For the past 10 years Styx fans have been hoping and praying that former frontman Dennis DeYoung and the rest of the band will put aside their differences and reunite. According to Styx guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw – who hasn't performed with DeYoung since a highly acrimonious split in 1999 – that just isn't going to happen.
"I don't think [a reunion] is realistic," Shaw tells Rolling Stone. "We tried it in 1996 and we realized what was true in 1983 was only more true in 1996. We'd just gone our separate ways. Rather than having a positive effect on each other, we have a very negative effect on each other. You only live once and you should be happy."
When the group split they hammered out a deal in which DeYoung could tour solo under the banner "formerly of Styx," while everyone else retained the band's name. In the past decade, Styx (with new vocalist Lawrence Gowan) have toured at a relentless pace, often doing well over 100 shows a year. "In some ways it feels like we don't play enough," says Shaw. "There's just such an appetite for trying to refine this and trying to take it to the next level. I think we all understand what an incredible opportunity it is to have a band with this kind of following and this repertoire of music."
This summer they are on the road with Yes. "Some of the defining moments from my teenage years are when I opened those first couple of Yes albums," says Shaw. "They're imprinted in my brain. It's a very cool thing for to be walking around backstage and see things with Yes logos on them and see the guys walking around. Steve Howe is such a unique guitarist, and so unyielding in his style – and Chris Squire is just an unapologetic showman. He's as amazing as ever."
Styx focus their show on their long catalog of hits ("Come Sail Away," "Renegade," "Too Much Time On My Hands"), but they are also sprinkling in some deep cuts inspired by a tour last fall where they did 1977's The Grand Illusion and 1978's Pieces of Eight straight through. "We hadn't played some of those songs since they were recorded," says Shaw. "So we were playing songs we've been doing for 35 years next to songs we were doing for the first time. It was a really good exercise for our brains. Since then we've put songs like 'Man In The Wilderness,' 'I'm OK' and 'Castle Walls' into the set."
Shaw says it's unlikely they'll tackle any other albums in the foreseeable future. "To me, those were the defining albums for Styx," he says. "At that point in our career we were driving up and down the coast in branded station wagons with our luggage on top of the car, and doubling up in hotel rooms. This was the great time where we were all in agreement and the music reflected that. After that we made a lot of money and had a lot of success, but this united force started to drift apart. We had success with Paradise Theater, Cornerstone and Kilroy Was Here, but we have the most sentimental attachment to these two."
In 2003 the band released the new studio album Cyclorama, but don't expect to hear many of those songs in concert. "You just cannot compete with your past," says Shaw. "There's one new song we do in the show called 'One With Everything.' If it had been on Pieces of Eight or something it would have been a classic song. So as wonderful as the song is, we're playing it for a handful of fans. A song like 'Renegade' just resonates so much more with people. You can see the look of joy in people's faces when we play them."
When Shaw was getting a ride to the airport recently, the driver started talking to him about a new album by another band from from Styx's era. (He wouldn't name names, but Journey probably isn't a bad guess.) "The driver said to me, 'It sounds like they just rehashed some old song from the past – and their new stuff I wasn't crazy about,'" says Shaw. "They probably spent close to a half million dollars on that and took all that time, but their fans just want to hear the old stuff. And I'm cool with that."
So is a reunion with DeYoung just completely out of the question? "We already did it," says Shaw. "In retrospect, we weren't even happy working with each other in our heyday. We're just different people with different desires and different vision of how things should be. God, it was such an unhappy place. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We're crazy, but we're not insane."