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  2. Ron

    Tom Sharpe

    DDY Talk: Tom I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss performing with two nationally known artists, as well as your own music, and your new release Lifting the World. Tom: Hi Ron, you're welcome, but don't thank me too much. I am sure that most people in general, not just artists, would be willing to take time out of their day to talk about themselves. It's everyone's universal favorite subject! DDY Talk: First I have to ask: Where do you find the time to compose and record your own music when you spend a good bit of time touring with Dennis DeYoung and Mannheim Steamroller? Tom: Well Ron, I have two things that are on my mind constantly - family and music. So even if I'm on the road, I am still thinking and creating. This symphony Lifting the World began life in the early 2000's, so It's been a labor of love for a long time DDY Talk: It's been 12 years since the release of Like Setting Myself on Fire, your first album. How do you think you have grown as both a composer and a musician since then? Tom: I look back on my first album, and I have to say, I am still very proud of it. I think that says something. I mean, anytime you can look back at your younger self and not cringe, it's a good thing. I put a great deal of care into that album, and I think it shows, and holds up. It was really the start of my post college career as a professional musician. When Like Setting Myself on Fire won the John Lennon Songwriting contest, it was a way to separate from the countless musicians trying to book performances and get recognized. My phone started to ring, people wanted to hear my work. Even today, that title track receives some of my biggest applause. I still perform many works from that album. I think my evolution from the composer I was then to this current release, Lifting the World, has a lot to do with the patience to explore themes more to their full capability. Also, Like Setting Myself on Fire is definitely a studio created album, where as Lifting the World, while there are plenty of studio tricks, has a much more real, symphonic/orchestral feel to it, with real strings, reeds, guitars, drums, piano and a full choir recorded on location in a large chapel. It is much more layered and involved. I believe the listener can peel this back so many different ways, and hear something new every time. When I recorded Like Setting Myself on Fire, I thought I was writing a lot of parts. I had no idea what was in store for me next with Lifting the World. There are literally over a hundred parts on some of the larger pieces. Each instrument is written out and performed, not a keyboard playing a lot of fill in chords. When you hear two violins play a melody and a counter melody, that is two violins, not a keyboard patch playing two parts at once. Like Setting Myself on Fire is now fully scored for orchestra as well, but it was after I released the album and started to get opportunities to perform the work that I set out to score it. Lifting the World was conceived as a large ensemble work - orchestral, choral, percussive, ethnic, symphonic - I set out to create it this way. There is so much to explore if you dig deep. I hope that it's an enjoyable listen on the surface as well, but I will never know because I'm too close to it. DDY Talk: How has working with Dennis DeYoung and Chip Davis influenced your composing and performing? Tom: Dennis and Chip have influenced me in many more ways than composing and performing. I am sure that subconsciously there are elements of their amazing catalogs that have snuck into my writing, but really, I look at these legendary artists on a larger scale. They both have inspired me how to have a sustained and successful career in music - the right way, and how driven and focused you need to be. They are both visionaries - pioneers of styles of music that stand the test of time - filling large venues 35 - 40 years later. Is my work unique like that? Is it innovative, creative, leading the way? I would love to think so. Hopefully it is. I don't know anyone else that writes and performs the same way I do. Being an innovator is something I strive for and look to Chip and Dennis as mentors. Perhaps this is one of the biggest ways they have influenced me. I'm so motivated to inspire younger generations, it's been wonderful for me to have role models myself, artists that I look up to, not from afar, but from a working and personal relationship. These are the guys that have done it right. But no one has been a bigger influence or inspiration on me than my own mother and father. They have always been my biggest support not only in music, but in life. Leading by example of how to do things the right way. My work ethic, strength, desire to help others, to give, and to make a difference, all comes from the way I was raised and the sacrifices they made to provide me with opportunities. DDY Talk: You call Lifting the World a symphony. When you started writing for what would become this album, did you originally plan to compose a symphony? If not, how did evolve from writing individual songs to one connected piece of work? Tom: I didn't plan on writing a symphony. Honestly, I don't really even know how I wrote this. I didn't have a formula. I didn't calculate and map it out. Sometimes I feel like I don't really even write this music, I'm just the vehicle for it to have a life. Of course it's written from my background and education, but I don't know. I look back on these works and scratch my head. I'm just a simple guy. I like sports and pizza and cars. Then, here is this dramatic work of tragedy and triumph, richly layered, interweaving themes, choirs singing in Hindi. How did that happen? DDY Talk: Do you have any kind of plot or storyline that accompanies the flow through the entire composition? Tom: I do, but I want you to have your own. I love it when fans tell me Lifting the World is a personal soundtrack to their own movie. Music can have (not always does, but CAN have) a very personal connection with your inner self. This is why I use voice as an instrument and not as a story teller. As soon as you hear lyrics, you are hearing a story someone is telling you. My music allows you the opportunity to connect deeper. To use the music to further explore your own feelings and emotions and not just hear mine. I will often get people coming up to me after a concert and telling me that my music spoke to them on a higher level. They were having a bad day, something happened, they've suffered loss, and this music ministered them and helped them heal. Now, I think it's a little much to say that about my own work, so I don't. HOWEVER, if someone says that TO me, I think "YES!" This is what I want. This is what I'm after. To help. To heal. To create work that is larger than me. To use music and any gifts that I've been given to somehow make a difference. DDY Talk: The song titles indicate a spiritual connection. Does the composition represent some kind of spiritual journey? Tom: Absolutely, but again, it depends on how deep you want to go. I hope that it's a nice pleasant listen while your in the car, mindlessly driving and killing some time, but that is not what I intended it to be. This is a - put headphones on, listen to the WHOLE THING, and allow yourself to be open with your emotions - kind of album. I want you to get something out of it that you can use. DDY Talk: Do you have a favorite track on the album? What track means the most to you? Tom: Bloodline is a favorite because it recaps the themes of the first part of the album and foreshadows the themes of the second half. The Cathedral Is Where You Are, beautifully played by the strings, is another one I love. Though a lot of what I do is drum orientated, I guess I lean towards my peaceful and reflective compositions as ones I enjoy creating the most. I don't know. Again, I'm too close to it. I would love to know what others favorite tracks are and why. That is more important to me. DDY Talk: What motivates you as a composer? As a performer? Tom: My biggest motivation is looking at something I've written and feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride. Composing