Styx formed in 1970 and managed to survive the rise and fall of disco. The group has also endured the turbulent departure of frontman Dennis DeYoung, bassist Chuck Panozzo’s battle with HIV, and the death of drummer John Panozzo—yet Styx continues to tour, having done so since reforming in 1995.
They’ll be stopping by Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa on Friday, Jan. 15.
In 1999, Styx hired new frontman Lawrence Gowan, a Canadian rock vocalist who opened for Styx in 1997. During a recent phone interview, Gowan said stepping into the role was a lot easier than many would assume.
“I can’t say that I went into it with any trepidation,” Gowan said. “I went into it with a smile on my face, hoping it would go well, and hoping that I would validate their choice. It’s a pretty critical moment when a band decides that a former member of that band is no longer going to be with them. They need to get someone new. With my own background, and the fact that I had played all the same buildings that Styx had played in Canada, I felt that I could handle myself pretty well in front of a big audience. … I was also thinking that it was going to be very different for me, and I thought at the same time, ‘This is a great band. I just have to fit in to what they already established.’”
Gowan admitted he hadn’t seen Styx perform until he opened for them in 1997, but he said he’d admired their work for many years.
“I was very aware of them, and I remember hearing their songs, particularly when ‘Blue Collar Man’ came out,” he said. “Styx was so omnipresent in the ’70s that you couldn’t help but be extremely aware of all their material. I love the fact that they were the first non-British band to have true success playing what was partially progressive rock. That’s really where my acute awareness was with Styx, and that’s what I really admired about them.”
Styx’s 1983 concept album Kilroy Was Here led to a rift between Dennis DeYoung and the other members of the band. When Styx made a tour stop at the Cotton Bowl in Texas in 1983, on the same bill as Ted Nugent and Sammy Hagar, the performance drew loud booing as some audience members threw things. On the flip side, Kilroy Was Here went platinum and featured two hit singles, including one of Styx’s biggest-ever hits, “Mr. Roboto.”
Soon after the tour, Styx broke up for the first time.
“We were doing a medley for a number of years where we would just do the opening of ‘Mr. Roboto.’ From the recollections, stories and accounts I hear from the guys from that era, it was obvious they went through some painful experiences at that point, because they were pulling at various directions, and they felt the band disintegrating with that record.” Gowan said. “… For me, I heard it at the time and thought, ‘That’s kind of a weird song,’ but it stood the test of time, and I kind of like it.
“If they ever want to add more of that to the set, I’d be fine with it. For the guys in the band, they want to stick to relevant material at this point, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t delve into it at some point in the future if the wounds completely heal over.”
Styx remains a big deal as a touring band. Gowan said he sees plenty of younger people in the crowds.
“This past year, we went on tour with Def Leppard, and ended up one of the top five amphitheatre tours of the summer,” Gowan said. “That’s means something for a band that has been around for over four decades. I think the mandate when I joined the band was to play a minimum of 100 shows each year, and elevate the show. We’ve amassed such an audience of aficionados that they can’t seem to get enough, and we’re happy to keep satisfying that demand as much as we can. I will also say that the unforeseen result would be the Internet as a source of being able to discover classic rock for people who weren’t born in that era, and we see audience (members) now who are … under 30 years of age every night.”
Styx often tours with REO Speedwagon.
“We get along great,” Gowan said. “We didn’t tour with them in 2015, but it’s highly likely that we’ll team up again in the near future. That’s one of those combos that sell a lot of tickets, and people just happen to like that combo together. We also get along great with those guys. I’ll tell you how much they are friends to us: A couple of years ago, our bus broke down in the middle of the night, and they came by on their bus and picked us up. They saved some of their bunks for us. We’re indebted to them in some regard for that, and they didn’t even ask us to split the gas, which was very generous of them. Plus we also ate most of the food on their bus. They’re fine chaps!”
Styx hasn’t released an album of new material since Cyclorama in 2003. However, Gowan said new material may be on the way soon.
“Judging by the release schedule that we’ve had, you might assume we’d never come up with anything new. But we have for several years now, and we have to finish it, and we have to find time in the schedule to actually promote it instead of the usual 100 shows in front of us,” Gowan said. “I can’t pin down when it will be released, but I spent a lot of time in the studio this past year. We’re figuring out where the band is going to go musically in the future, but that future keeps getting railroaded in the most beautiful of ways, which means we have to go play another 50 to 100 shows before we come back to the current recording project. That might sound like a lame excuse, but that’s the reality of it. I look forward to when we might be able to release it.”
Styx will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 15, at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $45 to $85. For tickets or more information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.hotwatercasino.com.