by Mike Mettler
photo by Jason Powell
Backstage at the Verizon Wireless Ampitheatre in Alpharetta, Georgia this past Sunday, May 15, Tommy Shaw was alone in his dressing room, with his earbuds in and his practice guitar in hand. He was watching, listening to, and playing along with a live version of “Hotel California” as a refresher, since he was a mere 2 hours and 23 minutes away from joining Don Felder and his band onstage at the end of their opening set that night to both sing a few verses and trade guitar solos on the iconic song — something they’d done numerous times on 2014’s The Soundtrack of Summer tour. (Drummer Todd Sucherman also joined in the fun, playing tambourine on “Hotel” while standing directly adjacent to the right of stalwart Felder drummer Stevie D’s drum riser.)
In a Styxworld exclusive, Tommy recounts how revisiting “Hotel California,” as well as having Don return the favor later that night in Styx’s headlining set during “Blue Collar Man,” both came to pass. It’s a double-threat treat that —SPOILER ALERT! — concertgoers will get to see for themselves at the next two tour stops: Namely, at the Koka Booth Ampitheatre in Cary, North Carolina on May 18, and at the Volvo Car Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina on May 19.
Tommy Shaw: It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 years since we’ve toured with Don Felder and his band, and 2 years since I’ve played “Hotel California” with Don and the guys. It’s funny — we’re both from the South [i.e., Tommy is from Alabama, and Don is from Florida], and we still tend to be polite about things. As we approached that first tour date in Atlanta, I didn’t want to bug Don about, “Hey, do you want me to come up and play?” And he didn’t want to bug me about, “Hey, would you like me to come up and play ‘Blue Collar Man’ with you?” I was kind of hoping it would somehow happen organically. (laughs)
On the day of the show, I texted Don and said, “Hey man, if you want some company up there, I’d be happy to jump in.” And he immediately got back to me and said, “Yes!” My brain suddenly went into, “OK, I’ve now got to go back to ‘Hotel California’ and play it again, because I want to do this right.”
So I got my guitar out and started practicing — but I completely forgot to say to Don, “Why don’t you come out and play ‘Blue Collar Man’ with us?” because I was so caught up in going off to practice “Hotel California” and get this thing right for when I hopped up on that stage with him!
It wasn’t until after we had our soundcheck that JY [Styx cofounding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young] mentioned it to me, and I went, “Ohhhh, man…” (chuckles) I immediately texted Don and said, “Would you like to play ‘Blue Collar Man’?” And he got right back to me and said, “Yes! I’m in!”
It was a little bit hectic for our crew to get both of those things together. You have to have an extra setup to have me on Don’s stage and get plugged into his live mix. The same goes for Don to have a setup in our mix and be on our stage. But that also proves yet again howawesomeour crew is — they got it together spectacularly.
Before the show, Don and I got together and went over “Blue Collar Man” a couple of times. And it was so muchfun!It really was. Felder is such a great guy and such a killer guitar player, and he’s a real team player too. I just love surprising the audience like that, on both counts — walking out and playing “Hotel California” with Don, and then calling him out to play “Blue Collar Man” with us.
It is really fun to do things on the spur of the moment like that. It gets you out of your comfort zone, which is always a good thing. Now, I’m prepared to do it the next two nights — and so is he. We’ve got it straight now between us that whenever we have that kind of opportunity, let’s do it! The answer is always a resounding “yes” from us both.