a work like a symphony is a life goal. It's like running a marathon. I've actually always thought I would run a marathon. I'm an avid runner. I get my miles in every day. But, as I go, I'm realizing I might never have the time to train for that long of a distance. But hey, I wrote a symphony, and very few people will ever say they did that! With Dennis and with Mannheim, it's about the legacy - protecting the legacy and approaching the position with great thought and care. I mean, this is music we grew up with. The first words I ever heard Dennis sing as a 10 year old boy were "Tonight's the night, we'll make history". I can't even tell you how many times I dropped the needle on that record on my dad's stereo. Then the first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album came out a few years later, and, who was doing music like this? No one. Now, everyone has a Christmas album, but think back to 1984, close your eyes, and listen to Mannheim Steamroller's Silent Night like it was the first time. It's ground breaking. No wonder it won a Grammy! So now, to be a part of the other side, to be on stage, to be a part of what the applause are for. It is special, and I don't take a second of it for granted. It is a long day for those two hours or so, and I'm awfully sure to make it count. I leave it all out there. Nothing left in the tank after ANY performance. With my own music, it's the chance to break new ground. It's the excitement of seeing people come in and get their seats, because I know they really don't know what's coming. I can't wait to get to them and share this music and style of performing that is all mine. It's about being energized to put myself out there and not worried. I always say that all I need is an audience and I'll do the rest. They don't need to be sold before they get there, they will be sold when they leave. I've grown to be confident in what I do. I don't look at being confident and being humble as opposites, being arrogant and being humble are opposites. Being confident just means believing in what you do. I do a lot of public speaking/performing, and I encourage students and conference attendees of all ages to believe in themselves first. If you don't, how can you expect others to believe in you? DDY Talk: Would you like to share the memory of anything special that happened when you were performing? Do you have a favorite memory from being on tour? Tom: This is hard to say. I just love the smiling faces. I love seeing people get emotional. I love feeling like I've made a difference. When someone comes up to me after a concert and they are crying, that impacts me. That is pure heart. I've done something good. I keep telling myself - "Make a difference Tom, keep trying. Don't ever give up. You are here for a reason." And when these things happen after a performance, it's the best. There are fun things too, that are special. It is always great for me to go home to Detroit and play the venues there. Pine Knob was a personal triumph, and the Fox Theater is my personal favorite tour stop. Last year on the Mannheim tour, I held up a Red Wings jersey when I was announced. The place went up. It was special. DDY Talk: What do you feel is your greatest professional accomplishment (so far)? Tom: Oh, wow, just one? Lifting the World is my biggest achievement because it is mine. It is still very early, so I don't know what kind of success it's going to have. I more think of it as my greatest personal musical accomplishment. Of course being on recordings with Dennis and Mannheim are reaching the masses, so those are great accomplishments as well, just different. I'm proud of my tours, recordings, TV appearances - it's all special to me. I look at my accomplishments, and I am extremely grateful and fortunate. Determination, drive, a balance of patience and persistence, never giving up, believing in myself - these are the things that got me where I am and will take me where I'm going next. DDY Talk: Are you working on scheduling some live performances of your new album in the coming year? Tom: I am sure there will be some. Right now my professional focus is on my two national tours, and I have no regrets. I know there will be in a time in the future where my own work takes a larger piece of the pie, but for now, I am fitting it into the cracks, and there aren't many cracks. I would love to find a really great booking agent that would be aggressive. For me at this time, when the phone rings, I answer, but it's hard for me to actively pursue my own opportunities because of the tours. DDY Talk: How are you able to adjust to the different types of performances that you play? For example, when you have both Dennis DeYoung and Mannheim Steamroller shows (or back and forth) within the same week? Tom: I don't know - I just do! I think that's why I have the career I have. I know that I could walk into many people's work environment and have no idea how they do what they do. It's like that. Your life and career usually leads you to the things you are good at doing. It's only hard if you can't do. If you can, it's very natural. DDY Talk: What do you find the most gratifying about performing? About composing? Tom: Connecting with people and the opportunity to make something special happen. It's setting goals, looking back and being proud of what you've done. I think there is a misconception that having this kind of lifestyle is a big party, and honestly it's a lot of hard work. I take words like "fun" and replace them with "accomplishment". Finishing a concert drenched in sweat and limbs aching? Pride. Pride because I look out and I see happy faces, faces that need this, and pride also because I am performing music that has spoken to ME through the years. Often as a musician, even when you are successful, you have to perform music that maybe you don't particularly like. What happens, say, if your doing a musical or something, and you have to perform the same music night after night but don't really like the music you're playing? That would be rough. I'm proud to say that all the music I'm playing right now, I love. That is very gratifying. DDY Talk: What composers/artists influenced you as a musician? Tom: With my orchestral background, I feel that I'm very influenced by composers of the Romantic period - Mahler, Dvorak, Saint-Seans, Rimsky Korsakov, as well as 20th century composers like Bartok, Stravinsky, Copeland. Mix that with some Peter Gabriel, Lorenna McKennit, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and there you go. And, of course, Dennis DeYoung and Mannheim Steamroller! DDY Talk: Lifting the World has a strong sense of flow throughout the entire album. There were points that I felt like I was listening to a movie soundtrack, and the music was being reflective of what could be happening on screen. Have you ever thought about trying to get hired to write a music score? Tom: I would be honored. But what I really want to do right now is keep writing my own music based on what is in my heart. If a director wants to use something I've written, I would love that. But at this point in my life I don't know that I'm interested in writing music to a formula. Of course, things can change! DDY Talk: Are there any thoughts or ideas that you might have for what you would like to do for your next project? (It's not going to be another 12 years, I hope) Tom: One of the great things about Lifting the World being released is that it is freeing. Lifting the World will have a life. It is free of my never-ending studio tweaks and additions. Whatever Lifting the World is meant to do, it finally has the opportunity to do just that. At the same time, it has freed me to move on as well. Yes, I have plenty of ideas for another project, and probably several projects! Some I already perform live, some are stand-alone works and there is another larger work that I've started to let fill my conscious thoughts. I'm wondering, do I have Symphony #2 in me? DDY Talk: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I would also like to thank my daughter Elisabeth who helped with the writing and inspiration for several of them. I look forward to seeing you soon. Tom: The Mannheim Steamroller show is brand new. You will love it.
