It's hard to argue the fact that Dennis DeYoung’s role in the success of Styx went well beyond that of just playing keyboards. One of the biggest rock bands of the '70's and '80s, Styx has sold more than 35 million albums worldwide, with DeYoung himself penning and singing most of the band's biggest hits.
Bound and determined to preserve the legacy of his former band, DeYoung’s new rock-oriented DVD/Blu-Ray album package, "Dennis DeYoung and the Music of STYX: Live In Los Angeles" successfully accomplishes that mission while at the same time dispelling any notion that DeYoung may not have been a true rock star.
Recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at the intimate El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, California, DeYoung and his infectious band pay homage to the Styx catalog the best (and only) way they know how! Included are the familiar Styx favorites like "Come Sail Away," "Blue Collar Man" and "Too Much Time On My Hands". But where this package really shines is with the addition of songs like "The Best Of Times," Show Me The Way,” “Mr. Roboto,” “Babe,” and "Don't Let It End". Monster hits that the current version of Styx no longer performs live.
DeYoung's band includes Dennis DeYoung (lead vocals, keyboards), John Blasucci (keyboards, backing vocals), Craig Carter (bass guitar, backing vocals), Jimmy Leahey (guitars, backing vocals), Tom Sharpe (drums, percussion), August Zadra (guitars, lead vocals) and Suzanne DeYoung (backing vocals).
I had the pleasure of speaking with DeYoung about his new live album package. We also discuss the anniversary of his first solo album “Desert Moon”, the possibility of new music and the origin of “The Best of Times”.
What made you decide to do a project like this?
I had been approached by AXS TV to do a performance at The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. It’s a theater and museum where you perform mostly acoustic material. But I really wanted to do an electric show with this great band to dispel any notion that I wasn’t a "rock guy" in Styx. It's the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life. So they suggested that we go to the El Rey. That’s when Frontiers Records got involved and offered to make it into a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray package.
As an artist, is there any sense of added pressure when you know that this is going to be a one-shot, live performance?
There’s always a certain amount of pressure when you know it's live and going to be recorded. But I had great belief in the band that I've put together and we've been doing the show for the last four years. They did such admirable job that I can say is… Fantastic!!
One of the unique things about this collection is the fact that you’ve included hit songs that the current version of Styx no longer includes as part of its repertoire. Was there a reason for adding them?
I knew that if this was going to be a true greatest hits package then those songs had to be on there. The fact is for the first ten years that I toured as a solo artist, I wasn't playing any of the songs that I didn't write or sing. And my former band mates (Tommy Shaw and JY Young) still to this day don't play "Babe," "Best of Times," "Show Me The Way," "Don't Let It End" and "Mr. Roboto". Those were all Top 5 singles! So I thought, I know what Styx audiences want. They want to hear all of the songs and really, why wouldn’t they? Look, I know that the fans first and foremost want a reunion. They can't get it so what I'm going to do is provide for them every single song they want to hear in one package. I’ve handpicked all of the wonderful musicians in this new band to bring that spirit and sound to life. This has never been done this way and I'm a lucky guy to still have the opportunity to do this.
How did you find your new guitar player, August Zadra?
I had been looking for a guitarist who could also sing high. Then one night my son Matthew calls me up and tells me to go check out this guy on YouTube. So I go on there and I see August singing in a Styx cover band doing "Too Much Time On My Hands" and "Renegade". A light bulb went off in my head and I said "Holy Moly!” The fact is, I would never have done Tommy's songs if I didn't have someone like August who can really offer honor, respect and authenticity to those tunes.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of your first solo album, "Desert Moon". Can you tell me the origin of that song?
I was originally one of the songwriters who had been asked to toss a song in for a movie called "Dune", which was based on a science fiction novel and included references to a desert with two moons. But as I was writing it, I suddenly got word that they weren't looking for songs anymore. So I said, "Ok", and then started to think more about deserts and moons. “Desert Moon” is obviously a metaphor for lost innocence. When I look at the lyric to that song, it's very poignant now. It really captures the spirit of the loss of time and the passage of innocence. How those wondrous moments go by so quickly and the struggle to recapture it is something that human beings have been dealing with since the beginning of time. The gathering scene in the video beautifully portrays that idealized moment in time.
Another song that seems poignant today is “The Best Of Times” from “Paradise Theatre”. What do you recall about writing it?
When I wrote “The Best of Times” I was really thinking about The Beatles song, "The End". “Paradise Theatre,” “The Grand Illusion” and even “Pieces of Eight”; all of those albums was me continually trying to make “Abbey Road” -- and falling woefully short. But as it turns out, even when you fall short of making “Abbey Road”; if you get somewhere close you'll still be in a good place. “The Best of Times” is a song about my wife and I. We've been together now for fifty years and the song is simply saying that the world may be going to hell in a handbag but close the door, and it's just you and me. And we'll make that world special. It’s a song about two people finding an oasis amongst the chaos.
The words feel a lot like what we're going through right now. Back when I wrote those songs in 1980 the world was going through a terrible period. Carter and Reagan were running for office and it was the end of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Then there was the oil embargo and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. That's why “Paradise Theatre” (the old movie theater) is the metaphor for an America that's losing its way. Coincidentally, we're in that same situation today only now, it’s probably even more dire.
Do you have plans to release any new music?
Frontiers Records offered me the opportunity to do a new studio album and I'm considering it. I really want to make sure that if I do it, it will be worthy of you listening to it. We'll see what happens!
Out of all of the highlights of your career, are there any that stand out to you as most memorable?
There are two that always stand out. The first was the day that we went up to promote our album, “Man of Miracles”. Radio station WLS in Chicago let us into the studio and told me that they weren't going to play anything from the album, BUT they were going to play "Lady" once a night at 8 o'clock until it became a hit record. If they didn't do that (and they really had no reason to), then I'm not here talking to you right now and "Come Sail Away" is probably never written.
The second thing was the first time we played in Montreal as the special guest of Bad Company. The people of Quebec had embraced a song I had written called "Suite Madame Blue” and that night, all 15,000 of them stood up and sang the song with me with French accents. When that happened, I knew that it was only a matter of time before we hit the big time!