The Pieces of Legend
Growing up in South Florida, I remember the day a kid named Freddy brought in a rock album his older brother had called The Grand Illusion, to show the class. The teacher put the music on and all of us thought we were in some space odyssey. When the chorus kicked in, hands were in the air. The class was hooked.
Tommy Shaw is the lead guitarist, singer/songwriter of the Rock band, STYX. Styx has had four consecutive Triple-Platinum albums. Thru the years the band has featured intergalactic- sounding intros, clear vocals by either Dennis DeYoung or Tommy Shaw, synthesizers and acoustic piano, and their songs take you on a journey with elaborate beginnings and endings.
Back when blues rock was prominent or syrupy ballads, STYX stood out.Their choruses stayed in your head. “You’re fooling yourself, but you don’t believe it,” or “You’re___ my, La__dy, or “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me.” STYX fused pop and rock seamlessly. They released an album each year throughout the 70’s.
Tommy Shaw had been writing songs for many years and was in previous bands. At a young age, back in Montgomery, Alabama when he was 5, the story goes, that Tommy Shaw’s grandpa asked him to sing a song on the front porch for a nickel. Tommy likes to say it was his first paid gig. He got his first guitar at age 10.
In 1975 when John Curelewski left STYX, just as they were going on tour for the Equinox album, they reached out to Tommy. He flew to Chicago and was hired on the spot. He, Dennis DeYoung, James Young and Cuch and John Panozzo were the new STYX. They opened for Bad Company in Montreal and were a hit. His first album with STYX was Crystal Ball. Their world success happened by 1977 with the album, The Grand Illusion making its way to no 6 in the US and Canada.
Tommy wrote many STYX songs, like the classics “Fooling Yourself,” “Blue Collar Man” and “Too Much Time On My Hands.”
Yearning to go into another stylistic direction, Tommy Shaw left the band by 1983.
From the 1980s to 1990s, Shaw released his three solo albums, Girls with Guns in 1984, What If in 1985, and Ambition in 1987. All three had songs in the top 30 hits of the year. Tommy;s solo band opened concerts for “The Kinks” (1984) and for “Rush” from 1987 to 1988. He later recorded his fourth solo album in 1998, 7Deadly Zens. Additionally, Tommy worked on Pink Floyd’sThe Wall tribute album. In an album named, The Queen Tribute Tommy sang the song “Spread Your Wings.”
In 1989 Night Ranger split up and bass player Jack Blades joined Ted Nugent and Tommy to form the band, Damn Yankees. By 1995 Tommy and Jack Blades released the acoustic album Hallucination.
By 1996 Dennis reached out to Tommy, STYX had a new compilation album, and the song “Dear John” was written in memory of their drummer who passed away. Todd Sucherman came on board as the drummer. With artistic differences by 1999, Dennis DeYoung left the band, and Tommy rejoined STYX. The band toured with the release of Kilroy Was Here.
Tommy Shaw was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2008. His solo album, The Great Divide features 11 songs he wrote and a bluegrass rhythm section of Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Byron House, and Scott Vestal. Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakam on harmony vocals. Tommy plays mandolin and resonator guitar on it. The album has been well received over the years.
STYX has sold over 20 million records for A&M between their conception in 1976. They have toured with Foreigner, Kansas, Aerosmith, Tesla, Journey, YES, REO Speedwagon, and Def Leppard.
By 2019, their album, Crash of the Crown reached Number 1 in Rock on Amazon.
In 2021 The Mission album had the band back on the road. The Mission is their sonically rich 16th studio album. The concept album is about the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033. From the driving lead single “Gone Gone Gone” to the harmonies on “Radio Silence” or the message in “Mission to Mars,” the album artfully succeeds, STYX is still going strong 45 years later.
In 2022 STYX was inducted into the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum Hall of Fame. That same night Dennis DeYoung was additionally inducted as a songwriter. STYX and REO Speedwagon (with special guest Loverboy) had their Live & Unzoomed toured last year.
STYX is currently on their North American Tour from January thru July.
It was great to have the chance to speak with prolific singer and songwriter, Tommy Shaw:
By Abbe Davis, February 2023
AD: Did your mom Mildred encourage you, back in Alabama, to pursue music, who were your mentors?
TS: Yeah, she really did. A lot of families back then, parents in particular, really didn't get what Rock 'n Roll music was. Especially where I was growing up, in Alabama. My whole family did actually. I remember my grandfather giving me nickels to sing some songs. I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time, so my songbook was probably pretty limited. LOL. Yet, I do remember my grandfather being very supportive and encouraging.
AD: That's great. What prompted you to write, one of my favorite songs of yours, “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” Where were you in your life at that time, what was behind that tune?
