Rock band Styx maintains hold on fans for decades

Formed in a suburb of Chicago, circa 1970, rock band Styx released a string of hits — “Come Sail Away,” “Lady,” “Fooling Yourself,” “Blue Collar Man” and more — that sustained their hold on listeners over decades.

Styx, featuring classic principal members Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young and, occasionally, original bassist Chuck Panozzo, plus Todd Sucherman, Ricky Phillips and Lawrence Gowan, plays more than 100 shows a year.

Styx has performed at the Superbowl twice, in London’s Wembley Stadium, at festivals, arenas and theaters.

Nowadays casinos are another frequent stop for Styx and its classic-rock brethren.

“A lot of casinos around the country, they have tremendous smaller venues where people can get a lot closer to the band,” Styx keyboard player and vocalist Gowan, a member since 1999, said from Grand Rapids, Mich., where the band was finishing up the Midwest Rock ’n’ Roll Express arena tour with REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.

When Styx isn’t part of a package tour co-starring the likes of Kansas, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Journey, Boston and Bad Company, the group can stretch out, delving deeper into its gold and platinum catalog.

“If it’s an open-ended thing, we’ll play a couple of hours,” Gowan said. “There’s so much Styx material to choose from. So there’s an extra bit of excitement in that for us. It’s a chance to do the unexpected.”

About four years ago, Styx noticed that audiences had begun to respond enthusiastically to album tracks.

“A lot of people embrace the album tracks every bit as much as the singles that were played over and over on the radio,” Gowan said.

Styx fed fans’ interest in albums with a tour that featured complete performances of 1977’s The Grand Illusion and 1978’s Pieces of Eight. That show was filmed and recorded in November 2010 at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis and released in DVD, blu-ray and CD form.

“We’d wanted to do The Grand Illusion album but we never found the time to rehearse and put it together as a full show,” Gowan recalled. “It’s hard to do new projects because we spend nearly 200 days a year on the road. Finally, 2010 became the year to do it.”

In characteristic Styx style, Gowan said, Styx couldn’t do just one complete album in concert.

“Whatever we decide to do, we overdo,” he explained. “So we did two albums back to back with an intermission.”

The band’s audiences aren’t only older fans who grew up with the 1970s music that became classic rock.

“Half the audience we play for is usually under 30,” Gowan observed. “They weren’t around when the songs we play were released, but they’ve discovered this music for themselves. So the album experience has not entirely gone away, as we might surmise from the way the music business has changed.

“A band like Styx, being from that era, is among the couple of dozen bands that did that really well then and, today, we’re one of maybe 10 or 11 bands that continue to tour with that piece of rock history.”