- - Monday, August 7, 2017

Nothing says classic rock like the legendary band Styx. The Chicago group was formed in 1972 by twin brothers Chuck Pannozzo, John Pannozzo and singer Dennis De Young (soon joined by guitarists James “JY” Young and Tommy Shaw), and has sold millions and millions of records. Their hits, too many to name, include “Babe,” “Lady,” “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Mr. Roboto” and, of course, the ‘80s prom theme to end all prom themes: “Best oF Times.”

Even after Mr. De Young left soon after a late-1990s reunion tour and drummer John Pannozzo died in 1996, the band still continues today. And right there, still in the mix, is founder and bassist Chuck Pannozzo.

Although only a “part-time member” — Mr. Panozzo, who is HIV-positive, splits his time between the band and working as an advocate for gay rights and HIV awareness — he still rocks out. In advance of their tour stop at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, Sunday, Mr. Panozzo spoke about choosing rock ‘n’ roll over the priesthood, losing his brother and the band’s new concept record, “The Mission.”

Question: How did you and your brother start the band in 1972?

Answer: Actually, John and I had a group going back to 1962. Then Dennis [De Young] joined our little group. In January 1962 we played our first New Year’s Eve party. To me that is really the beginning of what would become Styx.

Ten years after that, I was teaching high school and got a call saying, “We’re trying to sign a record deal.” I had to make a choice: Did I want to be a schoolteacher or become a rock star?

It wasn’t very difficult.

Q: Did you ever imagine you would still be rocking 45 years later?

A: The answer is no. Bands usually had a life span of five [years]. We were doing so well, I thought maybe we’d have a few more years. But after “Mr. Roboto,” things got a little sketchy in the band, and we had that long period of time off.

We’re here in 2017 with a new album, celebrating our 45th year of signing the record deal. It’s wonderful.

Q: Is it true you also chose rock ‘n’ roll over the priesthood?

A: I was only 14 when I went to seminary. I don’t know if it was the ceremony or ritual of the Catholic Church I was attracted to. The “performance” was kind of like being on Broadway.

I don’t regret it. It gave me some discipline, and it gave me something to build on and help me with more difficult things in my life.

Q: What was the most extravagant thing you bought at the height of Styx’s success?

A: The first most extravagant, stupid thing I did with my money was I bought a Jaguar. That car costs more than all the houses on my block.

I can relate to people like Justin Bieber. When you go from the ground to the stratosphere, you free fall sometimes. And if there’s not someone there to catch you, you fall hard.

Q: Why didn’t the 1990s reunion with Dennis De Young last?

A: At the time Dennis had his own dream. Dennis might have thought of himself as an actor. Dennis [was] sick a lot, and we couldn’t understand why at the time. We’re not doctors, we’re just musicians. We wondered, “Why is he sick now? We have a tour.”

That parting was a lot easier than the one after “Mr. Roboto.”

Q: How do you feel Lawrence Gowan stacks up as a frontman?

A: I think he’s a genius. We get along very well. He’s very funny. He never complains about anything.

Q: How hard was it to continue making music after your brother died?

A: It was shocking to me when he died, even though I knew he was gonna die, which was the worst part.

There was a line in a movie that says, “You’ll always have your talent.” As my brother got sick, and I could see he couldn’t play as well as he could, that was hard for me to accept because he was such a strong drummer.

Death is the great equalizer. After he passed, I realized my job isn’t to grieve for him, my job is to pick up the guitar and honor his memory by performing the songs he did with the band to help make us great.

Q: As a “part-time member” of Styx, how many shows do you play per year?

A: As many as I can.

Q: How many songs per show?

A: I usually play the three best songs: “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade” and “Fooling Yourself.” When Tommy introduces me, the entire audience thinks they are getting a bonus package. They refer to me as the “original original.”

Q: How involved was Tommy in the making of the new album, “The Mission”?

A: Tommy was like Captain Kirk. He was pretty tight-lipped about what was going to happen because he had a vision. Lawrence had laid down a track; Tommy laid a track out.

I hadn’t been in the studio in 14 years. I said, “What’s it like?” Lawrence said, “It’ll be a piece of cake.”

I went to Tommy’s studio in Nashville. He tailor-made the songs to the way I perform. I think that is what he has done to all the musicians. They get the best performances they could get out of them because they played to the best parts of their talents.

Q: Is making a true “concept album” a risky thing in a time of short attention spans and disposable pop?

A: It’s always tricky to put an album out. And even more risky when you’re a classic live band who hasn’t put one out for a long time. It was really important we did something we thought was going to be powerful.

With this album Styx will bring classic rock into the 21st century.

Styx play Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, Sunday along with Don Felder and REO Speedwagon. Tickets are available by going to Bristowamphiteater.com


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