Styx: kings in concert
Band's chemistry clicks with Tucson crowd
In early January, Sun-Times reporter Rick Kogan spent three days on the road with the rock group Styx as they traveled through the Southwest. Monday, Kogan wrote about the group's concert in San Diego, Calif., and spending time in a topless bar there. In the third of four articles, he writes about accompanying Styx to Tucson, Ariz., where the crowd hears Styx at its rock 'n' roll best.
by Rick Kogan
TUCSON, Ariz.—"My blood feels like molasses if I don't work out," Tommy Shaw, the youngest member of Styx, is saying as he lifts 120 pounds of steel over his head. "San Francisco almost did me in. I'm just trying to get the poisons out of my system."
It is 7:30 am., Pacific Standard Time, and Shaw is standing in the exercise room at the Executive Health Club in San Diego. He has been up since 5:30. He has already played one hour of racquetball.
"The road is really a strain sometimes," he continues, catching his breath between bench presses. "I know that everything like hotels and cars and that stuff is taken care of, but don't let anybody tell you that this life won't get to you after a while. It does. It really does."
The group is scheduled to leave San Diego's Lindbergh Field at noon for the 415-mile flight to Tucson, and shortly before that time all of the limousines—how natural it is to have these wonderful cars always available— pull onto a secluded section of runway. The engines of the four-prop Viscount are spinning. A light rain is falling.
Their plane is waiting—the same plane that was used in the filming of "The Rose," leased by Styx since September, complete with a pilot, co-pilot and personal flight attendant named Julie.
FOR THE TWO-HOUR flight to Tucson, Julie has prepared a roast turkey, and once on board, the band members greedily dig in. The plane is separated into three sections. In the front portion for the band's families, Suzanne DeYoung sits with her daughter, Carrie Ann, 8, and Debbie Panozzo. In the back section road manager Pat Quinn huddles with the tour accountant, Steve Kollins, while Tommy Shaw thumbs through a copy of Penthouse magazine. In the middle section, the largest of the three, the other band members eat turkey and watch "Tunnel Vision" on TV.There is little conversation as the plane flies at 275 m.p.h., 5,000 feet above the vast Arizona deserts. There is some mild chuckling over the lunacy taking place on the screen. There is some talk about the hit single "Babe" (from "Cornerstone") being nominated for a People's Choice award ("I want Tatoo from 'Fantasy Island' to accept if we win," says John Panozzo). There are some observations of the flight ("This is the second roughest ride we've ever had," says James Young, who prefers to be called J. Y.).
But soon there is only silence. J. Y. drifts off to sleep. John Panozzo goes to the first section and sits with his arm around his wife. Tommy fitfully dozes in the back. Chuck Panozzo stares blindly at the desert below.
"Our music is what finally sold us," Dennis DeYoung says, after a while. "Even after our first four records went nowhere, we never gave up. We didn't ever do a lot of self-promotion. We tried to let our music talk for us."THE MUSIC FINALLY started talking in1974 when a two-year-old song called "Lady" from their second album, "Styx II," was placed by a friendly station manager in the oldies rotation at WLS. It generated so many requests that it was put into the rotation of current hits, climbed to the No. 1 position in the local charts and eventually became a nationwide hit.
What followed were some heated legal hassles that resulted in a broken contract with Wooden Nickel and a fresh start. After some rabid bidding among CBS, Warner Bros. and A&M, Styx signed with A&M in 1975.
Aboard Styx's private plane, James Young, Tommy Shaw, road manager Pat Quinn, writer Rick Kogan and Dennis DeYoung watch videotapes and eat lunch (above). John Panozzo hits the road (below) at the Malibu Grand Prix racetrack in Tucson. (Sun-Times photos by Kevin Horan.)
Guitarist Tommy Shaw, newest member of Styx, performs in concert (left) and works out with weights (right) after an early morning racquetball game on the band's trip through the Southwest.
