Dennis DeYoung named his rock show correctly; his music IS the music of Styx.
The former Styx frontman wrote and sang leads on most of the band’s top songs spanning three decades. That makes him a rock icon qualified to hold forth on music’s latest upheaval — Miley Cyrus.
He was at a birthday party Sunday with young people who actually think things like the Video Music Awards are serious. He saw it with his own eyes. His eyes had seen it all before.
“The only word I can think of is ‘cliche.’ If you’re over 50 and you’re watching the VMAs or anything like that, you’re thinking, ‘Didn’t I see this 25 years ago?’”
“It’s naive from the American public to think that anything is new under the sun,” he said.
Rock ‘n’ roll may never die, but its fabric is a little frayed, DeYoung said.
“Pop and rock music has been around since 1954-55, when blues, gospel and rockabilly all came together. I think those three chords may have been banged about as much as they can,” he said. “Paul Simon said every generation gets the pop star it deserves. If he didn’t say that, I’m saying it now.”
And that got him talking about songs, songwriting and music.
“I’ve believed from Day 1 that the song is king. It’s the songs that matter, regardless of how you dress them up,” he said. “Give me a great song, a great singer and a great band playing it. A lot of people are about fashion or belonging to the right club. I’m 66 and I don’t care what most people think. I’ve been insulted by professionals,” he said.
Lucky and good
DeYoung says he also knows how lucky he is.
“The first line in my book will be that I lived at the greatest period of mankind. To have had the long and fruitful career I have is a happy accident of birth, and I’m not sure it could happen again,” he said. “We were at that time when music was a focal point in young people’s lives, when it was part of a changing world.”
The era produced not only a lot of great bands, but also great songs.
“That’s what young pop stars are forgetting. When their glitz is gone, so are they,” he said.
Styx started in 1962 in Chicago when 14-year-old DeYoung and neighboring brothers John and Chuck Panozzo joined DeYoung in the basement of his childhood home. Styx sold more than 35 million albums worldwide and was the only band to ever record four consecutive triple platinum albums. DeYoung has recorded seven solo albums including “Desert Moon,” whose title track cracked the Top 10.
DeYoung made his Broadway debut in 1993, starring as Pontius Pilate in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar’s 25th anniversary Reunion Tour.
Not bad for a trained accordion player.
He started on the accordion because it was the 1950s in Chicago, his neighbor played it and his Italian mother wanted him to.
“My mother saw our neighbor play it and she was captivated. Plus my mother was Italian. If your mother wants you to play the accordion, you have to do it. It’s the law,” DeYoung said.
Also, in the 1950s it was the most popular instrument in America, he said.
He said it was nothing like he’d ever seen, the way the bellows moved, how fingers flew across the fingerboard.
He says his keyboard style is unique because it has to be, and because his roots rest in the accordion.
“I had limitations as a keyboard player, but what I had was my own unique style of playing. What I learned was my own way of doing things,” he said. “Because you can’t do something the conventional way, you devise your own ways. You create your unique style. That’s where uniqueness comes from. Your weaknesses can be your greatest strengths sometimes. They force you to be unique.”
He didn’t own a piano until he was 27, after he’d recorded “Lady,” his first hit record. That was the first song he’d written by himself and his first lead vocals. It was written for the first Styx album, but didn’t make the roster. The producers wanted other songs by outside writers, so “Lady” was kicked back to the band’s second album.
DeYoung is a native of Chicago. In January, DeYoung will celebrate 44 years of marriage to his high school sweetheart, Suzanne. They have raised two children and still live in the Chicago area.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.