  3. Part Three: The Present, The Future, and Other Things DDY Talk: First of all, thank you and here's to your health and happiness, now and in the future. I have a very fond place in my heart for your early collaborative work with Dennis. Really great songs! My Question: Can you give us any insight as to what Dennis might have planned to promote his wonderful new CD when it is released in the US this coming year? (TV Appearances? Radio? Print interviews?) Thank you again for taking time to do this. —Kathy (Ladybug), Houston, TX Chuck: Thank you, That’s very nice of you to say and I appreciate your kind words. I’ve got to tell you, I heard a rough mix of one of the songs Dennis is planning to put on the American release of 100 Years From Now and I was blown away. A lot of the things you’ve asked about are being coordinated and planned as we speak. I would look to Dennis’ Web site in the near future for the scoop. DDY Talk: I would like to know were Dennis stands spiritually? —John (Chicago Guy), Rolling Meadows, IL Chuck: Dennis attends mass every Sunday with Suzanne. He’s a loving husband, a great father and true friend. He performs many charitable acts that are not made public. To me, these things define spirituality. DDY Talk: Will there be follow up album to 100 Years From Now? —John (Chicago Guy), Rolling Meadows, IL Chuck: If I were a betting man……….. DDY Talk: I saw Dennis and the Band in Halifax. He struck me with his dignity and poise. His Roman Catholic faith has been a rock, does he feel optimistic about the future? —Tom, Bedford, Nova Scotia Chuck: Dennis lives in the future. He can’t write the songs he does without a profound belief in the potential of the human spirit. DDY Talk: What activities do you and Dennis enjoy doing together? Chuck: In my younger, healthier days we used to play golf, go to sports outings, mainly Chicago White Sox games, go to concerts, movies and plays and out to dinner with our wives. We would always hang out and still do, for barbecues, Bears football games and a highly competitive game of cards, usually a game called “Back Alley” which I learned in the Marines. We have great political discussions which sometimes can be quite heated. DDY Talk: Now that you have regained your health, what are your future plans? Chuck: I wish I can say that I’ve truly regained my health but I have not fully recovered as of yet. The last 5 years have been difficult. Organ failure, kidney dialyses, quadruple heart by-pass surgery and a kidney transplant all have taken a toll. But things are getting better. I’m getting stronger every day following the doctors’ orders, going to physical therapy and looking forward to the future. I am continuing to write and have recently finished a novel that I’ve sent to several publishers. It’s about my time in Vietnam, my assimilation back into society, a thumbnail sketch of the turbulent ‘60’s, my relationship with Dennis and Styx etc. ending with my participation in organizing the “Chicago Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade in 1986 that was the largest parade of its kind in history. It drew over 200,000 marchers from around the country and as far away as Australia, and over 300,000 spectators. DDY Talk: What inspired you to coordinate the “Welcome Home” event in Chicago in 1986? Chuck: For many reasons too numerous to mention in this venue, the war in Vietnam was very unpopular. Unfortunately some Americans, and many in the media and entertainment Industry, attached their thoughts and hatred of the war to the men who fought it. We had movie stars like Jane Fonda posing in North Vietnam during the war, smiling while sitting on an anti-aircraft gun that was used to shoot down and kill American fliers. We had other movie stars and prominent Americans recording anti-American statements that were played to American prisoners-of war telling them what assholes they were for fighting for the U.S.A. There were coordinated demonstrations portraying us as baby-killers and losers. As a result, instead of extolling the patriotism, courage and self-sacrifice that motivated most of those who served, they used all their energy and influence to destroy them. They ignored the overwhelming numbers of Veterans who, under difficult circumstances, came back to live productive lives, to become responsible citizens, captains of industry, senators and congressmen, etc. During that time you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing a police drama portraying a Vietnam Veteran as a drug crazed psychopath. In fact, during the 60’s there was more drug abuse on American Campuses than in the jungles of Vietnam. All of this negative publicity caused most of us to keep quiet which was a mistake. By keeping silent we allowed our detractors to define us. These are some of the reasons I got involved. Some of us figured it was about time to set the record straight. Not to “hawk” my work, it’s not even out yet, I can just say that I do go into much greater detail on this subject in my book. By the way, Dennis was a very big part of the success of the Parade. He advertised it around the country while he was being interviewed on radio stations for the release of his album, Back to the World. He gave a performance at Park West in Chicago to raise money to bring the replica of the “Wall” to the city. He performed a concert in Grant Park on the evening of the Parade with beer provided by Coors that drew an estimated 100,000 people. This allowed us to pay off the debts of the Parade and provide seed money for other veteran’s causes. He did all this for no money and very little recognition at a time when it wasn’t cool to support us. DDY Talk: Do you feel that veterans are still treated poorly, or do they receive the respect that they deserve from the American people? Chuck: I believe that up till now our courageous men and women of the armed services are being treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. I pray that this continues. I also think that public opinion of those who fought in Vietnam has changed for the better. We must always be vigilant to honor those who are willing to put aside their comfort and safety to defend our way of life. I believe that things such as freedom are worth fighting for. This is true not only for the current veterans but all those who have answered the call throughout our history and believed in something greater than themselves. Freedom is not free and many have paid the price. In conclusion, I would like to once again thank Chuck Lofrano for participating in this interview, and for sharing his memories with us. I would also like to thank all of you that took the time to submit a question or two.
  4. Part Two: Broken Relationships DDY Talk: How hard was it for you to see Dennis and Styx go their separate ways? Did you talk with Dennis about this at any time or was it not something you wanted to be involved in? —Charlie, Houston, TX Chuck: This is a very insightful question Dennis’s whole being was dedicated to the creation and success of Styx. Not only for himself and his family but I know he wanted to see the other members succeed. At one time I remember JY wanted to get rid of Chuck P. and replace him with another bass player. I remember talking about this with Dennis and admiring him for standing by my cousin. Another little known fact is that for a time, Dennis shared his song writing royalties with all the members of the band including those who never wrote anything. He did this freely with no reservations. I believe he really felt close to the guys and was totally blind sided when they voted him out of the group. Knowing Dennis, I believe it hurt him more personally than professionally. As I stated, in addition to Dennis being my closest friend, John was and Chuck P. is my first cousin and I was always happy for their success. They are not only my first cousins but we were very close growing up. We were constantly at each other’s homes, spent almost every holiday together and would take family vacations together. Although they are one year older than I am we attended the same grammar school and same high school. John and Chuck both stood up for my wedding and I was a pall bearer at John’s funeral. I saw the depressing effect the break up had on Dennis and was surprised when I learned early on that it was Chuck P.’s deciding vote that ousted Dennis. (Chuck P. verified this in his recent book). My feelings for him and Dennis, as well as always being personally well treated by the other members of the band, is why I have remained silent for so long. I have been a die hard fan and some of my fondest memories are attending Styx concerts, listening to their music and attending their practices before they went on a tour. I was not only saddened for what I believe was an injustice done to Dennis but the end of the Styx era. DDY Talk: JY tends to look back on his thirty years with Dennis in a primarily negative light. Why do you think that is, and did Dennis realize prior to them breaking up how deeply JY's resentment ran toward him? What is your view of JY? Chuck: (See reference to JY above) DDY Talk: Has the relationship between Dennis and JY always been strained (though kept under wraps) or did it just become so in the mid to late 90s? It is obvious how JY feels now, but I wonder has there always been this animosity? What was the depth of their friendship? —Todd, Ashland, KY Chuck: (See reference to JY above) DDY Talk: Dennis, along with his Suzanne, wound up being the odd man out in Styx, the one everyone else seems to resent the most and blame the most. Why do you think that is? Chuck: This is a question that has always puzzled me. No matter what criticism you may read about Dennis, it is usually acknowledged, often in the same statement of those critics that he