Styx singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan is in a tough spot, at least in the eyes of reactionary Styx fans. For the past 14 years, Gowan has owned the unenviable job of being founding member/primary songwriter Dennis DeYoung's replacement. DeYoung left the band in 1999 under acrimonious circumstances (just check out VH-1's "Behind the Music" special for all the gory details).
DeYoung, of course, sang lead on most of the band's biggest hits, including "Come Sail Away," "The Best of Times," "The Grand Illusion," "Lady" and "Babe." Therefore it's Gowan who inherits singing duties on those monstrous hits -- well, all except for "Babe," which classic and current members Tommy Shaw, James "JY" Young and Chuck Panozzo have always loathed and refuse to play live.
Still, Gowan, 56 -- who enjoyed a respectable solo career in his native Canada prior to joining Styx -- has managed to hold his own, and Styx has remained a staple on the summer touring circuit for years. And, heck, they still have Shaw and JY to sing lead on songs like "Renegade," "Blue Collar Man" and "Miss America."
In anticipation of Styx's show alongside REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent on May 3 at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, the Lowcountry Current spoke with Gowan about his early memories of Styx, the polarizing "Babe" and the potential of a reunion without him.
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Question. Growing up, were you a Styx fan?
Answer. I was a fan of progressive rock. So I listened to a lot of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Genesis and Jethro Tull. But I was aware that there really were no successful bands that did progressive rock outside of the U.K. until Styx came along. That's when they caught my interest. And I heard a number of their songs, but by the time they hit, I was so involved in doing my own band at that time and desperately trying to make it and writing my own stuff that I really didn't get a chance to delve deeply into their albums. Like everyone on the planet, I was very much aware of them. I remember hearing "Blue Collar Man" and thinking, "Oh God, I love that organ riff."
Q. Did you ever get a chance to see them live in their heyday?
A. No, I did not. I was touring so much on my own. I always was, right up until I joined the band. I used to go to concerts all the time but then, once I started touring, it'd be something I'd get to do one or two times a year. From 1976 on, I remember seeing Yes a few times, Genesis a few times, but never being in the same town or having a night off when Styx were there -- until I finally did a show with them in 1997 [as an opening act in Montreal], and that was the first time I ever saw them.
Q. In recent years Styx has played "The Grand Illusion" and "Pieces of Eight" in their entirety. Is there another you'd like to do?
A. I like the other "big three" -- "Crystal Ball," "Cornerstone" and "Paradise Theater." Any one of those I'd be pretty willing to take a crack at it. I think "Paradise Theater" would be a lot of fun because we actually brought "Rockin' the Paradise" back in the show, and it really hit people in the right spot, I guess. I think "Pieces of Eight" is my favorite from all of those albums of that era.
Q. It's interesting that you mention "Cornerstone" given how the legacy members feel about "Babe."
A. They have their reasons, and that's probably a big reason why they'd want to steer clear of that [album], yeah.
Q. What are your thoughts on "Babe?"
A. The only thing I ever voiced on that song was the first day I joined the band. I said, "I know 'Babe' was a huge hit for you guys, but when I saw your show ..." -- well, first of all, Dennis DeYoung made a long, impassioned speech about the fact that this was a song he'd written for his wife, and everyone kind of knew that. I said, "If I come into the band, it's well known that he wrote this song for his wife." I just felt like I don't think I can sing this with the same sincerity. I can bring something to the other songs -- "Grand Illusion," "Lady" and "Come Sail Away" -- because I can take my own little interpretation of those lyrics and give it a meaningful performance. [So] Tommy says, "Why don't we just do 'A Criminal Mind,'" which was my biggest hit in Canada. I was happy with that choice, and we stuck by that. It's a great little enigma in the band's history in that they have this No. 1 song, and as the band has continued on for the past 14 years we haven't played it. We still haven't felt the dire need to play it.
Q. How do you feel about making new music nowadays knowing that it's not typically embraced by fans who just want to hear the hits?
A. The fact [is] that the music industry has changed so dramatically. On the one hand, we lament that fact because making an album now has become ... it's become increasingly difficult for a band that's in such demand to play live as Styx is. We just don't want to take that six months that would be required to go make a full album.
Q. Do you live in fear of a reunion with Dennis DeYoung?
A. (Laughs) God no, not at all. If that were to happen, it would happen. I would simply pick up where I left off in my solo career. The worst part of it is that I'd miss these guys' company. We get on great. I'd be sad to see something come to an end because I think we've built something [special], especially as a live entity in the last 14 years. So whatever discussions that briefly come up are immediately put down by Chuck and Tommy and JY, because they go, "No, we love the way the band is right now." At the same time I feel like I have my own identity outside the band, so if they want to move on without me then I'd have to learn to live with it.
Q. Have you ever met Dennis?
A. The only time we ever met face to face was when we did a show together in Montreal [in 1997, prior to joining Styx]. It was the Montreal Forum and a kind of unprecedented thing happened that night. I had three encores that night. They never had an opening act that did an encore before, let alone three. So when I came off, Dennis was there and when I came up to the promoter, he said, "Dennis you should meet Gowan." We shook hands and he made kind of a funny joke, and that was the only time we ever met.
Q. Can you say what the joke was?
A. No. (Pause) I couldn't really hear him too well.
OTHER INTERVIEWS BY BLAIR R. FISCHER