Dennis DeYoung brings the music of Styx with ‘The Grand Illusion Tour’
One of the most recognizable voices in the music world today comes to Williamsport, as Dennis DeYoung, founding member and former lead vocalist of Styx, takes the stage for “The Grand Illusion 40th Anniversary Album Tour,” a Legends of Rock production, 7:30 p.m. March 23 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
In 1977, the rock band Styx made history with the release of their breakthrough album “The Grand Illusion,” which reached Triple Platinum certification. DeYoung celebrates that history by performing the album in its entirety, plus all eight of Styx’s Top Ten hits, including “Lady,” “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Best of Times” and “Mr. Roboto.” In addition, he will perform some of the band’s classic rock anthems, such as “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man,” “Suite Madame Blue” and many more.
DeYoung is best known for being a founding member of Styx as lead vocalist and keyboardist, a tenure that lasted from 1970 until June 1999. From the start of Styx’s commercial success with the 1972 DeYoung-penned single “Lady,” DeYoung became the creative force behind most of the band’s hit songs. DeYoung was the lead singer and songwriter on seven of the band’s eight Billboard Top Ten hits.
A legendary singer, songwriter, keyboardist, composer and record producer, DeYoung has inspired generations of fans with a career spanning over five decades. He wrote and sang several classic songs, including “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Best of Times,” “Mr. Roboto,” “Show Me the Way,” “Desert Moon,” “Don’t Let It End,” and the 1979 People’s Choice Award winner, “Babe.” DeYoung has recorded seven solo albums including “Desert Moon,” whose title track achieved Top Ten status in 1984.
The roots of Styx can be traced back to the early 1960s in the Roseland neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, where the 14-year-old DeYoung and his 13-year-old neighbors, brothers Chuck and John Panozzo, joined Dennis on bass and drums respectively, to form a three-piece combo.
“If memory serves me, the band was born in my parents’ basement in 1962,” DeYoung said. “John and Chuck Panozzo and myself — we were the nucleus of Styx. We were neighbors, just across the street from each other.”
The trio later added guitarist James Young and John Curulewski to form the band Tradewinds in the late 1960s. The band renamed itself TW4 in 1968 before becoming Styx in 1970. Curulewski eventually left the band and was replaced with guitarist Tommy Shaw in December 1975.
The seventh studio album by Styx, “The Grand Illusion” launched the band to stardom in 1977, spawning the hit singles “Come Sail Away” and “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and selling over than three million copies in the U.S.
DeYoung said he considers “The Grand Illusion” to be the best record the band ever made.
“There are two or three others that we made that were very fine records, but that one is special, probably because it exposed us to a worldwide audience” he said. “It took a band that had good success into what I would consider great success. So that one goes at the top of the list when you consider songs, production, everyone on the same page, and the album artwork –it’s a homerun.”
As with much of Styx’s catalog, many of the songs have quasi-medieval/fantasy lyrics and themes. Some are allegories and commentaries on contemporary American life and the members’ experiences in an American rock band in the mid-to-late 1970s. Perhaps no other song in the group’s vast catalogue of hits identifies Styx like “Come Sail Away,” one of the signature songs DeYoung will perform from the album.
“We really hadn’t hit the big time yet, and it was a song about yearning,” he said. “So, it’s a reflection on where we had been, and the idea that there was another place; whether it’s sailing away on the great seas, or angels appearing above your head taking you away, or the starship Enterprise, taking you to a galaxy you haven’t explored. It was the feeling that there must be something better. I think it resonated with people; and they sing it back to me every night after 40 years, and for that I can only be grateful.”
Styx would go on to record four more hit albums that reached platinum status over the next six years, including “Pieces of Eight” (1978), “Cornerstone” (1979), “Paradise Theatre” (1981) and “Kilroy Was Here” (1983).
Between stints with Styx, DeYoung, a devout Roman Catholic, joined a touring revival of the stage musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1993.
He appeared in about 200 performances as Pontius Pilate. The experience inspired him to record his 1994 album of Broadway standards, “10 on Broadway,” and to begin work on a musical of his own based on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
In recent years, DeYoung’s songs have continued to enjoy remarkable popularity. His compositions have been featured in over 30 television shows, including “The Simpsons,” “South Park,” “Freeks & Geeks,” “Dharma and Gregg,” “E.R.”, “King of Queens,” “Sex in the City,” “Will and Grace,” “Las Vegas,” “Cold Case,” “That 70’s Show,” “Saturday Night Live” and numerous others.
DeYoung’s songs have been featured in 15 major motion pictures, including “Virgin Suicides,” “Big Daddy,” “Detroit Rock City,” Disney’s “Atlantis,” and “The Wild,” “The Karate Kid II,” the “Shrek II” DVD, “Mr. Woodcock,” “Underdog” and “Fun with Dick and Jane.” Four songs of DeYoung’s were used in “The Perfect Man,” in which he also made a cameo appearance.
In 2010, DeYoung formed a new band to capture the sound and look of the original Styx band, dedicated to the music of Styx, adding lead guitarist/vocalist August Zadra to perform the Tommy Shaw guitar parts and vocals, and guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Leahey to perform those of James Young.
“I searched the country high and low and found these guys who could bring the spirit of the music together both in showmanship and in sound,” DeYoung said.
In addition to Zadra and Leahey, the current band also features keyboardist John Blasucci; bassist/vocalist Craig Carter; drummer Michael Morales; and DeYoung’s wife of 48 years, Suzanne, on backing vocals.
The band will perform “The Grand Illusion” in its entirety in the first act and then do the greatest hits in the second act. With each concert, the band alternates various song selections from the Styx catalogue and from DeYoung’s solo career.
“Sometimes it’s ‘Desert Moon,’ sometimes it’s ‘Don’t Let It End,’ and sometimes it’s ‘Show Me the Way,’ “ DeYoung said. “We include ‘Desert Moon’ in the greatest hits part of the set because it’s my claim to fame.”
DeYoung said he is pleased with how successful the tour has been, as people have been very responsive in ways that he didn’t expect.
“I guess people want to go back and pretend that it’s 1977-78 and put their album on,” he said. “Who am I do deny them? I won’t deny them that. We’ve been very lucky and successful with this so far. People like it.”
For ticket information, visit caclive.com.
The next Legends of Rock production will be the Charlie Daniels Band 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21.