was the premier talent and creative force of the group. In other words, he was the “Rain Maker” the “Founder of the Feast”. I’m no psychologist or mind reader but the only thing I can think of is that there is always jealousy and resentment of those who truly are visionaries. For instance, in the business world I heard a lot of resentment of Bill Gates. Some resented his wealth, success and even attempted to destroy the reputation of Microsoft. However, rational people understood that Gates provided great wealth to this country, the world and individual people by marketing and distributing a standard software operating system that fueled the PC and networking revolution. Once again, he couldn’t have done it without surrounding himself with talented people but it was his leadership that made it happen. Another reason could be that it’s been said, to be remembered in history you must be the king or the one who kills the king. As far as Suzanne is concerned, the only thing I have seen her do over the past 37 years of being married to Dennis is support him over good times and bad. She kept her family together in an industry that most odds makers would consider to be an impossible bet. We’ve all heard Dennis pay his respects to her on stage and I’ve never seen her interfere with his business decisions. Dennis is always the first to admit that his life would have been very different without her love and support. The only thing I can think of is that some people resent a strong and supportive relationship because they don’t have one. DDY Talk: What do you think of the Brave New World album? Chuck: The thing I remember about brave New World is that the recordings by the different members were done in separate studios. I think the jewel of the album was the homage to Roseland. DDY Talk: Were you surprised in 1999 when things turned out the way they did? Or was that kind of falling out inevitable between such different people? Chuck: I think by that time the writing was on the wall. They lasted as a group longer than some marriages and had to deal with more than just two different personalities. DDY Talk: What is the real deal with Styx and Dennis? Dennis is such a class act, and Tommy Shaw and James Young seem like such lowlifes. Will they ever re-unite again? Thanks. By the way, Dennis' latest CD is his best work to date! Better than any Styx work even. —Gary Chuck: First let me say that Dennis and I do not agree 100% with what I’m about to say but I believe it’s true. After the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show most teen age boys in America wished they were in a Rock Band. Garage bands sprung up all over the country. Some individuals developed into good singers, some into great musicians and even some into prolific song writers but the question remained, why did very few make it to super stardom while the vast majority did not? Although he doesn’t agree 100% with me the fact is I came to my conclusions after watching him throughout the years and through my own experiences. In the music business as in sales organizations, corporate America, politics and even on the battlefield there must be one person who has the vision to create the template for a successful course of action. These people are called leaders and they are somewhat rare in life. Only in those institutions where decisions are not critical is there room for consensus by committee. Dennis created the sound of Styx. He planned the direction of the group. He created the concepts of the albums and wrote the songs that most people recognize as Styx classics. Like all leaders he knew that “Success has many parents but failure is an orphan”. He knew that since the ideas were his if the group failed he would be blamed for it. That’s a heavy burden to bear but it did not deter him. He encouraged others in the band to contribute songs and ideas and, yes, he was a perfectionist and only wanted songs that he felt would credit the band and move them all forward .When Tommy joined the group Dennis pushed him out front because he realized that young girls would like him, he had talent and this would credit the band and move them all forward. Over the years there has been unjustified criticism of Dennis. Unfortunately, some of it has come from some members of Styx who Dennis has made very wealthy and who, in my opinion, ultimately betrayed him. The biggest criticism I hear is that he insisted on doing things his way. Well, they’re right. It’s that “leadership” thing that separates the winners from the losers. They say that they hated Dennis’ music and wanted to be hard rockers. I think the answer to that is maybe they should have left Styx and taken their own path. And, by the way, they could always re-name themselves and get rid of those DeYoung songs. Of course that would have been difficult because the majority of people who came to see them did so because of the music of the man they betrayed and so cravenly criticize not to hear a self indulgent remake of “I am the Walrus” .Now I know there are fans who prefer the new incarnation of Styx and I respect their opinion. People have different tastes and that’s what makes the world go round but when the lead singer of the band “Creed” left his group, the remaining band members had the courage, talent and confidence to change their name to “Alter Bridge”. All of this does not denigrate the talent of the other members. They are good musicians and Tommy is a great song writer who has proven he can succeed in other venues. When a visionary such as Dennis attempts to create his dream, part of his ability is to draw talented people to him to accomplish that dream. Like a corporate CEO he picks talented people who will use their skills to further his aims .But make no mistake, the visionary, the CEO, the battlefield commander, will take in ideas and suggestions, select the good, disregard the bad and tweak the unsure to come up with what he thinks will work. He doesn’t have time for back biting, hurt feelings or jealous sniping that may occur. Those are the qualities of lesser men who wish to enhance their own importance. You’re probably wondering what I mean by referring to a betrayal. Well, at one time Styx incorporated themselves and gave each member a one fifth share of power. You may be surprised to know that the other members used this power to vote Dennis out of the band, twice. Can you imagine that? If Dennis had been voted out of Styx in the beginning, there would not have been a Styx! If something like this had happened in Vietnam those who had committed this betrayal most likely would have found a live hand grenade rolling in under their tent. Rather than become bitter, Dennis went on to perform to huge crowds in America, Canada and Mexico. He’s had solo top ten hits and has scored gold and platinum CD’s and a triple platinum DVD in Canada. DDY Talk: Dennis has said that he felt that Behind The Music portrayed him unfairly. What do you think the most common misconception is about Dennis, and how do you think he differs from his public persona? Chuck: I have to agree with Dennis and here’s why. If you saw the show you would have seen practically all the people on it portraying Dennis in a negative way. What you didn’t see was the interviews of me and Tim Orchard, Dennis’s friend and business associate. I was interviewed for about one and a half hours as was Tim and Rick Kogan, a friend and respected author and editor for the Chicago Tribune. Tim and my interviews were totally eliminated and only a very small portion of what Rick had to say was portrayed. I know I’m not the most fascinating or photogenic guy in the world but I think I’d be good for a minute or two of tape. What was VH1’s agenda? I can only guess. I think for the most part his personal persona is pretty much the same as what you see on stage. He’s warm, passionate about his beliefs and has a great sense of humor. Most of the time we spend together with our families is filled with laughter. He is totally disciplined with a strong work ethic we learned from our fathers who worked the factories and mills on the far south side of Chicago. DDY Talk: Glen Burtnik has said some very disparaging things about Dennis in public, yet they seem to have a degree of mututal respect and even affection. Were you surprised when Dennis invited Glen to play with him again, and was there any trepidation that it might go poorly between them? Chuck: I don’t know Glen that well. I think when a band breaks up in some ways it’s like a divorce. In a divorce there is usually a taking sides by what were once mutual friends. I’m sure Glen can speak for himself but in my opinion I think he was originally influenced by the other members constant dissing of Dennis. As I’ve said before, Dennis’ leadership style might offend someone who doesn’t immediately see the long term benefits. Maybe it took a while for Glen to work it out. This is just my opinion. I know Dennis has always liked Glen and has always respected his talent. DDY Talk: Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview session for this site. My question deals with your Cousin Chuck. When was the last time that Chuck and Dennis actually talked or even saw each other? It is hard to believe that as close as Dennis and his family were with Chuck and John that Dennis and Chuck P. are so far away now. If not a for a reunion, I hope that one day they can settle their differences. —Max, Atlanta, GA Chuck: You’re welcome Max. I believe the last time they talked was when Dennis and Suzanne offered their sympathy when Chuck P. was diagnosed with his illness. It’s harder to believe than you can imagine. Some of my fondest memories are the backyard barbecues, parties and holidays we all shared. Add to that the closeness of the road that they experienced and it is truly sad. DDY Talk: First off...Unfinished Song is a great song, definitely a Styx 'Lost Treasure'. Am I wishfully thinking or does Dennis' new album 'One Hundred Years From Now' contain songs that portend a possible reunion with Styx? I understand he wrote songs in the style he would for Styx. However, there is so much introspection and shades of reconciliation either with the past, with himself or maybe, just maybe, the other guys in the band. Not only that, some songs sound as if Tommy Shaw and James Young are actually there vocally and instrumentally! Lastly what are the chances that the vocalist on the English version of 'One Hundred Years From Now' will be Tommy or JY?? —Joe, Trenton, NJ Chuck: Thanks for your kind words about Unfinished Song. