“Although they began as an artsy prog-rock band, Styx would eventually transform into the virtual arena rock prototype by the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, due to a fondness for bombastic rockers and soaring power ballads” (Prato).
Twin brothers John Panozzo and Chuck Panozzo started playing in their garage at the age of 12. Their neighbor, Dennis DeYoung quickly joined them and they formed a “combo named the Tradewinds during the late 1960s” (Planer). When the trio went to Chicago State University, they formed TW4 with John Curulewski. James Young joined in 1970.
“Local gigs in and around the Windy City led them to the attention of Bill Traut, a Chicago musician/producer whose regional record label Wooden Nickel was distributed throughout North America by RCA. Traut was actively seeking new talent and TW4 was just what he was looking for to compete with” (Planer) the “primarily U.K-centered progressive rock scene” (Planer) “ the likes of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and Rush” (Planer).
“Wooden Nickel Records (a subsidiary of RCA)” (Prato) signed them in 1972 and, after another name change, Styx, “named after a river from Greek mythology that ran through the ‘land of the dead’ in the underworld” (Prato), was born.
From Regional to National Success, Thanks to the ‘Lady’:
“Early on, Styx's music reflected such then-current prog rockers as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Moody Blues, as evidenced by such releases as 1972’s self-titled debut, 1973’s Styx II, [and a pair of 1974 releases,] The Serpent Is Rising, and…Man of Miracles. While the albums (as well as non-stop touring) helped the group build a substantial following locally, Styx failed to break through to the mainstream, until a track originally from their second album, Lady started to get substantial airplay in late ‘74 on the Chicago radio station WLS-FM. The song was soon issued as a single nationwide, and quickly shot to number six on the singles chart, as Styx II was certified gold” (Prato).
Move to the Majors:
“By this time, however, the group had grown disenchanted with their record label, and opted to sign on with A&M for their fifth release overall, 1975’s Equinox” (Prato). That album sparked the band’s second top 40 hit with Lorelei and also led to songs Light Up and Suite Madame Blue gaining inroads into AOR radio.
In Comes Shaw:
“On the eve of the tour in support of the album, Curulewski abruptly left the band, and was replaced by Tommy Shaw…Shaw proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle for Styx” (Prato), as they were on the eve of becoming one of the biggest bands of the ‘70s. He helped the band craft their bombastic, arena rock sound that would see the band land four successive top ten multi-platinum albums, a feat never before accomplished.
First came one more album of moderate success – 1976’s Crystal Ball. It was Shaw’s first contributions to the band on album and he turned in an admirable performance on the album’s power ballad title track and in a co-lead vocal with DeYoung on top 40 hit Mademoiselle.
Multi-Platinum Success…and a #1 Song:
1977’s The Grand Illusion was the album that threw Styx into the forefront of the AOR world. It became the first of the aforementioned string of multi-platinum albums, soaring into the top 10 on the strength Come Sail Away, a top 10 Dennis DeYoung-penned pop hit that became the band’s show closer, and Fooling Yourself, a prototype for the Tommy Shaw rockers that were to come.
In fact, on the next year’s Pieces of Eight, it was Shaw who appeared to helm the band instead of DeYoung, as Shaw’s rockers Renegade and Blue Collar Man became the album’s major hits.
DeYoung, however, returned to the forefront 1979 on the Cornerstone album. Much to the shagrin of many Styx fans and to the delight of the pop world, the lead single was the full-on ballad Babe by DeYoung. The lighter fare landed Styx its only #1 pop hit, but “it caused tension within the group – specifically between Shaw and DeYoung…as the guitarist wanted Styx to continue in a more hard rock-based direction, while DeYoung sought to pursue more melodic and theatrically-based works. This led to DeYoung being briefly ousted from the group (although it was kept completely hush-hush at the time), before a reconciliation was met” (Prato).
“The band decided that their first release of the ‘80s would be a concept album, 1981’s Paradise Theater, which was loosely based on the rise and fall of a once-beautiful theater (which was supposedly used as a metaphor for the state of the U.S. at the time – the Iranian hostage situation, the Cold War, Reagan, etc.). Paradise Theater became Styx's biggest hit of their career (selling over three million copies in a three-year period), as they became one of the U.S. top rock acts due to such big hit singles as Too Much Time on My Hands and The Best of Times” (Prato). The former was yet another Tommy Shaw rocker while the latter was a DeYoung song that was more in the vein of ‘Lady” and ‘Come Sail Away,’ which had ballad elements but still rocked.
