Styx guitarist James Young reflects on growing up in the Midwest and what keeps the band going five decades into their career

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CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio (WOUB) – Styx rose out of Chicago after the breakthrough of their single Lady, going on to be one of classic rock’s most storied bands.

Styx then experienced astronomical success with albums like Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone, and Paradise Theater. This string of releases produced some of the group’s most iconic hits, such as Come Sail Away and Renegade. It also made Styx one of the first bands to release four triple-platinum albums in a row.

In 1983 Styx released their larger-than-life concept album Kilroy is Here. This period marked the peak of creative differences between band members, and the group split shortly after the record’s release and tour. However, Styx was not truly over: the band would go on to reform and disband one more time, before settling into their current lineup, which has continued to tour and release new music as recently as 2021’s Crash of the Crown.

WOUB’s Nicholas Kobe spoke with Styx guitarist James Young before the band plays Wednesday at the Blossom Music Center (1145 W Steels Corners Rd.) Find a transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity and length, below.

Find more information on tour dates at this link.

A promotional image for the current tour that Styx and Foreigner are on. The image includes the names of both bands over a picture of the outline of the U.S.

Nicholas Kobe: 
If you had to describe Styx in one sentence, what would you say?

James Young:
 Classic rock at its finest.

And what makes you say that?

Young: Some ego. No, I mean, our drummer, Todd [Sucherman], who’s been with us now for quite some time. He’s the youngest one of us all. He’s been voted number one rock drummer by Modern Drummer Magazine for the last 10 years. So that’s one reason for our musical excellence. Lawrence Gowan [keyboard] is not a recent member, but he’s a Canadian superstar that we made room for in this band back about 10 years ago, and Tommy Shaw, he’s a rockstar, writes great songs. Renegade, Too Much Time on My Hands. He’s like that, so he’s got a very strong pedigree there. He was in Damn Yankees for a while with [Ted] Nugent and survived that. Then there’s me who has been playing guitar for a long time and has many, many, many gold albums and platinum albums on my walls.

Absolutely. I think that’s a good way to put it. So obviously you’re about to go out on tour at the time we’re talking with Foreigner for the Renegades for the Jukebox Heroes Tour. What was it like putting together this bill together again, considering Styx toured with Foreigner a while back?

Young: Well, our managers and stuff sort of were talking about this a while ago. It went so well back then that it seemed like it could work again – as long as we just don’t do it too soon. So they put tickets on sale, and what do you know? People want to come see these two bands. John Waite is going to be with us as well.

Yep. I’m looking at the tour poster with all the names of all these hits around the edges here. That’s a
pretty stacked lineup. What’s Styx relationship with Foreigner like these days?  

Young: Well, personally, I don’t really interact with any of those guys, but I’ve always admired their music and we’ve worked with ’em before. Lou Graham is not going to be singing on this tour because his voice doesn’t hit the notes the way he used to. But they’ve got a guy that’s younger and stronger and can hit the notes. It’s Kelly Hansen, and we’ve worked with him before in different settings, under different circumstances. I dunno, both bands have serious strength out of virtually every position. So homerun hitters, if you want to make a baseball analogy. And I do.

Styx put out an album in 2021, Crash of the Crown. How are you feeling about that record now that it’s been three years since that record’s come out?

Young: Well, I mean, people still want to hear the classics and not every album delivers. Not every song on every album is a classic, and you just keep making records. Writers write, that’s what they do. Singers sing, and guitar players play guitar. I think Grand Illusion is our biggest selling record – it sold 7 million copies back in 1977. I don’t know that we’re ever going to top that, but these records have been well accepted and I think we’ve got gold status with all of them. So we just keep doing what we love to do and we’ve gotten a great response. You don’t hit a homerun every time at the plate, but you got to keep swinging.

What kind of keeps the band writing, or inspired creatively, to keep going?

Young: A desperate need for attention.

<laugh> A desperate need for attention?

Young: I love performing live and maybe I don’t spend as much time writing as I should, but I just love being on stage and playing my electric guitar. I’d say most of my bandmates would say the same thing. Traveling sometimes is a little bit grueling, but we’re taking much better care of ourselves than we used to back in the day. I can’t get too deeply into those details, but you get the drift.

Yeah. As you guys have kept going on through this career, through all these massive, massive records and hits, looking back on it, is there any part of the Styx discography that you feel is a little bit underrated or doesn’t get the love you think it deserves?

Young: I mean, not every song is a hit record. Not every album sells even a million copies. Sometimes the first time around, nobody hears it. But there are a lot of songs that sometimes emerge, I wouldn’t say decades later, but tastes change. If you love what you do for a living, you keep doing it. And every now and then we hit a homerun.

Absolutely. I’m talking to you before your Cleveland show. Back in 2006, Styx played in Cleveland with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. How do you look back on that particular show today?

Young: It is fun to sort of digress from the same old, same old, and take a shot.. I mean, I was a pretty skilled player when I was in high school, and so I don’t know, I think there’s a certain charm to say ‘This is going to be a different evening of entertainment, but we’re going to be playing some big hit songs and playing some songs you’ve not heard before, probably.’ We had a lot of fun with it and the orchestra rose to the occasion. So I’d do it all over again. If someone suggested it at the right time in the future, I’d do it again.

So on a kind of similar regional note, WOUB is based in Ohio, and Styx is based in Chicago. What do you think specifically about the Midwest influences you as a musician and as a writer?

Young: I mean, Chicago has a tremendous musical history. I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and actually went to the school with some of the children and the grandchildren of some of the great blues people. The first LP I bought was Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger, which was recorded at Chess Records on the South Side. I became dear friends with Bo Diddley’s daughter. She and I get on the phone and just shoot the breeze from time to time. It’s something to be connected on a personal level, not having something to do with the music, but just to talk to people of that era. I mean, things have changed since then, but it’s a matter of fact that music still lives on in the hearts and minds of many. And certainly for me. So Bo Diddley is still a gunslinger as far as I’m concerned. He’s doing it with a six-string guitar.

Earlier you mentioned that you all take better care of yourselves while on tour.  What would you say is your best tip for making sure that your body and your musical ability can maintain doing this into the future?

Young: I recommend a daily dose of Vitamin D3 and K2. I’m serious.

What’s next for Styx? 

Young: I don’t know if anybody really knows that for sure. I’m going to be 75 in November, but I still love being on stage. Bo Diddley kept going well into his eighties. So I don’t know. I love doing what I’m doing and I intend to keep doing it, and I’m not sure that everybody wants to go along with that. But if we lose a member here or there, there are a lot of good replacement parts waiting for an offer to participate. But as I see it now, I don’t see any end in sight for this lineup. So I want to do this till they scrape me off the stage.

Absolutely. Well, that’s great to hear. Thank you again so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

It’s been my pleasure. Cleveland rocks.