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. It’s very perceptive of you to point out the similarity of some of the songs on One Hundred Years From Now to the earlier songs that Dennis wrote for Styx. When the band first broke up Dennis consciously wrote in a different style than he had for Styx. I believe he wanted to not only show that he could do it but also to establish a new direction. Similarly I think that some of the new songs show that since he was the one who created the sound and harmonies in the first place, he can recreate that same sound that had become the trademark of the original band. DDY Talk: What do you think Dennis' biggest challenge was in working with his bandmates in Styx? —Ken (Boomchild), Wilmington, DE Chuck: I imagine working with the individual egos of rock musicians can be a daunting task. Taking the responsibility in making decisions that affect the other members and their families is also challenging. I would think that the hardest thing would be to steer the group to the top and then be criticized by them for the way he did it. DDY Talk: If the situation would occur for Dennis to rejoin Styx do you feel he would strongly consider it or do you feel that is a closed chapter in his life? —Ken (Boomchild), Wilmington, DE Chuck: Well Ken there’s that old saying, “Never say Never”, but who knows? DDY Talk: What single word would you use to describe the following band members when you met them the first time back then, ond one word to describe them now: Dennis DeYoung James Young Chuck Panozzo —Melina, Montreal, QC Chuck: Very interesting. You know I do have to go back quite a ways. Let’s see, I was about 13 or 14 when I first met Dennis. I think the word I would use to describe him would be “Cool” I grew up with Chuck P. but I’d say the word would be “Quiet”. As far as JY is concerned I think that first impression of him would be, “Confident” Today, the word for Dennis would be “Visionary”. I would characterize Chuck as “Activist” and JY probably as finally ‘Happy” This is a guess as I haven’t seen Chuck or JY in years but read about them in published interviews and books. DDY Talk: If the members of Styx agreed to a non-disparagement clause as a part of the settlement of the lawsuit that resulted from Dennis being removed from the band, why has Dennis not filed suit against some of these former members that seem to break this agreement with every interview that they give? Chuck: No Comment DDY Talk: I remember some of the early concerts that Dennis performed solo in 2001. He mentioned from the stage that he was surprised that there were “this many people that still care about Dennis DeYoung”, clearly a sign of some sort of depression as a result of his removal from the band he was a part of for so long. The on stage energy was also subdued compared with the past several years. How did you and the rest of the family help support him and help motivate him “to carry on”? Chuck: You must remember that contrary to the denials of some members of the group, Dennis had been sick for some time and his energy level was sapped. To this day Dennis is humbled by the outpouring of affection and support he receives from his fans and truly believes that he is blessed by his good fortune. His self deprecating humor is not an act. When he mentions that he can’t believe the good things that are still happening to him he is not displaying false modesty. He was very hurt by what the band did to him but as I mentioned previously it was more of a personal hurt than a professional one. He considered the band members to be his friends and always made decisions that he felt would further the band and benefit them all. Also think of what he faced. You guys are pretty savvy as to the names and roles of your favorite groups. The millions of people who are needed to buy albums/CD’s to ensure rock star status usually don’t have a clue and couldn’t tell you the names of the lead singers in a band. Dennis had to literally go out and create a second career. Early on I had argued with Dennis for years that he should change the name of the group to “Dennis DeYoung and Styx”. He obviously resisted me which proves the old adage that, “No good deed goes unpunished”. Dennis brought himself out of it by writing, performing and creating a second successful chapter in his life.
  5. First of all, I would like to thank Chuck for giving his time to share his thoughts with the DDY Talk community, and all other Dennis DeYoung fans. I would also like to thank those that submitted questions for this interview. I have tried to sort the questions based on their subject, starting with the early days of Styx, then moving into the disagreements between the members of Styx, and finally a look at things today and for the future Part One: Early Days DDY Talk: When Styx first got a record deal, did they believe at that time that it was a fair deal? Chuck: Before we start I’d like to make it clear that I do not in any way claim to have had any affect, positive or negative, on the success of Styx or the continuing brilliance of the career of Dennis. I consider myself to be very fortunate to have been even a small part of their universe. For full disclosure I must say that I have been a close personal friend of Dennis’ for over 44 years and we have been married to two beautiful sisters for over 37 years. .At he same time, John was and Chuck P. is my first cousin, and in addition to writing Unfinished Song and Winner Take All with Dennis I did write The Serpent is Rising with JC. Although I did not experience the day to day grind of touring and the ups and downs of the grueling music industry, I believe, these associations and time have given me a unique perspective of the group. I don’t claim to have any musical talent even close to any of them and I admire their skills greatly. I know I will seem slanted in my observations toward Dennis but I’ll try to be as objective as I can and attempt to give my rationale for why I believe as I do. You will be the ultimate judge. I’d like to thank the contributors to DDY Talk and the other sites for your interest. Like you, I am a fan. My daughter turned me on to the DDY Talk site some time ago and I have greatly enjoyed your comments and observations. It has almost become a cliché that Styx is probably one of the most underrated groups in history, but like most clichés there is definitely truth to the statement. This is a group that, in its classic configuration lead by Dennis, has sold tens of millions of records and has filled rock arenas all over the world. This is the group that before Michael Jackson’s first huge tour was the number one touring group in America. We all know artists and groups who will never reach anywhere near these achievements that are touted as super stars and are idolized in our culture. I believe that the reason for this is that Styx did it the old fashion way. They earned it. They were not created by Rock critics or agents, promoters or managers. They built their base one fan at a time while refusing to conform and not moving to California or New York, a sacrilege that could not be tolerated by the self appointed “star makers” in the industry, I think when Wooden Nickel offered them their first record deal they were very pleased. Being young artists who were focused on the music and not businessmen I think they were a bit naïve. They also were being managed by a person who was as naïve as they were (my opinion). As a result, just the idea of having a “record deal”, I believe, blinded them to the short comings of Wooden Nickel. DDY Talk: At what point did they start to feel that they were not being dealt with fairly? Chuck: I believe that after the success of Lady (due to the support of fans and radio DJ’s and not any effort by WN), Dennis realized that they were not getting the support from WN that they were entitled to. It soon became apparent that WN actually could not give them the kind of support they needed to break on to the world stage. DDY Talk: What was your view of Wooden Nickel and Bill Traut? Chuck: I was just as young and naïve as everyone else, even more so. Since I wasn’t really in the business, the fact that I had some songs published and played on the radio was a feeling that I can never describe. I considered myself then, and still do, to be very fortunate. Remember that WN was a subsidiary of RCA and everyone thought that was a big deal. I don’t recall any direct dealings with Bill Traut. DDY Talk: What was the inspiration behind the song Father O.S.A.? I know that Dennis, John, & Chuck P. were raised as Catholics and that Chuck P. attended seminary for a year. Thank you. —Jim (Tiresias), Lancaster, CA Chuck: John, Chuck and I attended Mendel Catholic High School together. Mendel was taught by the Order of Saint Augustine (OSA) and Chuck P. attended their seminary for a short time. The Augustinians were a conservative order and extolled the values of hard work and discipline. In the early days the band would practice in a building on 110th & Michigan on the far south side of Chicago. There was an Augustinian priest who taught English Literature at Mendel who, God help him, was an alcoholic. He lived nearby and sometimes on Saturdays he would stop in to hear them practice. Each time he visited, usually under the influence, he would tell the exact same story about how he had always wanted to write music. DDY Talk: I noticed that Chuck is listed in the song writing credits for the song The Serpent is Rising. I wanted to know if Chuck happens to remember what the inspiration and meaning of this song was? Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with our group! —Ken (Boomchild), Wilmington, DE Chuck: You’re very welcome Ken. I joined the Marines in 1967 at the age of 18 and fought in Vietnam as an Infantry Machine Gunner in 1968.when I turned 19. I received a disabling gun shot wound and went through many life altering experiences .I spent the next year in various hospitals in Japan and the U.S. with operations and rehabilitation. It was during this time that I was striving to find out, (are you ready for this?) the meaning of life. As a result, in addition to looking for the meaning in my own Catholic background, I began to examine other religions and philosophies. “The Serpent is Rising” came from my study of Eastern Philosophy. In that discipline it is believed that as you become more spiritually aware it is like a serpent rising within you and expanding your consciousness until you reach ultimate nirvana (PEACE AND ALL KNOWING) This, according to their belief, could take several life times through reincarnation. I began writing short stories and poems between my operations, trying to go to school and pursuing my search to find the answers I was looking for. I showed my poems to Dennis and he mentioned that JC had written some music that might fit The Serpent. DDY Talk: Concerning Unfinished Song, have you ever found “Where you were going?” Chuck: That’s a very interesting question. I wrote Unfinished Song as a poem when I was about to assimilate back in the world after I was released from the hospital. I was filled with doubt about how greatly I had been affected by my war experiences and if I would ever be able to fit back into civilized society. I’ve come to realize that we all ask questions like these as we progress through different changes we encounter through our lives. All of our journeys on earth will end one day and I believe we must do the best we can to be prepared for what is presented to us. And, by the way, the fact that some people are still discussing songs I wrote over thirty years ago is beyond belief to me and something I am truly grateful for. DDY Talk: Why did your creative contributions to songwriting for Styx seem to last only for the first few years? Chuck: For over 40 years I have tried hard never to insert my self into Dennis’ profession or try to take advantage of his success and fame for my own self-aggrandizement. My songs that were recorded by Styx always started out as poems or ideas that I had shared with Dennis. Being close, I was privileged to have Dennis share some of his ideas and songs with me before they were released and I, in turn, would show him my work. The band was under the gun by Wooden Nickel to release a third album in a tight time frame As I mentioned, after reading some of my poems Dennis asked if they could use Serpent. After Serpent, Dennis asked if I had any other ideas that could be used for songs and Winner Take All was born. Well, you’ve probably heard that for several reasons the Serpent album wasn’t exactly one of Dennis’ favorites, but the way I remember it was that Bill Traut heard the Serpent and decided to make it the title track (I could be wrong about that).. I don’t remember who chose Winner Take All as the single. I also knew that some of the other members were not too happy about the fact that I had written some songs and gave Dennis a hard time about it, even though I know that Dennis constantly asked for their input. As the band progressed and Dennis was able to concentrate exclusively on his music and create all his great hits, together with the addition of Tommy’s song writing abilities, our journeys split into different paths. DDY Talk: Hi Chuck. Do you know of the existence of any live recordings from the earlier days of the band (pre Tommy Shaw)? Just curious. —Conrad, Peoria, IL Chuck: Sorry. I am not aware of any live recordings out there. DDY Talk: What is your opinion of the first four Styx records on Wooden Nickel? Chuck: Listening to those first four albums always fills me with fond memories. As far as the music goes, I personally think it was a valuable learning period and answered some basic questions that determined the future of the group. I believe that the management and record company was trying to create a certain sound featuring JY’s style of performing, especially on the first album. Although I believe there were some great songs on those records, after the 4th album it became apparent that this approach would not take them where they wanted to go, The breakout hit of the first four albums was of course, Dennis’ “Lady” which ultimately rose to #6 on the charts. By the way, Lady was rejected for the 1st album. It was at this time that Dennis basically took control of their direction, they moved to A&M and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m not saying this to put down anyone who likes the current configuration of Styx. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is mine. DDY Talk: What are your favorite and least favorite tracks and why? Chuck: This is a tough one. The obvious songs like Come Sail Away, Lady, Grand Illusion, Best of Times, Babe, Suite Madame Blue, Mr. Roboto and Rockin’ the Paradise are all on the top of my list as well as songs like Dear Darling, First Time, Don’t Wait For Heroes, Desert Moon, Harry’s Hands, With Every Heart Beat and more recently 100 Years From Now, Crossing the Rubicon and Save Me. I have to stop myself or I could go on and on. I’ve always been a word man, a story man. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in the 60’s listening to Motown: The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, etc. Later,, I was laid out by the British invasion; The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, and all the rest. I enjoyed the beat but it was always the clean, crisp lyrics that told a story that hooked me. That is why I, as I’m sure most of you, are avid Dennis fans. His songs always reveal various sides of the human condition which we all can relate to at different levels as well as his ability to write great music. That being said I’d have to say that “Black Wall” is one of his songs that has touched me deeply I guess “Plexiglass Toilet” would have to be the very worst. DDY Talk: Of the songs you have collaborated on the writing for Styx, which was your favorite and why? Thanks. —Kathy (Ladybug), Houston, TX Chuck: Thank you Kathy for your question. I guess I would have to say it’s Unfinished Song. It came to me in a complete thought born from my uncertainties that I have previously mentioned. Dennis’ melodic rendition added perfectly to the mood. DDY Talk: Vince DePaul managed the band early on, and then was fired. What do you think happened between him and Dennis and the band? Do you think he actually misappropriated funds from the band, or do you think he just wasn't a good money manager and accidentally failed to account for funds? What is his relationship like with Dennis and the rest of the family now? Chuck: As was the case with the band, Vince always treated me, at least to my face, with respect. I never take seriously what anyone says behind my back. Dennis has already covered this issue in one of his recent interviews. I cannot look into Vince’s heart to determine his motivation. I know that Dennis and JY originally defended Vince vehemently when the other band members began to question what was going on. I know this hurt Dennis deeply as he has mentioned. Dennis is a very loyal person and is genuinely hurt and disappointed when betrayed by those he trusts. DDY Talk: In your view, what happened with JC that made him want to leave the band, and how did that go down? Chuck: Once again I honestly can’t read into the minds of others as to what their motivations are. I always enjoyed JC. As a matter of fact, I have a strong recollection of him in a concert at an ice skating rink in a Chicago suburb. It was the first time I heard Serpent performed live. Before the concert began I remember JC ice skating in the arena all by himself with his entire face painted, seemingly oblivious of the fans as they entered. DDY Talk: What was your first impression of Tommy Shaw and how did that change over time? Chuck: My first impression of Tommy was that he was a Southern gentleman. He has always been kind and gracious to me and my family. I believe he is a talented musician and songwriter, Renegade and Blue Collar Man are classics. My impression of him, as pertains to me is unchanged. DDY Talk: Were the members of Styx - particularly Dennis and JY - ever friends, or was there resentment all the way back to the early days? What's your recollection of their early relationships? Chuck: As far as I can recall their early relationship was one of friendship. They shared a room on the road in the early days and I remember clearly that Dennis’ wife Suzanne and JY’s wife Susie were especially close and Susie was very kind to my wife when they were in Europe. I must say that I was and still am surprised at the vitriol I’ve heard coming from JY regarding Dennis since the break up especially starting with VH1’s Behind the Music. Maybe JY’s recent interview stating that “This is the band I always wanted to have” explains his reasons.
