If you happen to be a band with nearly 50 years of music-making under your belt, you’re bound to have acquired a few nicks and scratches along the way.
But in the case of a rock band marred by break-ups, make-ups and reconfigurations, all while racking up a musical catalogue consisting of four consecutive triple-platinum albums, eight top 10 hits and 16 Top 40 singles, not even a global pandemic has been enough to silence the story of Styx.
James “J.Y.” Young has been there for it all.
“I’ve been at every show and on every album,” said the guitarist and original member in a phone interview. “There was a moment last year when I thought, ‘Maybe this is it. Maybe we’ll never play again.’ But we’re still here.”
The legendary outfit’s current lineup of Young, Tommy Shaw, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman, Lawrence Gowan and Chuck Panozzo will help kick off Dubuque’s Fourth of July festivities, performing on Saturday, July 3, at Five Flags Center in what will be its debut appearance at the venue.
The show originally was set for July 9, 2020, then postponed until March 14.
Styx last performed in Dubuque as part of America’s River Festival in 2017.
The concert will begin at 6 p.m. to enable patrons plenty of time to head to Dubuque’s annual fireworks display over the Mississippi River following the show.
It’s a show that Young said will be sure to satisfy Styx fans and rock music lovers.
“We play all of the favorites,” he said. “People come and want to hear ‘Come Sail Away,’ ‘Too Much Time on My Hands,’ ‘Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)’ and ‘Lady.’ But we find a way to work in some of the more obscure songs as well.”
A Styx staple, “Mr. Roboto,” only recently found its way back on to the set list.
The track appeared on its 1983 concept release, “Kilroy Was Here.” While the album — deemed a rock opera — coupled with a film and theatrical stage show proved one of Styx’s most successful ventures to date, it also brought creative tensions to a head in the band that had formed more than a decade earlier in Chicago, finding initial success with 1976’s “Crystal Ball,” 1977’s “The Grand Illusion,” 1978’s “Pieces of Eight,” 1979’s “Cornerstone” and 1981’s “Paradise Theater.”
“For the longest time, we didn’t sing that song,” said Young, who joined the band, then known as TW4, while a student at Illinois Institute of Technology, graduating with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. “It really was the wrong song and project for us. It broke up the band for a period of time.”
Styx ultimately parted ways with co-founder Dennis DeYoung, the creative force, distinctive voice and clever keyboardist behind “Kilroy Was Here” and several other of the band’s iconic earworms, in 1984.
The same year, Shaw followed to pursue a solo career, eventually forming Damn Yankees alongside Ted Nugent, Jack Blades and Michael Cartellone, as well as the band Shaw Blades.
Other members also rotated in and out of Styx throughout the years, in addition to various stops and starts for the band.
While Styx reunited with DeYoung from 1990 to 1992 and again from 1995 to 1999 — which also saw the return of Shaw — DeYoung has continued to perform the music of Styx on solo tours, including headlining at the Dubuque County Fair in 2019.
In an interview with the Telegraph Herald preceding that show, DeYoung said he wouldn’t close the door on a possible reunion with his former bandmates.
“I think if fans want to see Larry, Moe and Curly together again, they need make it known to Tommy and J.Y. My bags are packed,” he said.
Young, however, said the band has moved on and in a musical direction that is more representative of Styx in its current state.
“In many ways, Dennis was the most successful thing that ever happened to the band because he gave us our biggest selling singles ever,” he said. “It took awhile to move on without him. He’s still a tremendous keyboard player and a great vocalist and performer. We have no bad feelings toward Dennis at all. He’s just not the right collaborator for us. We’re much more of a rock band. We were always much more of a rock band.”
As can be heard on the band’s latest project, “Crash of the Crown,” its 17th studio album, released on June 18.
Young called the album the band’s “pandemic project,” though work on it began in late 2019, prior to COVID-19, the presidential election and social justice protests taking place.
And yet, the songwriting of Shaw shines with relevancy to current times in an uplifting and rocking delivery.
“Tommy Shaw has probably written a song every day of his life,” Young said. “We were able to take a lot of what he was writing, try it out and keep what worked. We could take our time making an album of really good stuff.”
While the past five decades have included peaks and valleys for Styx, Young said that one thing always has remained constant -- the band's commitment to its music, which has proven key it its longevity.
“I think we have always been people who have prided ourselves on musical excellence at all times,” Young said. “We’ve avoided making really terrible mistakes. We lost (drummer) John Panozzo along the way (who died of liver failure at age 47 in 1996). We’ve pulled a lot of different rabbits out of a lot of different hats. I feel like the band is at a stage in its career where we do feel really blessed to have been born in the right place at the right time in history and with the right configuration to get some great things done.”
Young said while Styx’s current tour will find them far and wide across the U.S., performing in Dubuque is a stop the band is especially looking forward to.
“We live for getting out on the road,” Young said. “And we’re grateful for the ongoing support of fans in the tri-state area — the center of it all. We’re a Midwest band, and that area was one of the earliest to become aware of us and embrace us. So, this is a very good spot for us to be.”