Tommy Shaw has just finished taking a walk around Stamford, Conn., and is musing about the beauty of the city where Styx was scheduled to perform Thursday night.
The band, one of the behemoths of ‘70s-‘80s layered, anthemic rock, is in its familiar summer groove–a lengthy run of tour dates at amphitheaters, casinos and festivals that will crisscross the country through August.
And for the gregarious singer-guitarist for Styx, it’s his happy place.
The Alabama native and Nashville resident, 65, isn’t even bothered by the upper-90s temperatures forecast for the band’s Sunday concert at Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park. “We call that good singing weather,” Shaw said cheerfully.
Styx (Shaw, singer-guitarist James “J.Y.” Young, drummer Todd Sucherman, keyboardist-singer Lawrence Gowan and bassist Ricky Phillips) will roll into town with 38 Special opening, its usual trove of classics–“The Grand Illusion,” “Rockin’ The Paradise,” “Come Sail Away” among them–and a sprinkling of the glistening tunes from their 2017 album, “The Mission.” (Original bassist Chuck Panozzo pops up occasionally, but Shaw said he’s “taking a little break” for a few weeks.)
Shaw checked in to talk to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Kaedy Kiely of The River 97.1 FM (listen below) about elements of Styx’s live show and why he’s on the upcoming Collective Soul album.
Q: You are back on the road with 38 Special opening. You must like those guys.
A: They’re just shocking, how good they are. We’ve been playing with them for years. They’re like family to us – it’s like having a family reunion.
Q: You threw in an Elton John cover the other night, and you’ve been playing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” What goes into the decision about covers?
A: It’s a little break in the set where Lawrence does a piano man segment, and you never know what will come off his fingertips. The other night–wherever we were!–we did “Crystal Ball,” and I’ve been doing this ending that was on the original “Crystal Ball” when I was (playing in) the bowling alley before I got the call (to join) Styx…then I hand it off to Lawrence, and he does a piano interlude to it, which is really nice. The other night he does that, and he pauses and starts playing the theme to “Game of Thrones!” But’s that’s Lawrence–he’s just so gifted.
Q: How do you feel about adding “Mr. Roboto” back to the live show?
A: It’s so much fun. We didn’t want to play it because it sounded dated. The original version was sort of techno sounding, and there were lots of other reasons and had never performed it live. Even in 1983 (on tour), we sang to a track. We had to re-learn it since we recorded it. One day I was looking to see if anyone had covered “Mr. Roboto,” and this band, The Protomen had, covered it as more of a rock song. It was more like if Freddie Mercury would have done it. I always thought if we were going to do it, Lawrence should sing it more like that; so, that’s how we play it.
Q: What’s this about you being on the upcoming Collective Soul album (“Blood,” out June 21)? How far do you go back with those guys, aside from sharing management?
A: I’ve always been a fan of Collective Soul. I did a solo album (1998’s “7 Deadly Zens”) that I thought (Collective Soul singer) Ed (Roland) would sound great on a song. I put a cold call on there and asked if he would do it, and he did, and he sounds great on it. This time around, many years later, our manager played me their song (“Porch Swing”) in the car, and it seemed like it was finished to me. I thought it was beautiful, but a few weeks later I got a request from Ed to take it and do whatever I wanted to on it. Play, sing, whatever. I did a little dobro slide on it, mandolin, a little vocal thing. You’ll hear me sprinkled through there.
Q: Who are some other acts you’ve enjoyed working with over the years?
A: Working with Def Leppard has always been a sheer joy. Those guys are the most fun, their shows are always loud and bombastic. They’re the band I want to stick around and hear them when we’ve opened for them. REO Speedwagon is like family to us, too. We love Don Felder. I get to play banjo on “Take it Easy” (when we play with him). I barely rise to the level of “you can come out and do this” (laughs). I just did a thing with Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone. He’s working on a little project and sent me a track of the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” He asked me to sing that and it’s Michael on drums and (Cheap Trick members) Rick Nielsen on guitar and Tom Petersson on bass.
Q: Tell us about Rock to the Rescue, the charity you guys started with REO Speedwagon.
A: It all happened after 9/11. The first person I called was (REO singer) Kevin (Cronin) and said, “We gotta do something.” That’s when we realized we needed to have our own charity and to have more money to donate and do it legally. Every night on tour, we have someone who travels with us and we sign a guitar. He’ll find a local grassroots charity (in advance) - or soldiers, stuff that is local, the food banks and animal rescue - and those people will bring out volunteers and they’ll go out in the crowd and sell raffle tickets to win the guitar at the end of the night. We give (the charity) a large portion of the money raised that day and the rest goes into our fund (to help other charities). A lot of times it’s the biggest donation they get all year. It’s so easy for us - we’re there doing our gig and the people are there. My daughter was the one who came up for the model of how we do it, finding local charities, and now the son of our merch guy comes out and does the pitch. The hard part was getting it off the ground and making sure the funds were handled properly.
Q: “The Mission” album was epic for Styx fans. But how do you feel about putting out more new music?
A: We’re working on music for a new album. We went for 14 years without creating a new album because we didn’t think there was a place for it. Turns out there was a place for it! There’s no pressure, (but) we want to get it done. I think if we get three more songs we really like that fit, we can move to the next level…We’re pretty far along in the process.
With 38 Special. 8 p.m. Sunday. $35-$75. Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park, 4469 Stella Drive NW, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.
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