  6. About the interview: Chris Taylor was nice enough to respond to my request with his version of how the Show Me The Way Gulf War Mix came into existance. What follows below is his story in his own words. Chris is currently programming several stations for CBS/Infinity in Kansas City (as of the time of this interview). Chris was one of the few programmers playing Hello God in 2004. DDY Talk would like to thank Chris for sharing this story with the Dennis DeYoung fan community. I was the Music Director for WAVA the big Top 40 station in Washington D.C. When Edge Of The Century was coming out Dennis and JY were doing some promotions in support of the CD one of which included a radio performance for WNVZ in Va. Beach. A&M knew I was a big STYX fan and invited me to a pre show dinner with them. I drove down for my first time meeting Dennis. I was like a geek fan telling him about every time I went to a STYX concert, etc., 3 month later "Show Me The Way" was a single and slowly climbing the charts. Like most Top 40's STYX was a stretch for the format. When the War broke out radio stations started looking for ways to deal with it. I heard that a guy in Knoxville did a mix with "Show Me The Way." Being the STYX fan selfishly I thought this is the way to get that song on my station. So had them overnight a copy to me. When I listened to it, I didn't think it matched the emotion of the song, so back to the drawing board. My boss suggested I do my own mix but use George Michael's "Mothers Pride." My plan was to come in the next day, a Saturday and put it together. When I woke up that morning I was flipping channels and landed on CSPAN. When all the Senators and Congressman were debating whether to give the first Bush the right to declare war. My generation had never experienced that and I sat there and thought WOW what a decisions that must be!! So I started taping the debates thinking I would use it in the George Michael mix. I took all the audio into the studio and started to prepare. I stopped and started to think..."Mothers Pride" or "SMTW"??? Do what the boss said or try the other??? I thought no harm in seeing where the STYX one goes. So I started. When it was finished our Production Director David Edgar came in and helped with the final mix down. We just looked at each other and said "WOW this is it." When I played it over the phone to my boss...he said..."put it on the air right now." In DC with the phones exploded. Over that Saturday and Sunday we took thousands of calls. So WAVA added "Show Me The Way" to the playlist. Dennis found out that the big Top 40 in DC added the record and he remembered that meeting with me and thought as a fan I got the song on the station...so he called me to thank me. Not many artists have ever done that in my 23 year career. When we talked on the phone, I told him what I had done and then played it over the phone to him. He was blown away. His first concern, which was cool was that people didn't think that he was trying to cash in on what our nation or troops where going through. I told him that the reaction was HUGE and 100% positive. Then A&M called and wanted a copy overnighted to them for rush release to radio. within days almost every Top 40 and Adult station in America was playing it. I was interviewed by all the senators and congressman's local news papers and they were extremely positive on being used in the song. I was getting letters from family's who had someone in Persian Gulf that were impacted by the song. The moment that seemed to hit people the most, was the little girl who said "I want my daddy to come home". Show Me The Way was a hit record. This was just the avenue that helped such a powerful song connect with the audience. It went top 10. Chris Taylor
  7. Ron

    Dennis DeYoung 2009

    DDY Talk: We’re here with Dennis DeYoung talking about the new release 100 Years From Now. Dennis: Hi everybody. DDY Talk: We have a release date: April 14th. Dennis: That’s what they say—The people at Rounder Records have claimed, so we’re going to go forward with that in mind. DDY Talk: OK, what kind of goals or expectations do you have for the release? Dennis: Well I think I’m just thrilled that Rounder Records, which is a real record company—we can just see what happened to the Allison Krause/Robert Plant record. I don’t have any expectations for sales. I think anyone that’s my age would be foolish to have expectations. You know, I’m just happy that I have a record company that is going to release the record and give me some visibility, and allow me the opportunity to be heard by somebody. But beyond that I think you can’t really have expectations anymore in the current culture of radio and TV. It’s not really geared for people who are over 60 years old, to say the least. It’s not even geared for people over 40. DDY Talk: Right. Were there any kinds of obstacles or anything to be able to get to where we’re at; to have this release? Dennis: No, none whatsoever. It was John Virant, who’s a fan and the President. He distributed the double live album in the US. Rounder Records are the guys that put records in record stores. So, when it came time to do this record, he wanted it immediately after we sent it to him. And then, you know, I got busy with so many things. Really, so many things. So I didn’t have the time to do everything. So the delay was all mine, nobody else's. Rounder never flinched for a minute and they waited patiently the whole time. DDY Talk: How is the US release going to be different from the Canadian release of 2007? Dennis: Two new songs, “Private Jones” and “There Was a Time”, and “Respect Me” was taken off the other record, because I didn’t want to have 13 tracks. And I’ve always been a believer that less is more on albums. Although in this day and age, quite frankly, people—they expect a lot of music on their CD’s, don’t they? They want this and they want that and they want bonus material and they want a video of you in the bathroom at 4 in the morning. So, I made sure that there’s a dozen songs. DDY Talk: I think a lot of that comes from when you had an album that had 23 minutes on each side. Dennis: You couldn’t even put 23. Good albums were under. They were definitely under 35 minutes. Because vinyl had limitations. DDY Talk: As a writer, when you write your music, how do you determine when a song is finished? In other words—That’s it. I can’t make it any better. Dennis: You mean making a record or writing it? DDY Talk: Both. Dennis: I think you can write a good song and make a bad record out of it, and you can write an okay song and make a good record out of it. But the trick for me in doing this was - as I’d said on my website - was when you’ve got the thing sitting in your basement you can tinker with it for a year and a half. It’s just not right. It should be taken away from you so you can’t do that. And that’s part of the process I went through in remixing things that I didn’t like. DDY Talk: Were they major changes, or little small tinkering in the mix? Dennis: No, I don’t know that you’ll even notice. That’s how crazy it gets. Because when you’re doing it—and I mix all my own songs. I mix me. I’m the guy that does it. So you know every note and after a while you can’t really—you become incapable of judging it because you’ve heard it too much. The surprises and the excitements are all gone by the time you’re done. So having it in my house to tinker with was not a good thing. But I made it better, in my mind. Whether others will think that, I don’t really care. Because really—I don’t mean that in a mean way—but I make these records for myself. I always have. You make them for yourself, and you hope that other people like them. DDY Talk: When you made this album, you said you were trying to make it more like a Styx album, whereas your previous solo work you wanted to make it not . . . Dennis: Distance myself. DDY Talk: How is your process in doing that? Dennis: Well I just went back, and I was encouraged both by Tim [Orchard] and my wife Suzanne, and the record company up in Canada. They like a particular style of music that I made many years ago, and asked me if I would go and make a record like that. And I thought, “Why not?” because I’m not in the band anymore. And I wanted to—you know a lot of those—if you listen to, particularly to the new 100 Years that’s coming, it really reflects, I believe, my influences on Styx. What I felt I was responsible for. There was a particular thing that I did that was emulated on this record. DDY Talk: The big story in the news is the Coldplay / Joe Satriani ordeal, with Joe saying that they lifted his one song for their big hit. As a writer how can you avoid being influenced by other music or writers? Dennis: Well, if I had known that I would have lifted it and then I'd have had the hit. I don’t know. Look: There’s only 12 notes. Too many times these cases sound stupid to me. I never heard, still to this day, I don’t hear “Ghostbusters” in “I Want a New Drug”. I don’t. Sorry. “My Sweet Lord” and the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” I don’t know, I never heard that, and I got a pretty good ear. I mean rock music is like Blues—take blues for instance. