Dennis DeYoung Formerly of Styx Speaks The Truth About Broadway Lies, History of “Renegade” & Bipartisan News

Dennis DeYoung is speaking his mind, loudly and clearly: about the band he formed in his basement with friends Chuck and John Panozzo; about politics and the news media; about the music business; about the state of rock & roll and radio airplay; about his new album and video. Whatever you ask him about, DeYoung has an opinion on it. And he doesn’t mind sharing his insights with the world. So for an hour we talked about Styx and his latest solo album, 26 East, which was released on June 17th, his timely new video for “With All Due Respect” and anything else that popped into his mind.

For DeYoung, who grew up on the south side of Chicago and started Styx in his basement there, music was the world. He played accordion and sang and formed a trio with the Panozzo boys that played at weddings and birthday parties before being stunned by The Beatles, who turned their heads towards rock & roll. Styx went on to become one of the biggest bands of the 1970’s/early 1980’s, selling over 30 million albums – The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, Paradise Theatre among them – while putting eight songs into the Top 10; seven of those having been written by DeYoung, starting with “Lady.” “Babe,” from 1979’s Cornerstone album, would go all the way to #1. It was also written by DeYoung. Known for his ballads – “You hear me sing a ballad with my voice and it sounds like a love song and you think, oh that’s for Suzanne [DeYoung’s wife since 1970],” he told me during our recent interview – but DeYoung was also known for his harmonizing and synth/piano skills on the band’s big rockers and Proggy-type pieces as well.

DeYoung released his first solo album, Desert Moon, in 1984 while Styx was on sort of a hiatus after Tommy Shaw left to pursue a solo career. Back To The World followed in 1986 and featured one of DeYoung’s most respected songs, “Black Wall.” The singer, who still lives in Chicago, has also ventured into musical theatre, performing in Jesus Christ Superstar and his own Hunchback Of Notre Dame. And now he has graced us with 26 East, an album, named for the home he grew up in and which still stands, of nostalgia and love, frustration and painful emotions, ballads and rockers, and at the end as he sings “AD 2020,” it’s almost as if he is waving goodbye.

With his sense of humor and steadfast opinions always at the forefront, DeYoung spoke his mind, reminisced about the old days and pondered the future in our new interview.

Coronavirus is affecting everyone in a lot of different ways but how are you going to deal if the White Sox don’t play this season?

Well, I can’t be disappointed. Look, baseball and music and all the things we do to distract ourselves are small potatoes with what all is going around right now. We have to realize that and wake up.  

Your video for the song “With All Due Respect,” the timing couldn’t have been better.

Well thank you. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I’ll just keep with the short answer: the news establishment in this country from both sides of the aisle have decided under the veil of news, they have turned it into hidden partisanship and they do it for one reason, to get eyeballs so that people will tune in to see how the fanatics and the radicals in this country can stand up on top of their separate soapboxes and yell at each other because it’s entertainment. It’s like the WWF and it’s to the detriment of our country. They are ruining our country, they’re making us believe that we are more at war with each other than we really are. I always say this, put the camera on the burning car and leave it there for thirty-six to forty-eight hours. That’s what I think is going on. Not that there isn’t division in this country but they have exasperated it to the point of danger. So that is what this song is about. Stop doing that! I have no problem with opinions from either side. But do not hide behind the baloney of your news network. 

You have to turn it all off because, here’s the problem, and the video is just going up and I started looking at some of the comments, because whenever you put your toe into anything that could be considered political, you’re looking to alienate 40% of your fans no matter what you do. But this is not about the political parties from my point of view. It’s about what the news business is doing to divide us. People responded in kind and taking it that way, because everyone is going like this: where do I get my news from? I don’t know what to turn on to watch. That’s it. And plus, the video is funny and it rocks! (laughs)

When did you first write this song?

A couple of years ago, I think. I had the hook, “With all due respect, you are an asshole.” I had that right from the beginning. That song could predate Trump, it could; although all the fake news stuff and all that stuff, I think, came afterwards. It came in stages but the original idea of the song, the verses were going to be something like, Don’t believe anything before the word but. That was my take, cause I watch people go, butter’em up, butter’em up, lower the boom. That’s how people do. With all due respect, really what they’re saying to you is exactly what I said in the song. Don’t pretend to be nice when you hate my guts and you think I’m stupid. So I said it and you know what, I get comments from people that say, “I’m rolling down my window playing this song loud and screaming,” – you know what they’re screaming – because everybody, I don’t care what side you are on, you can be on that side or this side, you look at the news through your own lens for the most part and you should think this song is about the people you hate. I hope I have achieved that goal because that is all it’s about. If you notice all the red and blue everywhere in the video, yeah, that’s on purpose. It’s all on purpose to say, wait a minute, can we stop this?