Shortly after their first A&M album, "Equinox," was recorded, original band member John Curulewski left the band and was replaced by young guitarist Tommy Shaw, who auditioned by singing "Lady" in the basement of DeYoung's house. Equinox sold 1.2 million copies; "Crystal Ball," 700,000; "Grand Illusion," 3.2 million, and "Pieces of Eight," 3 million. Those are hefty figures for any band. But until this current Grand Decathlon tour and the "Cornerstone" album (2.85 million sales in six months), Styx had enjoyed few of the trappings of superstardom.
YET HERE THEY SIT in their plane, dozing In the eye of the hurricane that now surrounds them, for the moment removed from the groupies, huge halls, screaming fans, endless sound checks, loud noise, costume changes and, yes, fancy hotels and limousines...away from the whirlwind that is life on the rock 'n' roll road.
"It is important to give them the space to do whatever they want to do," says Quinn, roused from his airborne nap. "They go off and do their own things and then they come together. The important thing on the rock 'n' roll road is for every answer to be 'yes.'"
After checking into the Sheraton Pueblo Hotel in Tucson, the band members do their own things: Dennis goes to sleep; Tommy is driven to Tucson's best Western store where he buys two hand-tooled belts; J. Y. goes with a distant relative to visit dying cancer patients at a local hospice.
Chuck and John, the 30-year-old twins, partake of the local Malibu Grand Prix course, part of a chain of miniature Grand Prix racetracks that are enjoying incredible success in the Southwest. (There are to be four in the Chicago area this summer.)
IN EXCHANGE FOR a dozen passes to tonight's show, John, Chuck, Pat and I are given unlimited free rides around the twisting 1/4- mile track. By the time we finish, a crowd brandishing pens and pieces of paper awaits.
"Can I have your autograph?" one little girl asks me, obviously blinded by my electric-green rock 'n' roll jacket. John, whose 58.7 was the fastest lap time of the day, laughs and says, "Go ahead, sign it. Sign It 'Morrie Mages.'"
I do, and we all laugh and head for El Minuto Cafe, a Mexican restaurant less than a block from the Tucson Civic Center, site of tonight's concert. By the time we all have finished dinner and the band members are returning to the hotel to freshen up, lines have started forming outside the arena.
"I'll be glad to get tonight's show over with," says Dennis, now on his way back to the civic center. "This has been the longest stretch of the road [nine days], and I've had it. I want to get home and sleep in my own bed. I want to eat my wife's spaghetti. Let's give a good show tonight."
As usual, the backstage area is crowded with roadies, groupies, record people, local radio personalities, con men, drug dealers, family members, friends, friends of friends... that wild menagerie that is so much a part of the rock 'n' roll road.
WHAT THEY AND THE REST of the 12,500 people packed in here witness this night is Styx at their rock 'n' roll best, playing harder than they have the two previous nights. "It's hard to say what makes one show better than the other," DeYoung has said earlier in the night. "It's some subtle chemistry."
Or is it that they know five days of rest will follow this concert, so it's just a matter of letting out all the stops? In nose-thumbing response to an edgy civic official who has requested that he try to keep things calm. DeYoung shouts, "C'mon down here. Every body get up on the stage." The crowd obeys, rushing from the seats in a great tidal wave of bodies. Security men muscle them away. DeYoung and J. Y. taunt them—"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon." Sun-Times photographer Kevin Horan, snapping pictures in front of the stage, is swallowed by bodies. It won't end, even as the last notes echo through the hall. "Huh? Huh?" says DeYoung maniacally, rushing from the stage.
Raw, powerful and almost savage. Five days from now it will resume, but for now it is over and in the dressing room a sense of relief manifests itself in uncharacteristic gaiety and horseplay. For nine days Styx has been on the road and in the morning they will fly home to Chicago.
So the limousines pull away and the groupies surround each car. I am riding in the last one, wearing my electric-green rock 'n' roll jacket and a Styx hat and T-shirt. The girls bang on the windows. "Pleeeeeeease!" they scream, and then one by one it starts to hit them. "He's nobody," shouts one and then, sadly and slowly, they drift off into the warm Arizona night.
Last edited by Kristi Wachter, Racer Records, December 11, 1999.