- - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

When the original lineup of Styx (Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, James “J.Y.” Young and Chuck Panozzo) called it quits in 1999 after a successful reunion tour, it seemed that one of classic rock’s finest hit machines was finished. But like the phoenix from the flames, Styx rose again, revitalized with new blood in its blue-collar veins and a new singer in the form of Lawrence Gowan.

Nearly two decades later, Mr. Gowan continues to lead Styx through hundreds of concerts a year that feature a slew of hits including “Come Sail Away,” “Best of Times,” “Babe” and “Lady” all performed masterfully.

Ahead of the band’s co-headlining stop at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, on Thursday alongside Def Leppard and Tesla, Mr. Gowan spoke about being the new guy, his favorite tracks to perform, the power music has to unite and who “Mr. Roboto” is to him.

Question: How long have you been the lead singer of Styx?

Answer: I’m into year 17 now, but I’m still “the new guy.”

Q: Was there a period of adjustment being the new singer?

A: Of course. This is a band that had a very well-known front lineup of Tommy Shaw, James Young and Dennis DeYoung. It was a risky move on their part going with a new singer, but it was something that they felt they needed to do in order to go on. There was a little bit of trepidation on my part. But we sounded so good together, I didn’t really think there would be a problem.

Q: What was the fans’ reaction the first time you took the stage as part of Styx?

A: The first night, we played in Branson, Missouri. Styx had never played there. The second song of the night was “Grand Illusion.” Ten seconds before I drew a breath to sing the first line, it dawned on me that there were 2,000 people that had never seen another singer sing this song with Styx, and I’m going to find out in about three minutes or so whether this worked. [laughs] Luckily, by the end of the song, there were fists in the air and high-fives. From that moment on, I felt like, “Well, this may work.”

Q: The songs you sing were written by someone else, so how do you find the meaning in them to relate to you?

A: When I joined the band, they took note that I don’t sound like Dennis DeYoung or perform like him. But they felt I was engaged enough with the lyrics, and the lyrics took on a different nuance of meaning that seemed to make sense.

Q: Then who is “Mr. Roboto” to you?

A: No one has ever asked me that question. [laughs] He is the Hymie from the “Get Smart” series way back in the ‘60s. [laughs]

Q: What Styx songs are your favorites to play?

A: Over the years, I have come to really love playing “Renegade.” It’s not one that I sing lead on — that’s a Tommy Shaw song. But wherever we play around the world, be it Japan, America or Mexico, the audience is very different at the beginning of the show. But by the time we get to the end of the show, which is where “Renegade” is played, it amazes me how alike they are.

It is a moment I am able to take stock of the amazing power music has to bring people together [in] shared emotion. They are united. That’s a great kind of life-affirming thing.

Q: Who came up with the idea of the spinning keyboard? Does it make you dizzy?

A: Myself, and yes.

Prior to my journey with Styx, I had a long 14-year career in Canada. There was an album I did in 1990 called “Lost Brotherhood.” Alex Lifeson of Rush played guitar on it. We were set to make a video for the title track [when] I realized I was stuck behind a piano. I was at the lighting company a week before, and I asked if there was a way to make the keyboard spin around. We came up with this design of putting it on a central post. I used it on the video, and Alex said, “You should do that in your live shows.” That has been in my live performances for 24 years now.

Q: Styx tours with so many other great bands. Any favorites?

A: We get along so well with the guys in Def Leppard. We loved the tour we did eight years ago and have been looking for another opportunity to tour with them. All the bands we tour with, whether it’s Yes or Boston or REO [Speedwagon] or Foreigner, we always seem to strike a good rapport with them. Because the attitude among all the bands is we just want the shows to be a fantastic night of entertainment.


WHAT: The BIG Concert: Def Leppard with Styx and Tesla

WHERE: Jiffy Lube Live, 7800 Cellar Door Drive, Bristow, Virginia, 20136

WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.

INFO: Tickets $25 to $320 by visiting LiveNation.com

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