The next song on the album, “A Kingdom Ablaze,” deals with the same idea but it’s only metaphor. I put those two songs together. One is the anger and the frustration of the citizens of this country, and I believe the world. They are tired of being manipulated by those people who control the messages. Everybody around me in my camp was scared by this song. Record company so reluctant you can’t believe it. They’re still scared of it! And even my collaborator, Jim Peterik, “Oh Den, we can’t do a song, you should …” He didn’t want to do it until I had my band do it, play it live at a soundcheck. “There it is, Jim” and he went, “Alright, okay, let’s do it.” And I said, “Go write a killer riff.” And he did and off we went. But those lyrics, that’s me. 

You know, in 1968, I was 1A to be drafted and that year was hellacious. Every day I’d get up and go, “Oh my God.” I was in college and what’s going to happen next? That was the worst year of my life that I can remember, per current events. This year tops it.

I was going to ask you about Vietnam and what you were going through at that time. And you have the song, “Black Wall.”

Yeah, if you listen to that lyric, and thanks for doing your homework, I was 1A in 1967. That was the year they had the biggest call up. I’d lost my deferment. I took my physical. Every day I went to the mailbox going, “Oh God, this is it.” Blue collar working class family and my draft board in Chicago sent more people to Vietnam than any draft board in the entire Midwest. I was just waiting for the call and you know what happened? It didn’t come. Then the next year they had the lottery and I had a high number. So when I say, in the opening line, “I was lucky you know; I wasn’t there; I didn’t have to go and face my fear.” That’s me, I’m telling you my story. I would have went. What was I going to do? My dad was a WWII decorated veteran. I never protested the war or marched. I wasn’t that kid. So I would have went and there would have been no Styx. 

But like I said in the song: “I’m lucky.” That was no place to be. My best friend, until he died a few years ago, was a disabled Marine vet who lost 70% use of his arm in battle. That’s why I got involved with the whole parade in Chicago in 1986. The biggest Vietnam veteran’s parade ever held in America. He and I and a bunch of others put together the committee for the parade. I’m getting the chills just sitting here because 250,000 people showed up in Chicago from everywhere to march down the city streets and be thanked. Then I played the concert and I played “Black Wall” three times. I played the concert in Grant Park and they kept yelling for “Black Wall.” I had to play it three times.

That probably gave you goosebumps

It did. And there’s a song off One Hundred Years From Now, my last solo album, called “Private Jones.” That describes my feelings about the military. And here it is: If they don’t stand by the door and guard the gate, too bad for us.

What did you know about your father in WWII?

Seventy-eight years old, my father never told me how he won the Bronze Star. He said to me, “Dennis, I just zigged when I was supposed to zig and zagged when I was supposed to zag.” He’d never tell me. So on Christmas of 1978, he gave me a box and in it was a gun. It was not operable and it had my mother’s picture in the handle, looked a little bit like a 45, and he told me in a letter – I wouldn’t be able to read it to you right now because I would start crying – but he told me how he won it. And the thing is, that was the greatest generation. They weren’t a bunch of spoiled assholes, like the Baby Boomers and every generation that has come. This generation right now that is being affected by the Covid the most, the young people, they’re going to have to toughen up. The future is not bright, not for anybody here or in the world, and Baby Boomers never really went through those kind of crises. We had our Vietnam War, still not WWII. Those people who grew up in the Depression were stoic. And they had humility. All these people that have come since then, it’s all about me. And I joined that crowd. I became an entertainer. Look at me! I’m the smart cute one! That kind of crap. But these people were a different generation. They didn’t talk about it. They’d seen too much and they didn’t want to burden their kids. You watch Private Ryan. I’ve watched it one time start to finish and I knew I’d never be able to watch it again. Never. Because it’s too close to my father and what happened to him in his life. Too emotional. Between that and It’s A Wonderful Life, in my opinion, those are the two greatest movies ever made. 

