By Caroline Fontein
The legendary rock band Styx may have been at the peak of their record-selling career 30 years ago, but their music continues to be a part of pop culture. Just turn on the radio to any station playing Top 40 today, and you’ll hear a reference to their song “Mr. Roboto” in the Black Eyed Peas hit “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Younger audiences are hearing their music through the video game Rock Band, where gamers can take their shot at performing classic Styx songs including “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Renegade” and “Too Much Time on My Hands.” In 1999 the group got a shout out in the Adam Sandler movie “Big Daddy” when the character Julian says, “Styx is the greatest band in the world.” Their music has taken on a life of its own, catering to audiences both new and old.
On September 24 fans in Vegas can rock out to Styx music live with their show at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. The show also features another classic rock group, REO Speedwagon.
Styx formed in Champaign, Ill. and rose to fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s with their hit songs including “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” and ‘The Best of Times.” The band became known for their arena-rock style performances done with classic audio and visual elements.
The band’s line-up has changed over the years. Since 1999, the group consisting of Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman and Ricky Phillips (along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo) has performed more live shows than all of the previous years of the band’s existence combined.
VEGAS.com had a chance to talk to guitarist Young about the group’s upcoming show and what they enjoy doing in Vegas when they’re not on stage. Here’s what he had to say:
Q.What does the band have planned for your upcoming show in Vegas at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel on September 24?
A. “We will be digging more deeply into our catalog than we usually do when we come to Las Vegas in September.”
What goes into preparing to play some of those songs live that you have never performed on tour before?
“We’re trying to re-create the magic that we created back then. It was very instructive and inspiring to go back and recognize some of the stuff we did and say, ‘Hey, that was really pretty cool. I’m not quite sure how we did that, but it came out great so we have to try and figure out ways to, and in some instances, how to do something differently.’ So, there was a certain forensic thing. Then there was a certain thing about just trying to figure out with these songs, which we thought were too difficult to do maybe the first time around, given what we know now, how can we do a proper presentation of this music so that the audience won’t be disappointed? With modern technology it’s a little more possible than it might have been 30 years ago.”
You have songs on Rock Band and Mr. Roboto is referenced in the Black Eyed Peas Song, “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Why do you think your music continues to have mainstream relevance?
“It’s crazy how we’ve become so much a part of the fabric of pop culture even to this day, and the peak of our record-selling power was 30 years ago. Obviously we did some great work. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. So, hats off to those guys. Thank you very much for the props, and we’re excited about coming back to Vegas.”
That band’s line-up has changed over the years. What is it like for you to perform some of those songs from earlier on in your career today?
“Back then it was five young men on a mission to create great music and to perform great shows and to make our mark in the world, which we did do. But I think now really for me it has evolved into finding the joy in each day of my life and finding the joy in each performance that we give. We go out there and just say these songs have brought millions of people great joy. Music is this incredible force that comes from a higher place that is channeled through us, that has the power to soothe, to calm, to inspire, to motivate and in the best instances even heal people’s illnesses. We are the stewards of this amazing power. Let’s go out and celebrate this healing power in a way that we have and in these troubled times, help people forget, if only for a couple of hours, about the difficulties they may be having in their personal life or in their job life or whatever and find the joy in that day along with us. By the end of each concert, I want the band and the crowd to be surfing a great wave of joy because life’s pretty good. We just have to recalibrate ourselves and be flexible and adaptable. I’m really all about the joy of the performance at this point.”
Do you have any daily routines that you follow as preparation for touring or is that something that just comes as second nature to you now?
“Well we don’t have quite the excessive energy we once had to go out and do stupid things late into the night and be able to still get up and do what we were supposed to do the next day. We have to pace ourselves, perhaps, a little bit better and maybe focus on that a little bit more. You know air travel has become a lot more difficult with security lines and this, that and the other thing and airplanes getting smaller and more cramped and more delayed. Everything about life seems like it’s become more complex, but there’s something about the 90 minutes that we’re on stage that just tends to wipe all that away.”
Do you have any time to enjoy Vegas when you come here to perform?
“On nights off in Vegas, there are obviously spectacular shows and spectacular restaurants to go to… All of the Cirque du Soleil stuff just has got amazing production value, and we’ve been inspired in some levels by each one of the shows we’ve seen. We take one little nugget, and we say how we can find a way to adapt that in our show. Because the band lives scattered across North America now … Vegas is one of the places where we all get together for a while. So we find a lot of things to do that don’t get us into too much trouble because as Tiger Woods found out, what happens in Vegas doesn’t really necessarily stay in Vegas.”
Do you think there is any key to success that has made your music so timeless?
“Writing is a craft that you have to do every day if you want to get better at it. Some days you’ll write nothing that you like. Other days some amazing stuff will come out in the first hour of you sitting at the keyboard that you can’t believe, but it took those four weeks of staring at the keyboard and trying to finally get to that day. I find that a lot of times with our shows, with our music, is that you have to want it more than the next guy, and you have to be willing to work harder than the next guy or gal if you really want it that bad. We all have greatness within us — you just have to battle and fight with yourself to bring it out.”
What is your favorite song to perform live?
“Renenagade” and “Come Sail Away,” those two are sort of the big grand slam home runs that we typically play at the end of the night and they both have a different and powerful charm about them and there’s moments in both songs when I’m at the pinnacle of my own sort of stage euphoria and I treasure those moments.”