At their co-billed concert with Journey at the Santa Barbara Bowl in 2011, many (including myself) felt that the opening band Styx stole the show, with their thrilling hour-long set consisting of songs that ranged from the hard rocking (“Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade”) to FM-radio-friendly prog (“Grand Illusion,” “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Fooling Yourself”) to power ballads (“Lady,” “Come Sail Away”).
Styx returns to our parts Thursday with a concert at the Chumash Casino Resort, and we can no doubt look forward to the songs mentioned above, and more. Longtime guitarists and singers Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young will lead the charge, with “new guys,” including bass player Ricky Phillips, rounding out the sound.
Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming show at the Chumash Casino?
Ricky Phillips: For people who haven’t seen Styx, I think they’ll be surprised. The cool thing about the band is it has really moved forward, it’s continued to move forward every year it’s been together. This is a band of guys that don’t phone in a past catalog. We try to make every show better than the night before. It’s kind of an ongoing process of how to perfect something that can’t be perfected, but that’s what we’re all about.
Another thing is that we did some shows about a year and a half ago where we went out and did all of the Grand Illusion album, took an intermission, came back and played all the Pieces of Eight album. Which led us to songs that had never been performed live by Styx before. It took us to some deep cuts on those albums, and that’s kind of started a trend where we’ll give everybody what they came to hear — the obvious hits — and then we’ll go to the deep cuts at a certain part in the set for the real die-hard Styx fans and the listeners who love to hear that.
Styx is very diverse. In its inception, it was kind of a hard-driven prog rock band that all of a sudden started getting radio hits. And that’s what people hear, the radio hits. Some of the fans who were
led to the band in its origin didn’t come for the hits, they came for the deep cuts. So we’re doing those for part of the set, and are getting a great response for that.
JM: You’ve been in Styx for quite a while now, I think almost 10 years. Are you still treated as “the new guy”?
RP: Yeah, I think I’ll always be the new guy (laughs).This is kind of an interesting situation. When I was in The Babys, I was the bass player. I did come into the band after it moved to the States from the U.K. But John Waite was the bass player, and was still there as the singer. He just moved over and I came in on bass. And then in Bad English, when (Jonathan) Cain and Waite kind of merged The Babys with Neal Schon into Bad English, I was there for the inception. In both of those bands I was going in making the records, and creating my own bass parts.
Coming into this band, they approached me like, “Hey, we want you in the band. What do you think? Do you want to go back out on the road? Do you want to do this? We’re on the road 200 days-plus a year. And we don’t really want any more members to come in.” This is the situation that came up because Chuck Panozzo, who still is with us, has some health issues. He had some health issues; he’s doing great now. He’s still out with us quite a bit, I’d say about 85 percent of the shows he’s out with us. We bring him out at a certain point in the show, and I strap on a guitar, and then he plays a number and usually leaves, and comes back out for the encores. But still very much as a founding member, a part of the band. But it took me some time to kind of figure out ...
I learned all of his bass parts. I have a pet peeve about bands who don’t play the song you fell in love with. Or they don’t do the lick that you love. You go to see them in concert, and the guitar player plays a completely different solo from the one you know from the record. I think that’s a big part of what paying allegiance to, and homage to, anybody’s past catalog. That’s what created your success, that’s what made your fanbase. I think you have a certain responsibility to present that.
I think it’s also important as growing musicians to give a bit of yourself, and find out places and ways to bring in a little something new and fresh. Because that makes it fresh not just for you, but also the audience. They can feel a vibe off of that. So for me in Styx, learning Chuck’s parts and then coming in and trying to figure out a way to make it gel, I’ve gone through several paths. But I think I’ve, over the years, found a way to get all the hit marks and the hit points in the song, where there’s a line that everyone would recognize and know, that would change the song if it wasn’t there, and then find the places where I can stretch out and do what I do. Which is a little bit different stylistically. But it seems to gel, and it seems to work.
JM: I have to ask, as a guy, about Tommy Shaw. He’s almost 60 years old, he still looks great, he still sounds great. What’s his secret?
RP: I think really it’s simple ... We talk about it all the time. When you’re doing what you love, and it’s successful, and you’re still able to keep doing it, you don’t seem to notice that time has passed on the way other people have a benchmark for the years. They might be punching a timeclock and not exactly doing what their passion is. I think if you look around, no matter what part of the arts that it’s in, a lot of these people seem to drink from the fountain of youth. I think it really does come from just a place of completion, and a place of a passion being recognized and carried as a torch throughout your life. If you’re able, or lucky enough, to be on this planet and be able to do that, I think that’s part of the reward.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.