In 1942, my dad failed his physical cause he had a hernia. So his brothers went and he went and got the hernia fixed so he could go. Look what we’ve become, this country that I have loved forever. Look what we are. Look who we elect, I mean just in general. It’s not just the president. Congress. What are they doing? And I blame the news media for making people choose a side. And today because of the internet, and I’m going to tell you where all these problems are stemming from, as the connectivity of all human beings, everybody can now see what everybody else has or what they don’t have. And that’s going to cause problems. So when Marky Mark Zuckerberg had a mission of connecting everyone, I said, “Hey Marky, have you met everyone? Why would you want to get those people together?” Am I making sense? You don’t even like your aunt and one of your brothers you’re not even crazy about. This is why you can’t connect everybody. 

You had mentioned “A Kingdom Ablaze” and that is a surreal, almost foreboding kind of song. What element of that song came first to you?

When I wrote that song, the demo was just a verse, no chorus, six years or so ago. But I wasn’t intending on making anymore records until Jim Peterik nagged me into doing it. So I had that and I did it very stylized like it is and I thought, that’s really cool. In another life maybe I’ll record this and make a record. But not in this one. So I just had it for a really long time and then as events unfolded in the last six years, I thought, you know, let’s get a hook. So then I wrote the hook. I was shooting for it to be hypnotic and foreboding; hence the Latin, hence the kids in the beginning saying, “Ring around the rosey, we all fall down.” That’s why there’s kids in there, because they cry on the chorus, the children cry, “House of cards cried the child.” What are you doing over there? What am I doing? To contribute to this chaos and craziness? Do we have enough? What is enough? That’s what I’m asking. And it’s under the guise of, well, you know, our kingdom. You could see Game Of Thrones or anything you want to in there and that’s the music that I chose to surround it with.

It was the working title for the album for almost two years. I was going to call the album A Kingdom Ablaze and then I got sentimental because you’re seventy-three and you don’t look forward, you look back. And I started to think where it all began in that basement with the Panozzo brothers and myself; three kids, accordion, me, guitar and drums, trying to please their parents, playing their parents music so they’d give us a pat on the head and tell us we were okay. You know what I mean?

Is that what you really were doing? Did you need that approval from your parents?

And you didn’t? We are all that person. I say this, if you had very loving and supportive parents at every juncture, free from criticism, you’ll never amount to shit. What drives us is our desire to please someone that can’t be pleased. All the great things in this society have been done by people who are trying to please someone who cannot be pleased. Now in my case, it was my mom. She loved me to death, she held me in such high esteem and all her eggs are in my basket. So I had to be a success. I am the first born son of an Italian mother. So play the accordion and make mom happy. This is how it works. So we were playing our parents music. We weren’t rebelling. I wasn’t a rebel, I was a pleaser. And so were the boys in the band with me. Rebellion is overrated.

So you’re down in the basement and you’re playing these songs. When did you veer off and start being individual?

  1. Write it down. February 9, 1964.

Sounds like a Beatles thing

That’s it, Baby. My friend forced me to watch that first show on Ed Sullivan cause I wanted to go to the high school dance and meet chicks. He said, “Let’s watch this.” I watched it and my life was changed. It was an epiphany, like so many musicians of my time. It was like, what in God’s name is that? And I’ve got to get a piece of it and I’ve got to be part of it. That’s when we changed, John and I, and John said, “Let’s learn Beatles songs. Screw our parents.” So we did and we started playing rock & roll little by little. We were originally a wedding band that played wedding music and played anniversaries and birthday parties. Then we started to play rock music. That’s what happened. Did you see the video for “To The Good Old Days”? There I am at the end playing the accordion.

Are you saying goodbye on this album because at the end of the record on “AD 2020” it seems like you’re waving goodbye.

When I started on this album that I didn’t want to make, I ended up thinking, what kind of album is this? I was only going to make one record. There was going to be no Volume 2. That just happened because we wrote so damn many songs and they offered me double the money for two albums so what am I, stupid? Okay, fine. I already recorded these albums and spent the money so from the very beginning I said, that’s how the thing is ending, Paradise Theater, “AD 1958” to “AD 2020.” That’s it, that’s how I’m ending it. So since this is the first of the two albums, I just stuck with it because I am saying, “Bye, thanks! You people have been wonderful. Look at the life you’ve given me and my family.” Unbelievable. But I’ve had my fill.

Have you had your fill of touring?

