REMEMBER Jack Black's character from the movie ‘High Fidelity’? You know, the one who threw the new Belle and Sebastian cassette across the room and who berated the father who was looking for the new Lionel Ritchie song for his teenage daughter? Yeah, you know the guy. Perhaps you are that guy. I am sometimes that guy and I know many others who are too. We are music aficionados and/ or rock snobs who have an opinion on everything and anything related to music and feel an undying desire to force feed the world our beliefs. Of course taste is subjective and you may think that I am full of shit, that the Boo Radley's masterpiece Giant Steps is the most bloated, self indulgent record ever made. That is fine, that is good. Make it known on this blog, that's what it's all about! A good musical debate is like crack cocaine to us musos. We love it! Keep it comin' and keep it angst-ridden! The livlier and more opinionated the better.
At this point I feel it neccessary to offer a word of warning: I am not a journalist or a professional writer, just a guy who loves good music and has a really strange viewpoint on a lot of things. I consider music therapy, and sustinance. Without music I would surely shrivel up and die.
And so, here I go. The following is the first in a series of Bogus Band Bio's entitled "Blue Coller Men", the REALLY unauthorized (and totally fictional) biography on everyone's favorite 70's hitmakers, STYX.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here...
BLUE COLLAR MEN
The REALLY Unauthorized Biography Of STYX
The name, STYX, derived from a river from Greek mythology that cuts through the very bowels of the underworld, set the stage. One syllable, 4 letters, and it contains an “X”. It would look marvelous on those concert tee-shirts with the black torso and the white sleeves, and it was just mysterious and evil sounding enough to piss off your parents, which earned the band extra bonus points with the kids.
Then there was the band itself. Chuck and John Panozzo, brothers who played the bass and drums respectively, were a powerhouse of a rhythm section, their pounding beats able to wake mighty Zeus himself, especially live.
And James “JY” Young (“JY”, short for “Just Yodeling”, a childhood nickname due to his Swedish ancestry), who became the trickster of the group in the mold of LOKI, the mischievous and off times evil sibling to Helbindi and Byleist, who eventually befriended the Norse God Odin, becoming his blood brother before he murdered Baldr.
But I digress.
Then there is Dennis De Young, no relation to “JY”. The son of famous French Canadian Vaudeville act members Siebel and Francesco De Young, who were integral in making Veronique’s Montreal Minstrel Show a household name during the late 1930’s and 1940’s, little Denier De Young (as he was known in those days) showed an early interest in performing.
Dennis’ first solo minstrel shows involved a unique structure and stock characters, with three distinct parts. The "first part", as it was known (you could buy cylinder recordings of 'an original minstrel first part, if you were so inclined) began with an instrumental processional. The entire company marched in, took their places onstage in a semicircle facing the audience, always playing with broad gestures and choreographed flourishes. "The Interlocutor" (the master of ceremonies, dressed as a dandy) would bark, "Gentlemen, be seated" and the company would play an overture with even broader gestures. Then the Interlocutor, (played wonderfully by Denier) backed up by the 'end men' or 'corner men' (sitting on the two ends of the semicircle), "Mister Tambo" (playing tambourine) and "Mister Bones" (playing the bones--a VERY young John Panozzo) would engage in question-and-answer jokes ("Mister Bones, why did Farmer Jones build his pigpen under the kitchen window?" - "I don't know, why DID he build his pigpen under the kitchen window?" - "To keep his pigs in!") and a few comic and sentimental songs, all brought to a rousing finish with a "cakewalk" or "walk-around". This was followed by a musical promenade by the company, led by Denier of course, with each member stepping forward in turn to do a brief specialty bit, ostensibly trying to outdo each other.
But it was Denier who really shone during these engagements, his friend and fellow thespian John, although wonderful on the bones, was relegated to the background.
