August 2, 2023

Styx returns to Midwestern roots at Indiana State Fair

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Submitted Photo

The first documented Indiana concert for the legendary band Styx was 50 years ago, April 27, 1973 at DePauw University in Greencastle.

50 years later, Styx tours almost constantly with annual appearances in Indiana, including a show this Friday, August 4 at the Indiana State Fair. They've kept up that touring schedule for almost a quarter of a century since their Chicago roots were joined by a ‘maple leaf.’

Lawrence Gowan had long been a solar star in Canada when he joined Styx as their keyboard player and co-lead singer in 1999.  Gowan spoke by Zoom to WFYI’s Ray Steele.

STEELE: Mr. Gowan, it’s good to talk to you.

LAWRENCE GOWAN:  Well, it's nice to talk to you, man. My God, what a history that is right there. And I still feel like I'm the new guy. I've only been here for 25 years.

STEELE:  Styx’s biggest commercial hits were decades ago. Everybody thinks of “Lady”, “Come Sail Away”, “Mr. Roboto” - I’m 11 years old again when I think of that one. At this point, though, why does Styx tour the way they do?  Not just for festivals and fairs like this week, but full concerts from city to city, you've (also) done residencies in Las Vegas. I don't know of other bands from that era who keep that type of schedule these days.

GOWAN:  Yeah, I think ours is probably the most intense. When I joined in 1999, JY (Young) and Tommy (Shaw) and Chuck (Panozzo), but at that point, Chuck was, you know, getting his health together (Panozzo lives with HIV)….  they really wanted to push back against the onslaught of the internet and how it was affecting music.  The one thing that they felt was that the band had underplayed, you know, and not was not taking advantage of all the concert opportunities that were there. And they were very savvy in realizing that the one thing that you cannot download is a live concert. And it really comes down to being the most effective way to really connect with people. And for me at that point in my life, I realized quite strongly that the greatest form of entertainment that I'd ever encountered was a great live rock show. And I thought this is this is really what bands of the classic rock era… they mastered it way back when and when I first saw Styx in 1997, when we did a couple of shows together, I could see that and I could see myself funny enough even then, being of the same mindset. And then when I joined the band, it really was that that connected this.

STEELE:  Unlike other bands of your era, Styx also continues to put out new music. You've put out a number of albums since you joined the band, the most recent of which was “Crash of the Crown” a couple of years ago, which had some success.  I don't know how we define success with music sales now versus 1978, 1982, or whatever. But still, that creativity has never left the band, particularly since you've joined it.

GOWAN: Yeah, it's the part of the lifeblood of a band. And the other side of that coin of playing live is really having new ideas and new things that come to the come to the table so to speak. And, you know, defining success in the in the recording world now, especially for a band of this vintage, you do have to kind of move the goalposts if you want to look at it that way.  We look at the fact that “Crash of the Crown” went to number one on the Billboard active rock album chart now you know, so everything's been divided into various flavors on the menu of charts. But on the rock album chart, which is the one that we qualify for, and that we really fit with, we got to number one, so we look at that as a great marker of the continued success of the band. That and, and the fact that we play new songs every single night. And, you know, people seem to very much enjoy them. And a lot of people are very, they come to see us are very enthusiastic to hear new things. Now that doesn't hold true all the time. But people that have say, arbitrarily I'll say under 40 years of age, who came to the band after the biggest records of the classical rock era were made, they tend to want to have something that's they've connected with the music and then the history and the whole vibe of the band and the lyrics etc. But they also want something that's more concurrent with their own lives. And so we have new records that do that. Really though at the heart of it is back to what I said originally, which is it's part of the lifeblood of the band is to keep new ideas and fresh things coming up all the time because that's a fresh challenge that comes along with holding up the heritage of the band.

STEELE: You replaced the original keyboardist and singer with Styx, well known one as well – Dennis DeYoung. And that sounds like if we're putting myself in your shoes, for instance, doesn't sound like that would have been easy, at least in the beginning, because of the comparison that fans inevitably would make. How was it for you? Back then and now? How did the Styx fan base accept you, and how has that grown over the years?