TS: You know, originally, it was more of a send-off to Dennis [Dennis DeYoung, former keyboardist and co-lead vocalist of Styx]. When I first met Dennis, I was this young guy from Alabama who just wanted to be in a band, sing, play guitar and have a good time. When I met Dennis, to me, he came across as being very angry and very opinionated. He had his way, his thoughts, and there was very little room for negotiation with him. He was pretty moody. LOL Yeah, a pretty moody guy. I mean, whenever we would have some type of media that didn't go the way he wanted or expected, he would get pretty pissed off or depressed. It was up and down, up and down. And, he'd get so angry at these reviews. That's where "Angry Young Man" originally came about. Looking back now, I think there's a lot of me in the song as well. I really didn't see it at the time, but I had my own issues as well. I think we all do, it's just that most of us prefer to look outside of ourselves and point those fingers. So, I guess it's called maturing or aging when you get to look in the mirror or deep into yourself and go "aha!"
AD: Yeah, maturity and to have a band keep focusing in on the goals of putting the music before the egos. So, when things came to a head about the direction of the band being POP vs. ROCK what do you think your now self would say to your then self about it, looking back?
TS: Hmm. Good question. Back in the day, I was all about Rock. Granted, Rock was different back then in the late 70's and through the mid 80's than it is these days. It was melodic, singers would sing, not so much scream. here was a lot more melody in the compositions and not as much production. What would my now self say to me back then? Hmm. Since I like to think I've matured a bit over the years, I'd probably say, "Hey, music is music, not everyone shares the same likes or dislikes or interests. There's room for a lot of different types of music and there should be." Looking back, yeah, we were a "Rock band" but compared to what the definition of that is today, I'd say we had a lot of the pop aspects as well. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a matter of taste.
AD: Very true about the multi-direction Rock music has gone in. Astute. So then, which of the STYX albums do you feel is the strongest that STYX ever made?
TS: Hmm. Which of my children do I love more? LOL Tough question but I'm gonna say Pieces of Eight. That was really my coming out party of sorts, that album. "Renegade" and "Blue Collar Man," two of the songs on the album that I wrote and sang lead on got a lot of radio play, and I think opened the door to people saying, "Hey, STYX can really rock a stadium. I guess I could also say Grand Illusion because that was the first of 4 albums in a row we put out that were pretty successful.
AD: Amazing albums and I love the hit songs so much! Which artists, besides STYX or Damn Yankees, have you enjoyed working with?
TS: I really enjoy touring with REO Speedwagon. They're great guys. Kevin is a sweetheart of a guy and so feakin' talented. He has a heart of gold. I love getting with Don Felder.
AD: Great guys. What is one of the best Rock' n Roll stories about a show you did with STYX when you first got out there with them?
TS: Oh wow. I don't know. There have been so many great times. I'd say when we did our tour for Grand Illusion and there were some critics calling us "sell-outs" or "corporate rock," things like that. Dennis read everything, and would tend to get very angry and pissed off and would think that we're gonna be playing to an empty stadium. And the next thing you know, we get out there and the place is packed and everyone is having a great time singing along to our "corporate songs." Looking out and seeing tens of thousand of people singing along and having a blast is all I got. LOL
AD: Ha. Yeass! Don't believe the critics. Who did you listen to growing up in Alabama, that made you like Bluegrass music so much?
TS: I really liked the Beatles, I mean, who didn't? They really did pave the way musically and commercially for what everyone's been doing ever since. So, they really got me interested in music. I love Hank Williams, Patsy Cline.
AD: Ah, all of the influences. Yeah, I love the classic Country icons, too. Any plans for Damn Yankees to reunite soon? I hear you’ve talked about the possibility.
TS: Well, technically, LOL, we never really broke up as a band. We're all really close and still keep in touch quite often. So, I'll just say, you know, you never know. None of us have ever said we'd never do it again.
AD: A-ha. Do you also think, that besides tension within STYX at the time, that you went over to Bluegrass due to Grunge coming along, and now Polygram was buying out A&M Records? Did that all have an effect on you?
TS: I don't think that really had anything to do with me putting out the bluegrass album. I love bluegrass and the musicianship that goes into it. This gave me the opportunity to get back to my childhood roots and do something different. I had a lot of fun doing this.
AD: Makes sense, growing up in Alabama and also the guitar chops needed. What do you wanna share about projects, family life, new things you are up to?
TS: As far as projects, I'm always playing with different music ideas, writing, recording, those kind of things. Another bluegrass album isn't out of the mix. STYX is doing a tour right now that should take us through July or so. We have several successive nights soon in Vegas, so that should be pretty cool. It's always a good time playing there. I think we're doing about 5 nights in a row at the Venetian. We'll be bouncing around the country from Florida to Colorado. I'll have some family time between some tour stops in March, April and May. Once the tour is finished, we'll all catch up on more family time and then I'll decide what I want to do next. Who knows, maybe I'll have a few surprises.
AD: I sure hope so. Thanks so much for your time, love your music with STYX - your songwriting, and phenomenal guitar style.
TS: Thank you Abbe and Tru Rock Revival Magazine.