Well, no, I was going to tour for a couple more years. The music business is crap. Robber barons have taken it over. People who have never invested a dime in the music from these people that they’re using for nothing; they’ve stolen the ability for musicians to make money. They just came in with the internet, with the cooperation of the three major record companies and cheated the musicians. That’s what they’ve done. And that’s why I didn’t want to make a record. Look, rock & roll is dead. Ten years I’ve been saying it. Me and Gene Simmons. It’s not the music’s dead, or people still want to play it, it’s the way by which music is delivered. Radio is gone! There is no radio for rock music. There is almost nothing. It’s all turned to pop music, rap music and country. And rock has been kicked to the curb. It’s a fact. I’ve said, if I make all this music and take all this time and pour my heart into it, work like a dog, will I be able to reach anybody? It’s like the first song, “East Of Midnight,” says, it’s about the radio to me, a chance to be on the radio, because when I heard the radio as a young man, I was opened up to a world I didn’t even know existed.

WLS was the first one. It was the biggest AM station in the country. So all those stations in Chicago that I listened to as a kid, it formed me. And that’s not true anymore. You’re not going to get rock music. All the classic rock stations, they play old music. They’re not interested in new music! And I’m old! I would need those people to support me. So I said, why would I do this? To prove that I could write songs? Baloney! I know I can write songs. I only did it to be on the radio and have a chance for my thoughts and my musical expressions to be enjoyed and shared by others. If that’s not in the equation, I don’t need it.

So what happens to you in the next few years?

(laughs) I’m sitting here right now with my hazmat suit on and you’re asking me what’s going to happen in the next couple of years! I’m 73 years old. You’re lucky I’m still walking around. But I’ll tell you right now, I’ve been lucky in my life. All the great fans, Styx fans and my fans, over the years have given me a great life. So if all I have to do is keep a mask on and stay in the house, I got a nice place to stay. My heart goes out to all the people whose lives were completely destroyed by the Covid. People don’t know what they’re going to do to pay their rent or mortgage, they lost their jobs. This is awful. This is why it’s different than 1968, because it affects everyone on the planet in ways that, as we can see, human beings have not been prepared for. But I’ve said it all my life, human beings always solve the problem twenty-four hours after it’s too late. And that’s what is going to happen here. What the quote-unquote new normal looks like, I don’t know. I have no idea. But my life has been altered just like everyone else’s but I’m okay. I wouldn’t take this for granted and I would say to all the people that are suffering and struggling, this is just awful. 

People a while ago asked me, “We need your music, Dennis. Please sing us a song from your house,” like all the other needy celebrities. So I did it and sang “The Best Of Times” into an iPad on an out of tune piano and I got a million, one hundred twenty thousand views. That was astounding. I’m not Lady Gaga, I don’t get stuff like that. So I’ve been in my house and I’ve been doing Zoom after Zoom, interview after interview. It hasn’t stopped for the last two and a half months. So I’ve had the advantage of keeping busy by the album and people’s interest, which certainly surprised me.

Which Styx song do you recall as being the most difficult to transfer to the live stage?

We don’t play them! (laughs). This is the strength of Styx: when you came to hear us reproduce our songs, and it’s true of my band today as we do the music of Styx, we could play what we recorded. There are a lot of bands from our era that could never do that. We had three actual singers. We could do what we did in the studio live. There was no song we ever couldn’t do, although we never played “Roboto” when we did the Comeback tour in 1996 and 1997, because that would have been tricky for me to sing it and play it, as this is before they had the synthesizers that you could just play it, right. Of course, my band now we do “Roboto” live great. But there was no song. We could do anything we wanted to.

Do you think your solo band maybe has gotten the short end of the stick because people want to compare them so much to original Styx?

No, not at all. What that is is Tommy and JY; that’s not Styx. It’s two guys and it was two guys when they replaced me. Two guys replaced one. All those other people in the band are hired guns, just like my band. There’s two guys there and one guy here. That’s all it is. But they have the brand. When you put a brand name up, whatever it is, you go in thinking, oh, that’s Coca-Cola, I know what that tastes like. So when you have a brand it is always an advantage. But really, if my former bandmates aren’t packaging up on tours with two or three other bands, we tend – them and myself – to play the same places, the same casinos, the same performing arts centers, for the most part. So no, my band doesn’t get the short end. I did a live video in 2014. The guy put it up about three years ago. It was a thing I did for AXS TV and it’s going to make a million views this year. Me! With that band! (laughs) So that is unbelievable. But the brand matters to people because a lot of people will just go because they’ll assume certain things when they see the brand. So I would say, let the buyer beware.

