Styx's Tommy Shaw and James 'J.Y' Young talk touring, longevity


Summer and Styx are beginning to be synonymous.

The veteran rockers are back on the road with a newly launched tour that pairs them with ‘80s radio monsters Def Leppard and opener Tesla (Styx lands in the middle performance slot) and visits Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood on Sunday.

Guitarist-singer James “J.Y.” Young said the band’s hour-long set will include the classics from Styx’s record-setting string of four consecutive triple-platinum albums between 1977 and 1981. That means you’re certain to hear “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away” and “Too Much Time on My Hands.”

Young and singer-guitarist Tommy Shaw lead the lineup, which includes drummer Todd Sucherman (since 1995), singer Lawrence Gowan (since 1999), bassist-guitarist Ricky Phillips (since 2003) and often, founding bassist Chuck Panozzo when his health allows.

Talking on consecutive mornings last week from the Bahamas, where Styx was performing a few shows before kicking off the tour with Def Leppard, Shaw and Young, both self-proclaimed fans of sunrises at this point in their careers, chatted about the band’s extensive career.

Their memories of playing Atlanta for the past four decades:

Shaw: “It was at the Fox where we had our first gold album presented to us, for ‘The Grand Illusion.’”

Young: “I think the first time we played Atlanta was at the Electric Ballroom. We were opening for Joe Cocker in some out of the way places, but we had a night off in between so on our night off we played the Ballroom. We also did a Toys for Tots benefit show in 1976 (at The Omni) with Boston. It was the time when Boston had broken out (and yet) we were headlining. Our goal was always to knock off the headliners (laughs)! I don’t think we had played in an arena full of people before.”

Tommy Shaw is an Alabama native who moved to Nashville a few years ago. Photo: Getty Images.

On determining who to tour with each summer:

Shaw: It usually comes down to, who do you want to hang with for months at a time? And it has to be a good musical match. It does narrow it down. There’s this thing people say - it’s not necessarily how good you are, it’s all about the hang. And that’s true because 20 hours of the day it’s the hang… I’d love to play with Bad Company again, we always enjoyed working them. I’d bet we play with REO Speedwagon and Foreigner again, too.”

Young: “We did some shows with Aerosmith way back when. I’d love to go back and do some touring with them. The Who is a band I would have loved to be on a bill with; I was very influenced by them.”

  On the changes in fans’ concert behavior since the advent of technology:

Shaw: “When I see people watching through their device on that small screen, I want to shake them and say, ‘This is the whole point of being here and you’re going to go home and hate (what you’ve filmed)!’ I love making eye contact with people and that’s getting harder.  But I really just want people to have a good time.”

Young: “Pandora’s Box has been opened and it’s going to be what it’s going to be. It creates certain pressures and actually holds our feet to the fire in a gentle but firm way. If you wonder how that outfit looks, you see it immediately on YouTube. You don’t get to go too far off the reservation without getting busted for it. It’s just a fact of life now.”

  On being on the road almost every summer:

Shaw: “Hotels have gotten so much better in the last 20 years. When I think back to some of the places we’d stay with the sunken mattress and springs creaking….But I never looked at this as a job, but as job deferral. This is something that I did for free until people said, we’ll give you money to do this…I don’t know if that day will ever come (when we retire). I understand people retiring from jobs they were doing just to make a living, and they didn’t necessarily look forward to - that’s what you retire from. What am I going to do that I enjoy more than this?”

  Young: “The concerts are one of the greatest joys of my life aside from being home with my family. It’s the ugliness of modern day travel that’s the work. I get paid to leave my house and be away half the year. Real life interferes with rock ‘n’ roll sometimes - that’s where the angst comes in from this life. But the concerts wash those things away. It’s a great reset button.”

On the possibility of new Styx music:

Shaw: “We’re always working on new stuff. (The new music) is in the embryonic stages, but it has to take a break when you go on the road. We don’t know when or even if we’ll continue with it. It has to be right. You never stop writing or producing. If we do something, we want it to be really special. It’s just finding the time out here.”

James "J.Y." Young said he's the business mind in the band while Shaw is the artist. Photo: Getty Images.

On Styx’s longevity:

Young: “I’m amazed at the repeat customers that we have and the profound impact this music has had - certainly in North America, but I hear from people far, far away that say how much our music has meant to them. There’s clearly a growing part of our audience that is under 30, which is crazy because we haven’t had a gold album since 1991 and a platinum one in 30 years, so these people weren’t even born for our heyday, and yet our music is resonating with them.

There are different phases to a group’s career. When we were making records, the lineup we had for that, there was contention between Tommy and I and (original singer) Dennis (DeYoung) and what we wanted to see the band be. But it takes great angst and troubled souls to create great art. But we were all doing it in the spirit of trying to move the ball forward on the court collectively.

In hindsight, we created an incredible body of work that is very broad stylistically. I love AC/DC, but there’s only so many bands that can get away with playing heavy rock for 90 minutes. There’s a real dynamic in our music that the fans enjoy, so it makes for a show that has peaks and valleys. I think we are blessed with an incredible body of work that we can mine in different ways. Now we have a band that is built for touring.”

On the future of Damn Yankees and Shaw/Blades:

Shaw: “I would like to think we’ll do something, but again it’s the time. I see Jack (Blades) playing all over the place and (Ted) Nugent going out. We were going to do another ‘Influence’- type album; we have half in the can. Then we’d have to do tour dates, so there’s all that to consider. It’s an awesome problem. I’ve been so blessed in my life to have a lot of great things to do and not enough time to do them.”

On whether Styx would do more symphony shows, as they did with the Nashville Symphony earlier this year:

Shaw: “We’ve gotten offers over the years. We just about have our whole repertoire now in orchestra form in a book, and we’ve decided if we do it again, let’s beef the book up. We can’t do anything this year because we’re booked, but we’ve entertained the idea of doing one here or there, maybe next year. It’s so fun. It’s like putting a bunch of cool cats and cool dogs in one room and saying, everybody just hang out. And we do get along (with the classical musicians) even though we speak different languages. It’s always a blast. It brings new people into the symphony. We feel like we’re doing a community service!”


Def Leppard and Styx

With Tesla. 7 p.m. Sunday. $25-$135. Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood, 2002 Lakewood Way, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000,

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.