Band On A Mission
Styx' Latest Recalls the Best of their '70s Concept Albums

By Lee Valentine Smith

In the '70s and early '80s, the music of Styx was inescapable. But as times and tastes changed, the venerable Chicago-born act weathered every possible fad. Their infectious brand of anthemic guitar and keyboard-driven progressive rock has secured a permanent spot on the musical consciousness of every generation to follow.
With chart-topping singles including "Lady," "Babe," "Too Much Time On My Hands" and "Mr. Roboto" anchoring their thought-provoking conceptual rock albums, the band sold millions of records at their creative peak.

Last year, bucking the modern track-driven market, the group released The Mission. The enthralling 45-minute concept album details a phantasmagoric trip to Mars. It's arguably their best overall work since Pieces Of Eight, released 40 years ago this fall.

INsite spoke with "The Godfather" of Styx, guitarist and songwriter James "JY" Young, the group's only constant member from an impressive career that began in 1972.

You've been a part of Styx since the very beginning. As a founder, do you think it's time for some Hall Of Fame recognition?

Well, it's not keeping me up at night. I mean, The Moody Blues just got in. Chicago, who are just ten years ahead of us, they finally got in. We may never get there but I just love what I do. It brings joy to me and to the people we've touched over the years. I still love to wind up the machine.

You've got a strong new record to support on this tour.

In terms of print reviews, it's the best-reviewed record we've ever had! I think it's going to continue to grow for us. I go back to the song "Halleluiah," by Leonard Cohen. We met him on a promotional album tour back in the '80s. He had a record out [1984's Various Positions], the one that had that song on it. And it went nowhere. Cut to 2018, it's the most covered song, perhaps of all time. It started slow and then built over time. That's the way I see The Mission. I credit my partner [Styx guitarist/vocalist] Tommy Shaw for it. He has a way to find the humanity in everything.

How much of it can you fit into the live show?

Well the people who are buying tickets want to hear the hits and they'd be disappointed if they don't hear them. But the great thing about The Mission is the opening track, "Gone, Gone, Gone." My guitar riff starts the record and that's how we start the show. Boom. Two minutes and it's over. But it sets the tone that Styx is still writing great rock songs. Then we get a chance to sandwich some other things into the set as it goes along, before we get around to "Renegade" and "Come Sail Away." In a three-act show, the time is a little limited, but The Mission will still have a few moments.

It's definitely a '70s record. And that, from me, is high praise.

Well, that was our goal in 2003 with Cyclorama, but we couldn't get arrested on radio with it. In our heyday, one company didn't own half the radio stations in America. Now you have two guys in Texas programming the whole country. In the old days, if you couldn't get played in St. Louis, you might get on in Kansas City and then St. Louis might take notice and put you on, then it builds. But I get it, that's not how it works now. Some people may sell millions of records and we may sell 60,000. But over time, I definitely have Leonard Cohen hopes for it.

You've weathered the '70s prog backlash, punk, New Wave, the MTV era, grunge, hip-hop and rap - so you'll probably survive.

I always liken it to Frank Sinatra. He began as a pop star but he remained a major concert draw until the end of his life. A lot of the American blues artists enjoyed the same kinda thing. We're in the same spot, I think. We broke up in '83 and then had a reunion tour in '96. We weren't sure just how it'd go, but our manager, Charlie Brusco from Atlanta, he said we'd probably do 10-to-15,000 a night. But then we did 15-to-20,000 people a night, across the country. I think people want to come out and hear this music live because it brings back some incredibly fond memories of their misspent youth.

But it's not just nostalgia. You have a new wave of fans at this point.

It's strange. I'm hearing more about people in their twenties who love Styx. They're playing Styx songs on whatever jukebox devices they have now in bars. That wasn't happening ten years ago. But for whatever reason, it's happening now.

That's the goal of any band - to be heard. And social media obviously helps.

Well yeah, now if one fan likes a song, they might tell a thousand people about it on their Facebook page or by Tweeting it out. We were the best-kept secret and then social media made it possible for those with an open mind to hear us everywhere. It's great to know that from every generation there are a lot of people who want to hear us play are songs.

Styx, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Tesla play at 6 p.m. June 16 at Verizon Amphitheater. For more information, please visit vzwamp.com.

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