One song you rarely hear Styx play today is “Snowblind” from Paradise Theatre; and it’s a great song that you have a co-writer credit on. What was your part in the creation of that song?

JY had a song, I think he did have the title, but you know all the parts he sings, “Mirror, Mirror,” all that stuff? That’s what he wrote. Then after the “Mirror, Mirror” part, he had another song that went double-time that he had written that he thought matched, they went together. And I said, “JY, that second half of that is not going to cut it. That beginning is genius, you can’t go wrong, you can bet the kids’ college fund.” And I went in and I finished the song. So all the parts that Tommy sings, including the chorus, not the lyrics, I wrote. I think those lyrics are JY’s and the “Mirror, Mirror” parts are his but all those chords and that melody, that’s me. Now people don’t expect it, do they, because I guess I’ve so much success writing hit ballads that they think that’s all I do, but that’s not true. You can listen to any number of songs – “Grand Illusion,” “Castle Walls,” “Rockin’ The Paradise,” “Lorelei,” “Born For Adventure;” I mean, the list goes on and on. That’s me in there. 

But “Snowblind,” that’s how it came about. And here’s what I did, this is how I was the kind of leader of the band. Not the dictator but the leader, the guy who kind of brought things together, because there is no Styx record without those other four guys. That’s a fact. We were a band together making that music. BUT, I said to JY, “This second part of that song that I’m writing, I think Tommy should sing it.” How’d you like to go to the original idea guy and tell him you should let Tommy sing the second half (laughs). That’s what I did, because I knew Tommy would be the right guy to sing that part.

What was your biggest Keith Emerson moment?

The first time I heard “Lucky Man.” I said, “Hey look, find me a keyboard player who can compete with these show off guitar players!” That’s what I thought. “Oh, keyboard players can be paid attention to? That’s cool.” So in 1972, I started playing the synthesizer and the first time I ever played it was on the first album and it was on a Moog 10. But Keith Emerson, he was a marvel and I loved him but really I lost touch with Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes and all those Prog bands because they stopped writing songs and they drowned themselves in mystical virtuosity, time signatures and moods. But the thing I love about “Lucky Man” is not only the synth but how about the song. It’s a great song, from the beginning. I wanted to hear the songs by ELP and Yes. Give me the songs! The minute Yes went to Topographic Oceans, my eyes glazed over. I don’t need that. I’m a song guy so I want the song. What resurrected Yes? A great song, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” I turned the band on the Cornerstone album gently away from Prog Rock cause I thought it was dying. Guess what? I was right. It was dying. And I just said we got to do something else here to stay relevant. So we did. We went in a different direction.

So it wasn’t a hard battle to change?

No, it wasn’t a battle at all. We didn’t have battles within the band like that. And Cornerstone, like I said, we had to gently move away from Prog Rock. But let me just say this to you: “Borrowed Time” or “Lights” or “Eddie” or “Love In The Midnight,” okay; and even “Never Say Never.” They could have been on any Styx album. There’s Prog elements in those songs. First thing you hear on Side 1 is my synthesizer, right in “Lights.” It could have been on any Styx album but what happened was “Babe” became a number one record and then “Boat On The River,” a song that JY didn’t want on the album and didn’t play on, and the manager said, “You shouldn’t do a song like that.” Tommy brought it in on a demo reel and I said, “What’s that song?” And he said, “Oh that’s not for us.” And I said, “What? That’s a great song.” So now today I’m going to brag because it’s all true: the two biggest songs outside of the United States and North America for Styx are “Babe” and “Boat On The River.” So if it was up to JY and our manager at the time, the big dummy, Tommy wouldn’t have one of the biggest hits of all-time. 

And you do know the story of “Renegade,” don’t you? It was not a rock song. You know “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills & Nash? It sounded just like that. You know when we’re singing, when the three-part harmony comes in? The whole song was like that with acoustic guitar. There was no rock song. That was it. That’s what he brought in. I said, “It’s a beautiful song but you know what, Tommy, this is about a renegade. I don’t think three people should sing it. It should be a rock song.” We were standing on the stage of the Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois, in rehearsals, and I said, “I love this song but I think it’s got to be a rock song. What would it be like if we completely made it into a rock song?” He picked up the Les Paul and John started playing the drums and Chuck started playing the bass and “Renegade” the rock song was born.

