the soft, ghost notes of the snare drum. All the nuances would be heard, no matter what was happening musically. And the feedback I got from my guests over 20 years — the people who would tell me the truth, not just “yeah, yeah, it sounded great” — was that you could hear everything. For 20 years, that’s been the unsolicited feedback I received with that man at the helm.”
“I worked really hard to learn the set when I first joined the band,” recalled bassist Ricky Phillips. “We ran through the set top to bottom nonstop, right through the third encore. Gary came into the room and went, ‘This just might work.’ (laughs) I’m also going to miss being able to get out on the golf course with him. We planned days off around doing that. Sometimes I would stay back an extra day with the crew just so Gary and I could golf together on our day off.”
(Longer remembrances of Gary from each member of Styx will post here on Styxworld soon, so stay tuned.)
Gary had what’s known in the music business as golden ears. He became an integral member of the Styx production team when he first began working with the band as an engineer on their 1974 album Man of Miracles. He garnered a pair of Grammy nominations for Best Engineered Album of the Year for his work on 1979’s multiplatinum-selling Cornerstone and 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, both of which were recorded in Oak Lawn, Illinois at his own Pumpkin Studios, as was 1981’s Paradise Theater, which reached #1 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts. Ultimately, he graduated to the role of the band’s co-producer on albums like 2003’s Cyclorama and 2005’s Big Bang Theory. “Gary understood our music from a live, front-of-house perspective as well as from the console in the recording studio with us. He was a world-class engineer with great ears,” agrees Tommy Shaw. “I feel blessed to have worked with him for so many years, and to call him my friend. He was a good man, and a straight shooter whose opinions I respected and always took to heart.”
So, what was Gary’s secret? He had an inherent knack for knowing exactly how to listen to his artists’ needs and bring them to life in the studio, as well as how to translate those sounds live as a front of house (FOH) mixing engineer. As Gary himself told me this past summer, “I learned that you can get good sound and good performances, but you just have to take a lot of time, and have a lot of care and a lot of patience — and the artist has to cooperate. When I mix in the studio, I mix it as a beautiful collage, so that you can listen ten times and go, ‘Oh, that’s there! Oh, that’s over here!” Each time you listen, it’s always there.’”
Gary was uniquely adept at getting great live sound for the band no matter the venue challenges he faced night after night on the road. All told, he mixed no fewer than 1,500 shows for Styx. (Yes, you read that number right.) “When I mix live, I hit you in the face with it!” he observed. “If I miss it, youmiss it — and you’ll never hear it again in that song. So I mix live as a caricature. I’m pushing things out at people all the time. If I don’t see an audience reaction where there is normally one, I missed it. So that’s the difference between studio mixing and live mixing — one’s a collage, and one’s a caricature. And once I found that out, I became comfortable with mixing live.”
The Styx mixmaster had a very specific philosophy for what he wanted people to hear when he produced live performances for home audio and video releases: “It needs to make you feel like you’re in the seats, watching a concert. You shouldn’t put the people on the stage with the band; that just doesn’t feel right. Early on, I found that’s what I wanted to do, so I brought the music 20 percent more into the house so it was still clear and represented, but I sat the people where I was mixing, so I still felt like it was live in front of me.”
Gary felt his role as producer was to capture the absolute essence of the band. “My job is strictly to record them in their fullest. That’s what I consider my job to be. They have the talent. I just have to make sure it gets recorded properly. I can reel all of that in. I wish I was 100 percent responsible, but I ain’t. Those guys are great directors, and I listen, because I know they’re good. And it always seems to work. It’s a good team.”
Everyone in the Styx “backing band” was quite impressed with Gary’s energetic, rousing performance of “Bend Me, Shape Me” last September. “That was fun to see,” marveled JY immediately following the show. Added Lawrence, “Outstanding! I loved it. I’ve loved that song since I first heard it when I was a kid.” Tommy concurred: “It was a hit single, and the whole audience was singing along with it. Man, it was a really good show! An American Breed apart.”
And that’s Gary Loizzo for you in a nutshell, everyone: He was a rare breed indeed, the likes of whom we will not see again. Enjoy your time behind that great mixing board in the sky, my friend. Your golden ears were a gift to us all.
Gary’s funeral service is being held today in Orland Park, Illinois. You can read his full obituary here: http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/1232413/Loizzo-Gary.php