They were revered throughout the Quebec countryside and adored by the critics, especially Jacques Verdouche, who said in one review, “Denier De Young, although only four years old, is a wonder to behold. His proficiency at leading his merry pranksters in their quest to enlighten and entertain (and yes, sometimes educate!), is a real treat! Young Denier De Young is one to watch.”
Jacques quickly befriended Denier and the two formed a partnership of sorts. Denier was able, after much debate, to convince Jacques to let John Panozzo and his technical prowess on the bones, tag along.
In 1965, after much critical and commercial success on the traveling minstrel circuit, the two boys won a long playing record at a carnival game at the Boucher County Fair. It was a record by Robert Goulet entitled, ’On Broadway’, and it would change their direction, and yes their lives, forever.
In particular, the song ‘If I Ruled The World’, had a dramatic effect on Denier. Robert Goulet, being a fellow Canadian (Alberta), penned the immortal lines, “If I ruled the world, I would get meself a girl, traipse around in furls, and let all the damsels be free of their babes”. This particular lyric would have a monstrous effect on the success of STYX in the future, and would ultimately lead to their undoing and eventual downfall.
But I digress again.
Jacques, a kind of French Canadian Tom Parker, was also taken by the Goulet LP. It had a more modern sound, probably influenced by the rock and roll bands that were so popular around that time. The concept of rock and roll mixed together with Broadway tunes intrigued Jacques and he immediately called an emergency meeting with Denier and Chuck. They decided to take Robert Goulet’s concept a step further; they would form a Rock and Roll band, and create a heavier Broadway-progressive sound, or BROAD-PROG, as it would come to be known. But they needed a guitarist, and a bassist. John’s brother, Chuck, had played bass guitar in a number of folk bands, most notably the band Snorry Mouth, which was loosely translated for English consumption from Nez Bouche, so he was a natural. But they needed a guitarist, preferably two, for that showy, big sound Denier was looking for.
Enter one James Young and one Tommy Shaw. Lovers since college (they both attended the famous Abraham Lincoln Music Conservatory College for Young Boys in Boston, Massachusetts), and they both played the electric guitar. James Young (heretofore known as “JY”) was more of a journeyman of a guitar player, lacking technical prowess but making up for that with a pure, almost naïve ham handed style of guitar playing. If JY’s style was primitive, then Tommy’s was simply futuristic. Always fascinated by science fiction novels, especially those involving alien abductions and, in particular those involving probing, his style echoed the 'out there' sounds of the Mellotron and would fit perfectly with the bands vision. The two young men were immediatly brought on board.
It was Jacques who suggested that Denier change his name to appeal to a much broader fan base, and thus DENNIS De Young was born!
The name STYX was suggested by Chuck Panozzo, who was an ardent fan of Satan and his ilk, and who was currently reading The Divine Comedy by Dante. Dennis, always the sensitive one, was horrified by the name. He was quoted as saying that it was “a dark, demonic name” and he suggested the name Up With People”, or F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (acronym for Furry Repast In Enoch’s Nature Debutante Surprise).
He was, of course, outvoted 4-1, and the name STYX survived.
The band, bristling with ideas, literally pranced into the studio and quickly recorded STYX and the cleverly titled STYX II. Both were marvelously creative but were panned by the critics. It wasn’t until a forward thinking Boston DJ by the name of Jaunty Joe played the track Lady from STYX II 179 times in a row on his “Tides Of The Moon” radio program that things clicked for the band. Requests poured in for the ballad, and the boys were soon opening for such monster acts as Trooper, Focus and Prism.
The next four years saw the band at their most prolific, recording two albums in 1974 alone (The Serpent Is Rising-- JY and Tommy’s concept album--and Man Of Miracles (Dennis’ ode to himself).
In 1977, they recorded a record that would yield 2 massive FM hits based on the teachings of Dottie Humboldt, the spiritual and tribal leader of the Unarian Society, who believe in past lives and that our solar system was once inhabited by ancient interplanetary civilizations.