You’ve done musical theatre. Was that a natural progression for you?

Absolutely. Wait, no, let me dispel all the crapsicle lies that have been told about me for the last twenty-one years. And they are lies, all of them. In 1991, after we came back with the Edge Of The Century album that went gold and there was a #3 single called “Show Me The Way,” we couldn’t get an album deal, because grunge wiped us all out. That period of five years of staring at your shoes and wearing flannel that itched, standing in the rain and making us all depressed, killed a bunch of bands. They had their least popular albums. 

When Tommy Shaw quit the band in 1983, during Kilroy, to pursue his solo career, leaving the other four of us going, “You’re what? Why would you quit?” And having JY say, with John and Chuck, “We should replace him now, Dennis. Let’s get rid of him.” And I said, “Replace Tommy Shaw in Styx? How would we do that?” I kept saying he’d come back after his solo album, let him get it out of his system. Well, for three albums, six years went by. Finally he decided he’d come back and I was in the last album of my deal with them, MCA, and I said, “It’s coming out, just give me a little time to finish this and then we’ll do that.” In the interim he met John Kalodner who put him with Jack Blades and Ted Nugent and Damn Yankees was formed and he was gone again. So that’s when Glen Burtnik came in for Edge Of The Century

But after that album and that tour, which was barely successful, I said, “We got to wait this out. We have to wait for Tommy to come back. That’s what people want.” So JY, John and Chuck were not happy. I don’t have a job but I’m going to wait it out cause I know we need Tommy to make this a whole thing. And what happens? My wife’s sister gets married in California. We fly out. I don’t know the guy, never met him and his name is Forbes Candlish. Turns out he’s the executive producer of the 20th anniversary tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, starring Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson and Irene Cara. I’m at the wedding and I don’t know anything about the guy and he comes up to me and he says, “I have been a Styx fan since I was in a rock band and I want you to play Pontius Pilate in this new production.” I laughed. I said, “Forbes, every six months or so you should empty your bong water.” But he was serious. He pursued me for two months. I didn’t have a job then, there was no Styx as far as I was concerned anymore, and he offered me this gig. Well, I did it for six months. I was pretty good at it. 

So while I’m on the road doing it in LA, Danny Goldberg, who had managed me at one time, saw me on the stage at the Universal Amphitheatre playing Pontius Pilate and he said, “Hey man, you can do this. I’ll give you money to make an album called 10 On Broadway.” And I said I’d do it. And while I am on tour in Superstar for six months, I decide maybe I’ll write one of these things cause I certainly don’t want to perform eight shows a week cause that’s killer when you’re an actor on Broadway. So I wrote The Hunchback because I was bored. So if anyone tells you I was pursuing Broadway, it’s a lie. And when people on Broadway say, “Dennis, how do you break into Broadway?” I say, “Get yourself a brother-in-law who is a producer.” (laughs) And that’s the truth, that’s how I got onto Broadway. That’s it. I didn’t aspire. All I ever did with Styx, along with Jeff Ravitz, our lighting guy, who had a degree from Northwestern University in Theatre, he and I would get together and figure out how we could steal theatrical elements and use them in a Styx show. That’s where the theatricality came from. And what started me on this whole thing, not that I had to go see the latest rendition of My Fair Lady at your dinner theater. No, I saw Alice Cooper’s show in like 1974 and I went, Wow! Look what he did! And that started my interest in combining rock music with theatrical devices. And nothing more.

So this idea that somehow I’m the Broadway baby is horseshit. I just so happen to be able to do it. I’m able to sing it and I’m able to write it and apparently I’m able to act it. So that’s what happened. But if Tommy Shaw had not quit to pursue his own agenda of being a solo artist, I would have never written a Broadway musical or stood on a Broadway stage in my life. I would have been in this band that I formed and loved: Styx. But because he took off for his own reasons, the other four of us were left to have to do something. That’s the truth of the story. 

When you were a schoolteacher, were you this animated?