GOWAN: You know, I've never looked at it, and neither has the band, I've never looked at it like I've replaced anyone in the band. You know, you can't replace another human being. Dennis DeYoung made a tremendous contribution to this band. And everyone recognizes that and recognizes the contributions that John Panozzo and John Curulewski and even Glen Burtnik made from one major album. Well, two albums, one during my tenure, made the band.  It’s all part of, you know, I always say we are the culmination of the efforts of 11 people who have ever been in Styx right from the beginning 52 years ago. When I came into the band, the only guidelines I was given was just do them like you feel, do the songs giving the most honest and straightforward rendition that feels right to you. And so I never felt the pressure in that regard. Having said that, it's again, it's how you look at it. I remember, there's precedent for this. You know, I remember back in 1976 when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, and I'd heard that the drummer, who at that point, I think I'd only read his name in liner notes once or twice, you know, and I couldn't remember… he was going to be the new lead singer. I thought, well, that's ridiculous. You can't replace Peter Gabriel. And I was right. You can't replace Peter Gabriel. But I fell in love with Phil Collins, and I never lost any love for the band. In fact, I think in some ways, it turned out to be a great thing in my own musical love, because all those Peter Gabriel solo albums became some of my favorite of all time and might never have happened at the band not made that change. The same is very true when I look at Ronnie Wood and The Rolling Stones, I realize he's not the second, he's actually the third guitarist in that role. And yet, the spirit of what he puts on stage with the Rolling Stones on records is every bit in line with the spirit of what that band is. And I think that really is the spirit of a band survives, you know, a major member change.

STEELE: The thing I hear most after a Styx concert - and one of the music critics in this city said this when Styx played Indianapolis last year - is they can't believe the sound still and how much energy you, Tommy Shaw, JY young and everyone have even though we're not exactly youngsters anymore. That could be taken I guess, as a backhanded compliment if one wanted to, so what do you think when you hear a compliment like that?

GOWAN: Well, here's what I think happens. There is some if you want to call it magic, I think Tom Petty said rock music was the closest music in general was the closest form to magic in real life that exists. And I would wholeheartedly agree with that. We are very aware of our age and our vintage whenever we're offstage. But the moment we go on stage, I mean that even the five minutes before we walk out there, after we've done our couple of hours of warm up, etc., something happens that I can't really, you know, fully articulate, but something happens where we feel like we're 15 years old again, you know, we’re hopefully a little bit better musicians and we weren't 15. But, still, the essence of what we feel as far as the energy level and as far as our enthusiasm goes, matches that part of our lives. And I think that's a good part of that is fed off the crowd as well, because we see that on people's faces, it's quite evident, and a timeless kind of energy, whatever you want to call it spirit kicks in, and it can withstand the next couple of hours as the show happens. And then the next morning happens, and we realize, wow, we’re paying a price for last night.

STEELE: Well, that obviously brings the question, how long do you keep going? Or do we even approach that question right now?

GOWAN: Our manager made a great comment maybe nine years ago.  He said you guys have played so much now, you have so many followers around the world and repeat people that want to see you every single year, I could book the band every day of the year if you guys wanted to play that much. But he said, and then it's up to you, whenever you want to stop, you can stop all however, as long as you love doing it, and you can do it, why would you stop doing something you love? Makes no sense. I think I'm not positive but for example, Tony Bennett who just left planet Earth at 96 years of age I think he was. I don't believe he ever stopped touring right to the end. I could be wrong, but I remember seeing tour dates of his event just a couple of years ago and never thinking that he would think to stop. I look at Ringo Starr out there playing and sounding as great as ever. The guy is in his 80s now and he just seems timeless because of what I was just saying; the music has withstood the time and if your body can and you still love doing it. Why would you stop doing something you love?

STEELE:  Lawrence Gowan from Styx, it's always a pleasure. Thanks very much and enjoy your time at the Indiana State Fair.

GOWAN: I'm going to enjoy my time at Indiana State Fair, August 4 when Styx and the extravaganza of that big rock show comes rolling into town again.  Great to speak with you again. Ray. I look forward to chatting like this at some point in the future.


DISCLOSURE: The Indiana State Fair is a supporter of WFYI but had no input in this interview.

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