Earlier this month, Rolling Stone interviewed Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw – and he told us that there was virtually no scenario in which he’d allow former frontman Dennis DeYoung to rejoin the band. “In retrospect, we weren’t even happy working with each other in our heyday,” Shaw said. “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.”
When we decided to get DeYoung himself on the phone to hear his side of the story, his representative said he’d be more than happy to chat, but he couldn’t be sure when DeYoung would have a chance to call. A few days later I answered my phone and heard somebody whistling the theme song to the Andy Griffith Show. (I share a first name with Sheriff Taylor). After asking me a few questions about Opie and Aunt Bee, he finally confessed to being Dennis DeYoung.
Thanks for calling.
Am I getting you at a bad moment? You having sex or something? You’re in the office, right?
Ha, yeah. I can talk.
Where are you calling from?
I’m calling from a telephone.
Gotcha. How’s your tour going?
Well, Andy, whenever they want a middle-aged white guy to sing high, I raise my hand. We do about 50 to 60 shows a year, depending on my prostate.
So how’s that doing these days?
Well, actually for man my age – I’ve seen worse.
So, I was reading . . .
I deny it! I deny all allegations, your honor! That maid is a liar!
Ha. I’ve read that you’re now doing the Tommy Shaw-sung Styx songs on your new solo tour.
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. I don’t sing sing ’em. I’ve got a friend named August Zadra. You wanna hear that story?
I’m not telling ya! You’re not to be trusted. Are you from Rolling Stone?
Finally they called me! That last time Rolling Stone called to interview me, you know when it was?
1975. “Lady” had just become a hit record by accident. Anyway, what was the question?
About the songs by Tommy you’re doing on the tour.
For last 10 or 11 years, the Styx fans – if they came to see my show or if they came to see Styx – they never really got what they wanted, which was really all their favorite songs. I was just doing songs I wrote, and conversely Tommy and J.Y. were leaving out a lot of songs I had written.
The truth of the matter is that my bass player quit about a year and a half ago to be the bass player in the pit orchestra for 101 Dalmatians. So I started to look for a new bass player. One night at 12:30 my son called me up. He told me to look at this, and it was this kid August Zadra in a Styx tribute band called the Grand Illusion doing “Man In The Wilderness,” “Too Much Time” and “Renegade.” It was remarkable.
So I completely changed my philosophy and my band. I never really wanted to do those songs because they mean so much to me. I gave my life for Styx and I’m really very proud of it and I didn’t want to perform that music and screw it up. I believed after watching this kid that we could honor that music the proper way.
The band reunited around 1996. What do you think went wrong?
Uhh . . . I blame the IRS.
Um, nothing went wrong in ’96. We had a wildly successful tour. We were doing almost 10,000 people a night. I never thought I’d see that again.
So why didn’t things last?
Well, we weren’t supposed to tour again in ’97. We were supposed to make our first studio album, but I got a call from our manager at the end of ’96 . . . See, here’s what I believe: My dad taught me years ago you don’t shit where you eat.
Right. I think the fans want the truth though.
I’ve said it before in other interviews. It’s there to be read. I don’t know if I want to say it again for Rolling Stone. But I went on the road with them in 1997 when I already had prior commitment to complete the premier of a musical I’d been working on. I had a lot of producers and they had spent three quarters of a million dollars to put this thing on and they knew our plan was simply to do a studio album.
So agreed to go on the tour. I went on the road and worked like a dog. Then I got the flu real bad. I think I was already 72 years old, if I recall properly. I got sick and I just couldn’t get better. I had to put everything else on hold. Turns out I had light sensitivity from the post-viral symptoms from the flu. It just took over a year to figure it out. And the guys waited. We started to making an album together and they wanted me to commit to a tour. I asked for about three or four more months to start recovering. I figured out if I kept out of the bright sunlight and wore my sunglasses, I would feel better. They said they were going on tour, and if I wasn’t going, they would replace me. That’s what they did.
How did you feel about that?
Like you would have felt. Imagine that Rolling Stone calls you up one day and they got some other Andy Greene. I gave my life to that band. I started that band when I was 14 years old. So it was hard.
And then you made an agreement that you could tour as “Dennis DeYoung Plays the Music of Styx”?
Actually, what I really wanted was to come to a sort of agreement to come together as a band. That’s what I was hoping for. That’s what I hope for the whole time.
When the Beatles broke up, I thought to myself, “Dude, seriously?” I don’t want to choose between John and Paul and George or Ringo…I’m not comparing us to the Beatles. Please don’t let that happen. The Beatles are here, and if you could see me my hand is on the ceiling. Styx is here, and my hand is in the basement. But the feeling in the fan base, it’s the same. They really want to believe in us.
When I spoke to Tommy the other week, he just kept saying that the reunion in the 1990s was so unpleasant.
I don’t know what he’s talking about. Look, nobody is a bigger fan of Tommy Shaw than me. The day I met him in 1975 I knew he was going to be a great guitar player, performer and songwriter. I was his biggest fan, and I’m Styx’s number one fan. Now am I going to sit here and tell you that it was a bed of roses? Bite me, Andy. Bite me. Because I want you to walk out of that little office of yours and talk to three or four of our colleagues and see how much you guys agree on. Do you have a brother?
You got a sister?
You got a mother?
You got a father?
I want the four of yous to go into a room and make a birdcage.
We’d probably kill each other.
There you go. You want to know why rock bands break up?
Because you got four or five people trying to get in the same space and create something. There’s just differences. It doesn’t work.
Some fans suggest one problem is that Tommy wanted a harder sound than you wanted, and that caused lots of problems.
Here’s what I would say to you. [pause] “Renegade” would arguably be Tommy’s biggest rock song. It wasn’t a rock song when he brought it in. It was my idea to make it into a rock song.
So that perception of your musical differences is just totally wrong?
The perception is wrong. Tommy’s a great songwriter. And his greatest strength is that acoustic guitar. He can write any kind of song. And my philosophy has always been if you got five songs, choose the one that’s great, regardless of style.
Tommy told me you guys had a very negative effect on each other when you reunited in the 1990s.
It’s not true. At least from my point of view. I don’t know what that meant. Was he specific?
He said, “God, it was such an unhappy place.”
I don’t remember it that way. At all. The division really began after I got sick and couldn’t work for a year.
Despite everything that’s happened, if they called tomorrow and invited you back, would you go?
How much money is involved?
You’d split everything evenly
I kid, I kid. Of course. But what I’ve said since day one is the same thing I say today. It hasn’t changed.
Which is that you’d come back?
Yeah. I gave that band my life.