The Grand Illusion, based loosely on a shelved play Dennis had written was a masterpiece, but it was Come Sail Away that shot the band into the stratosphere. The immortal lines to this landmark song, appear below:
“A gathering of angels appeared above my head
I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise
Due to the success of The Grand Illusion, STYX began to headline shows. But as is often the case success comes with a price. Dennis formed an addiction to Juicy Fruit gum and developed an aversion to sunlight and Chuck Panozzo grew an afro, decisions that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.
But I digress, yet again.
After touring they once again leapt into the studio and started recording. These sessions, which would come to be known as the ROO SESSIONS, would bring STYX their greatest success in the song Babe.
A lovely ballad in the tradition of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, it reached the top of the charts and was played at every high school dance at least once in the night (sometimes 7, 8 times!) during the year 1979.
The next album, Pieces Of Eight, was a misstep to say the least. Jy’s sole contribution, “Queen Of Spades” received particular criticism from both fans and critics for it’s blatant racist overtones. Said JY during this time in Rolling Stone magazine,
“I was going through a weird phase. Tommy and I were fighting and I started dating this young African-American man named Sidney Washington. He was a wonderful gymnast and an even better friend, and I wanted to tell the world about him.”
Sidney Washington tragically broke his neck and died whilst attempting the “Flying Rings” at San Francisco’s 3rd annual Gay Pride Parade.
The band regrouped in the studio for what would come to be known as their Magnum Opus.
Paradise Theatre, a concept album about the roaring 20’s and the eventual decline of an imaginary theatre (a metaphor for the American experience, in general), was a massive critical and commercial success, yielding the band four massive hits with the driving and sentimental Rockin’ The Paradise, the magnificently
dance-rock oriented Too Much Time On My Hands, the maudlin but oh-so-touching The Best Of Times and the JY penned ode to cocaine Snowblind.
For Styx, its success would spell both their temporary saving grace and ultimate doom, as the creative forces which had already been tearing at the band's core finally reached unbearable levels three years later.
Being replaced by robots was always a fear of Dennis De Young’s, and at the request of his therapist he began writing a concept album, loosely based around his nightmares. He decided to set the story in Japan and called the main character Mr. Roboto. A synthesizer driven affair, JY and Tommy were relegated to the background, while John was replaced with a ZOOM SB246 STREET BOXX drum machine and Chuck was forced (at gunpoint, some eye-witnesses say) to play a LINUX SONIC VISUALIZER V 1.0 synthesized bass.
Although the track Mr. Roboto would see considerable airplay, the album Kilroy Was Here would spell the demise of the classic STYX line up. Tommy and JY broke up, Tommy joining fellow homosexual and animal rights activist Ted Nugent in his ‘Super Group’ The Damn Yankees and JY going on to sponsor Johnson and Johnson’s very popular brand of petroleum jelly, KY. The subsequent advertising campaign, with the slogan “JY’s KY”, was a flop everywhere across North America, except in Hamilton, Ontario where it became a cult success with the steel workers of Defasco and Stelco.
Dennis went on to play Pontius Pilate in a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar (and issuing an album of Broadway show tunes in 1994), and headlines Las Vegas, after dark of course, to this day at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.
Chuck Panozzo tragically died of alcoholism in 2002, but his Legacy lives on in the form of his son, Frankie Panozzo, who is currently drumming in Walt Disney’s popular attraction about the history of American music, “America Sings”.
John Panozzo is retired from the music business and is currently a gate guard at Wounded Springs retirement community in Naples, Florida.
However, the legacy of STYX remains. Their masterpiece Paradise Theatre recently topped the “Best Albums of All Time” list, surpassing the mighty SGT Pepper by the Beatles and Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys (#2 and #3, respectively), in the influential rock music magazine PUD.
We would do well to remember this band for what they were, an influential BROAD-PROG band with a mighty front man and equally interesting side-men.
In the words of the man himself,
“Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,