No, I was not animated. I was actually real (laughs). Of course I was! I had long hair and I was waiting for a record deal. I didn’t want to be a schoolteacher. But I had a wife and a baby girl before I ever got a record deal. So I’m different. I had responsibilities. None of the guys in the band had kids through the heyday. None of them. I ended up with two. Nobody knew what it was like to be a dad. None of them. But I did. I was teaching school when I got the record deal. I taught the last six months while we recorded the first album. So did Chuck Panozzo, cause he was a schoolteacher. But yes, I was funny, I was animated, kids loved me. They did. Look on my Facebook page: “You taught me and you were our best teacher.” I taught music. I was the District 143 in Illinois music teacher for about three years.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

You know, I don’t know. I have no idea. Nobody comes to mind. 

You didn’t go to concerts?

No. I worked as a stock boy for four years, put myself through college. Then I went and worked at UPS for a couple of years. Then I became a schoolteacher and I played in the band the whole time. My life was really pretty locked down. I’m not a frivolous run around the town kind of guy. My wife and I, we went steady when she was fifteen and I was seventeen. I’m not your typical rock star. And I don’t want to be. That’s the guy behind the grand illusion.

When did you first get annoyed with news and politics?

1979 and I wrote the lyrics on a song called “Borrowed Time” and the second verse goes like this: “I’m so confused by the things I read, I need the truth; But the truth is I don’t know who to believe; The left say yes, the right says no; And I’m in between, the more I learn the less I know; I got to make a show; Livin’ high, living fine; Livin’ high on borrowed time.”

You know in the video of “With All Due Respect,” it says, “This just in! Nobody knows nuttin’” Did you see what the thumbnail is? It says “Breaking Views” and there’s all kinds of clues in the video. There is a song being sung at about eight seconds that I bet you didn’t hear. You’ve got to keep watching it. It gives you clues. “This just in, spin, spin, spin” (laughs) And the announcer is spinning, isn’t he, and he has no face, because it doesn’t matter. He just has a mouth. But nobody sees it, they see “Breaking News” but it’s “Breaking Views.” That just goes to show you how trained we are. We don’t even stop to read it. We expect it to be what we think it is so nobody sees it.

It’s like “You My Love.” The minute people hear me sing a ballad, they don’t even listen. I’ve seen it over and over in reviews. You hear me sing a ballad with my voice and it sounds like a love song and you think, oh that’s for Suzanne. No, it is a song about divorce and betrayal. It’s has that late fifties/early sixties thing, because as I’m looking back over my life, I’m thinking, well Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney, when I heard those guys sing, I thought maybe there’s a chance for me in this business. So I wrote a tribute and it was about my daughter’s divorce from the perspective of the one who has been betrayed. Read the lyrics and you’ll see. “’Cause when I said I do; I swore I’d stay with you; Through the good and bad times; And all that comes between … I vowed I’d place no one above; You my love.” But that person is singing it to somebody who has betrayed them. 

How did you get together with Julian Lennon for the song “To The Good Old Days”?

I wrote a Beatles tribute song for 26 East and I thought I might ask him. Then I thought, well, he shouldn’t sing this one because it really is a total Beatlemania kind of song. So I sat down at the piano and I wrote “To The Good Old Days” specifically for he and I to sing. I did the demo, sent it to him. I’d never met him, I didn’t even know him, and I thought I’d never get an answer. But he said he’d be honored to do it. We met in New York and we did it. How about that? He’s a swell dude and I love that song and I love the way we sing it.

Did you envision the video being home movie clips?

Never. The pandemic hit and we were supposed to be in the video together and he ended up in Europe and I ended up in my aunt’s attic. It’s sentimental and I was reluctant. I used to say to my wife, “I don’t want to watch any home videos cause there’s too many dead people.” But you know what, after I watched it, I thought, I’m glad I did this. You can forget life. We constantly try to put it behind us and when I looked at it all I thought, well, there is a life celebrated with love, family, friends and joy. That’s it. And if you think posing on a stage as a rock star is as important as that, that’s fine by me. I don’t and I never did. 

You know all the people who wrote about rock music, about the hedonism, here’s the joke of it all, rebel without a clue who is rebelling against the man and the establishment. This is concocted by rock writers, somewhere in the late sixties. I think to myself, what a load of horse feathers this is. All these rock stars, the first thing they do is they sign a deal with a multi-national corporation and decide how much money they make per album. They are not rebelling against the man – they ARE the man. Think about it. You can rip your jeans and pose. It’s the grand illusion. I said it in 1977. I said, “Don’t be fooled by the radio; The TV or the magazines; They show you photographs of how your life should be; But they’re just someone else’s fantasies; So if you think your life is complete confusion; Because you never win the game; Remember it’s a grand illusion … And deep inside we’re all the same.” 