“But the behind-the-scenes bickering only intensified in the wake of the album’s success, as DeYoung was now convinced that a more theatrical approach was the future direction for Styx. Shaw and the rest of the group begrudgingly went along” (Prato). “The resulting follow-up was another hit, 1983’s sci-fi based Kilroy Was Here (which told the story of a future where rock & roll was outlawed, almost a carbon copy of the story line of Rush’s 2112)” (Prato). “The ensuing prop-heavy tour seemed to focus more on scripted dialogue and lengthy films than good old rock & roll” (Prato). In addition, the over-the-top (and poorly done) concept coupled with lead single Mr. Roboto’s cheesy novelty elements, alienated some Styx fans – and “would eventually lead to the group’s breakup” (Prato).
A forgettable live album, Caught in the Act, was issued in 1984, before Styx went on hiatus, and the majority of its members pursued solo projects throughout the remainder of the decade. DeYoung issued 1984’s Desert Moon” (Prato), which spawned a top 10 hit with its title track, “ 1986’s Back to the World, and 1988’s Boomchild. Young released 1986’s City Slicker, while Shaw put forth several solo sets – 1984’s Girls with Guns, 1985’s What If?, 1986’s Live in Japan, and 1987’s Ambition” (Prato).
None of the releases matched Styx’s success. Realizing the power of a group dynamic, Shaw returned to being part of a rock ensemble, although not with Styx. Instead he formed supergroup “Damn Yankees along with former Night Ranger bassist/singer Jack Blades, guitarist Ted Nugent, and drummer Michael Cartellone, a group who enjoyed commercial success right off the bat with their self-titled debut in 1990 (due to the hit power ballad High Enough), before issuing an unsuccessful sophomore effort two years later, Don’t Tread.
“During Shaw’s tenure with Damn Yankees, Styx had re-formed with newcomer Glen Burtnik taking the place of Shaw – issuing a new studio album in 1990, Edge of the Century, which spawned yet another hit power ballad, Show Me the Way. But the Styx reunion was a fleeting one, as its members went their separate ways shortly thereafter – with DeYoung going on to play Pontius Pilate in a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar (and issuing an album of Broadway show tunes, 1994’s 10 on Broadway), while Young issued a pair of solo discs (1994’s Out on a Day Pass and 1995’s Raised by Wolves), and Shaw teamed up with Jack Blades for the short-lived outfit, Shaw Blades (issuing a lone recording in ‘95, Hallucination)” (Prato).
“A re-recording of their early hit, ‘Lady’ (titled Lady ‘95), for a Greatest Hits compilation, finally united Shaw with his former Styx bandmates, which led to a full-on reunion tour in 1996. But drummer John Panozzo fell seriously ill at the time (due to a long struggle with alcoholism), which prevented him from joining the proceedings – as he passed away in July of the same year. Although grief-stricken, Styx persevered with new drummer Todd Sucherman taking the place of Panozzo, as the Styx reunion tour became a surprise sold-out success, resulting in the release of a live album/video, 1997’s Return to Paradise” (Prato).
Meanwhile, “a whole new generation of rock fans were introduced to the grandiose sounds of Styx via a humorous car ad which used the track ‘Mr. Roboto,’ as well as songs used in such TV shows as i>South Park and Freaks & Geeks” (Prato). It looked like Styx was back.
The Post De-Young Years
In 1999, Styx issued Brave New World, only their second studio album of the last 16 years – and their first with Tommy Shaw back in the band. The return to glory years wouldn’t last, though, as “friction between band members set in once again. With the other Styx members wanting to soldier on with further albums and tours, DeYoung was forced to take a break when he developed an uncommon viral ailment, which made the singer extremely sensitive to light. DeYoung was able to eventually overcome his disorder, but not before Shaw and Young opted to enlist new singer Lawrence Gowan” (Prato) and plow forward.
“DeYoung began touring as a solo artist at the same time, and eventually attempted to sue Shaw and Young over the use of the name Styx (the lawsuit was eventually settled in late 2001). Around the same time, Chuck Panozzo confirmed rumors that he had contracted AIDS (but was battling the virus successfully), while the turbulent career of Styx was told in an entertaining episode of VH1’s Behind the Music” (Prato).
The new-millenium lineup of Styx did plenty of touring and churned out a glut of live albums (four), but only one album of new material, 2003’s Cyclorama, with the lineup “of Shaw, Young, Burtnik, Sucherman and Gowan. It also featured guest appearances from John Waite, Brian Wilson, and actor Billy Bob Thornton. By the end of the year, Burtnik was out of the band and replaced by former Bad English and Babys member Ricky Phillips, although Panozzo did play with the group on select live dates” (Prato).
In 2005, “the band recorded their picks from the ‘Great Rock Songbook’ and released the cover-version filled Big Bang Theory” (Prato).