We said it on The Grand Illusion. On “Superstars,” it says, I was the kid in the fourteenth row just a few years ago and now you’re looking at me up here, for I am an illusion that I create for your entertainment. We said that! Whether or not rock writers or anybody else understood it, that’s what I was saying. You can go back, as they say, and check the footage. It’s right there. “Welcome to the grand illusion; Come on in and see what’s happening; Pay the price, get your tickets for the show; The stage is set, the band starts playing; Suddenly your heart is pounding; Wishing secretly YOU were a star; But don’t be fooled by the radio.” That was us. And at the end it says, “America spells competition, join us in our blind ambition; and get yourself a brand new motor car; But someday soon we’ll stop to ponder what on Earth’s this spell we’re under; We made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are.” I told you we were an illusion. I told you we were posers. There it is.

Most people are listening to the music. They like the music. And here’s another thing. I’m going to get on rock critics because what they said about us and our music in real time was wrong. Our music lasted, didn’t it. It’s still everywhere. They were wrong because they always put more value to the lyrics over music. That’s wrong. They’re stupid to think that. That’s wrong, because people hear music first and foremost. You go to any concert and people start singing the words to a song and then they go, blah de dah de dah. They still know the melody, they always know the melody, but they can’t remember all the words. And I just told you about The Grand Illusion album and you would think that rock critics would’ve embraced those ideas. But we were like a combination Proggy band and they always hated Prog, didn’t they. The Prog albums I had I don’t think you ever understood a word Yes ever said (laughs). What does that mean? But I liked the tunes and it sounds really cool.

But I’m sure you liked Rick Wakeman

Oh Wakeman is my favorite! He’s like me. We’re funny, cynical curmudgeons. He’s a great one. 

Someone called 26 East a “Dennis DeYoung masterpiece”

That’s been said a number of times and I think to myself, well, don’t expect me to argue (laughs). 

 

Live photographs by Vera Harder

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9 Responses

  1. Dennis is the best. Extremely talented musician. Styx really misses him. I wish one last reunion concert would occur.

  2. Great interview. Grew up in the Chicago suburbs listening to Styx from Equinox on vinyl. Fast forward to today. Working and living in Tokyo, Japan. Earpods jamming to nonstop Styx tunes in the subways here via paid Apple Music. Blue collar man!

  3. Dennis is Styx. I became a fan back in 1974 as a 10 year old. His passion and lead vocals (and of course the unmatched harmonies that Styx had) were what attracted me to the band and what I believed separated them from all the other bands back then). I’ve seen the real Styx in concert about 50 times over the years, and now I have seen Dennis’ band at least 10 times. His current show is as close as you are ever going to get to a real Styx show. It is amazing how great his voice still is!

  4. Wow very impressed Dennis Deyoung!!
    Definitely think you nailed the political climate. Stop being led by news media and and follow your eyes and heart before its too late!! Hypocrisy is ruining the country

    Only time I got Styx with Dennis was 1981 Paradise Theater tour Richfield coliseum, Cleveland. Like a Religious experience ?

    1. Dennis is enlightened and wise. ALL politicians are corrupt sleazeball phonies who were fake-elected to act a certain part, to cheat and steal from The People, and to implement an agenda that harms us.

      Turn off all “news”, stop pretend-voting, and never trust anyone, ever, in politics, the “media”, or Hollywood.

  5. ddy wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him. STYX is so much better without him. It was the best decision JY and Tommy made going on without ddy. Lawrence Gowan puts ddy to shame and has a far better voice and is CLASSICALLY trained. ddy can’t compete with LG. And ddy is to stupid to figure out that the real STYX don’t want to tour with him “one last time”. STYX is happy without him. If you watch older videos with ddy you can pick up on the tension between Tommy and ddy. With LG, all tension is gone and they are actually enjoying themselves.

  6. styx changed and saved my life as a kid 2008 i started writing a book the goal of the book was to reunite dennis and tommy and write a book that was as ambigous as the greatest love song never writte suite madame blue took me 12 years or so part 8 was 88 i kid you not pieces of eight handwritten pages HOW STYX EXPLAINS THE WORLD not sure you could pull tat off with vanhalen kiss acdc etc dennis is write styx stood for something i’m trying to find someone who can get this to dennis deyoung

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