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Sometimes it sounds like the same song, and you know it is. DDY Talk: What’s your feeling on radio edits? Dennis: They help you to get airplay. They’re usually shitty. Does that sum it up? The edit of “Come Sail Away”, like when you see it on YouTube, that’s what A&M did, they chopped it when they released it as a single, because Top 40 stations wouldn’t play 6 minute songs. But if you give them a hit they’ll play the 6 minute version. DDY Talk: I remember when that first came out it was like – song’s okay. Then I heard the long version – it’s a good song. Dennis: The edit is stupid. DDY Talk: We have a new President. Any thoughts or suggestions you would want to give to the President? I know you keep up on politics and current events. Dennis: Well, he’s from Chicago, and we wish him well. Anybody who roots against the President of the United States that lives here should be—you gotta be out of your mind. Why anybody would want that job is beyond me. There, I’ve said it all. But we wish him well. DDY Talk: You weren’t giving Governor Blagojevich a bid for that Senate seat, were you? (Laughs). Dennis: The truth of the matter is, sometimes you think to yourself, 'Do people have mirrors? Do they look at themselves ever?' It’s like the culture of morons, it defies explanation. The headline in the paper today, he hit Burris up for money. Oh, we can’t wait to see that come out. Well, they shouldn’t surprise people, because that’s Chicago politics. DDY Talk: Well it could be Boston politics. Dennis: You know people get into politics so they can help their brother-in-law. DDY Talk: Is there anyone in particular you would like to see cover one of your songs? Dennis: No, I’m happy when anybody does it. I’m not an elitist when it comes to that. Sure it would be great if Paul McCartney did, but he writes his own stuff, for the most part. But anybody who covers it I’m always thrilled, even if they screw it up. DDY Talk: Is there a song that you used to perform, that you used to and don’t anymore that you miss doing? Dennis: “Harry’s Hands”. DDY Talk: We miss hearing that. Dennis: See, my career has taken a turn. Where I get hired, primarily, to provide people with memories. And those are essentially based on my time in that band, Styx. So the majority of people who come to see me—the vast majority—want to hear those songs. DDY Talk: “Mr. Roboto”, big hit back in ’83. Number 3. Dennis: Yeah. Million seller. DDY Talk: After a couple years, sort of disappeared, vanished. Dennis: I think he got a job on a Ford assembly line. DDY Talk: He better watch it or he’ll lose his job. Dennis: He’s a robot, he’s always got a job. DDY Talk: You can go down the street now, and probably go up to anyone and say “Domo Arigato” and you’re going to get “Mr. Roboto” right back. It’s got this iconic status now. How does that happen, and when does it happen? Dennis: It has a lot to do with TV. You know I signed off on doing that TV commercial redoing the music for the VW, and that started it. And then, it’s weird, it just happened, and it became a catch phrase in so many motion pictures and TV shows. The requests I get for “Roboto” are constant. I don’t know how that happens. I think if I did know I would have it happen to a bunch of other of my songs. (Laughs). But you know what? Eleven-year-olds loved it in 1983; Eleven-year-olds today, and I think in 50 years eleven-year-olds are going to like it. DDY Talk: “First Time”: Wonderful song from Cornerstone. Wanted to release it as a single . . . Dennis: Not me; A&M wanted to release it. They had six Parallel One stations, the biggest stations in major markets, playing it without it being released as a single. Because it was destined, as everyone in A&M Records told us, to be a #3, 2, or more than likely another #1 record for us. It didn’t come from me, ever. It was the promotion department; Harold Childs, and the promotion department at A&M Records. Or was it Charlie Minor? I think it was Harold Childs. DDY Talk: Unfortunately, it didn’t get released. A lot of the stories that I have heard as a fan for that was because it wasn’t a “Styx” song. Dennis: What does that mean? I’m not sure what that means. DDY Talk: I agree with that. Dennis: I don’t think “Boat on the River” - “Boat on the River” falls in the same category. DDY Talk: But if that was the case, how did it get recorded? Dennis: I just think . . . you know a lot of this stuff is way after the fact, but I think that when people say it’s not a Styx song there is a certain ignorance to that statement - and ignorance means unknowing - because to me Styx was always the sum of its songs. That’s all. We were the sum of our songs. If you write a good one, then people like it. If you write a bad one they’ll tell you. But a lot of people - which is true with every band and every artist - when they first discover a band, the first album, it tends to be their favorite, and if you’re doing a particular style at that moment, you tend to like that style. As artists change and mature, especially the ones that have long careers it’s impossible . . . it’s not impossible, but most artists change over time. Like you do, buddy. You can’t run as fast as you used to, so you do different things because you get bored. You get bored with doing the same thing over and over again. Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience that would be happy to be serviced with the same thing over and over again. But that’s not my job. My job, as I told you before, is to please myself. That’s the good thing about being an artist, is that you don’t have a boss. You’re your own boss. And when you’re in a band, there’s always give and take, and there’s always compromises. When it comes to that particular song, that was a terrible mistake. Here’s my theory: If “First Time” had been released, it would have been, absolutely, unquestionably, a top 3 single. Which meant at that time that Cornerstone would have sold another 4 to 500,000 albums, ‘cause we were the biggest band in America. You could look this up. DDY Talk: I lived it, I know. Dennis: So this is not a statement of bragging, this just is what it was. That would have meant at that time that Cornerstone would have outsold maybe everything except for Grand Illusion; and maybe it would have outsold Grand Illusion at that moment. And then I believe that “Boat on the River” would have been a hit. By the time it took “First Time” to go the 12-14 weeks, 16 weeks to run its course, by that time we would have known that “Boat on the River” was a hit in Germany, and then you know what we would have done? DDY Talk: Release that? Dennis: That’s right. And it might have sold 4 million copies—or more. That’s how not releasing that turned the tables on that record. Because the problem with Cornerstone - as is the problem with Kilroy as I’ve said before - is it lacked that one great rock song, okay. That’s what really separates those records, is that one great rock song. And they just didn’t get written. It wasn’t that it got held back, or it was under a rock, or it was ignored; it just wasn’t there. DDY Talk: Hunchback. Great run last year, at the Bailiwick. Any future plans, future opportunities for that production? Dennis: We’ll see. You know the next step’s got to be the right step in these things. Listen, what’s happened to the economy has really hit Broadway. Because people who invest in Broadway are generally people who have disposable income—rich people. And Bernie—what’s his name Bernie Madoff—he made sure that—(laughs). It’s a difficult time, a lot of Broadway shows have been canceled because funds are tight. So we can be patient. DDY Talk: Any chance about a forthcoming book about your career? Dennis: I’ve thought about it, and I’ve started to write some stuff. Because I have a great story to tell. For instance, the “First Time” story is so completely misunderstood because, once again, the record company was the catalyst to releasing “First Time”. It did not come from the band. I find it misguided for anyone to say—because if you look at these things musically, in my opinion, if you looked at “Babe” and “First Time”, “First Time” is much more of a rock ballad than “Babe”. There are really no power chords [in “Babe”]; there are power chords in “First Time”, those power harmonies, a blistering solo, a great solo. So I just never understood why anyone, anyone, would say that. Because when you think about it, that Barry Manilow shit, when did he ever do a song like that? When that kicks in and we get going? I don’t think so. Not to me. DDY Talk: Do you have stuff buried away, unreleased? Dennis: No. DDY Talk: There’s the ’92 demo… Dennis: We have 9 songs. DDY Talk: Any chance of some of that seeing the light of day? Specifically “All For Love” since you have performed that a couple of years ago? Dennis: Yeah, I just don’t think so. Well, “All For Love”, Glen and I wrote that song, so that could be recorded. Now that I think of it, I think Glen and I were the only writers on all of that material. But Glen has recorded some of that stuff subsequently. DDY Talk: I know he has trickled out some, you’ve trickled out some. Styx lore for a fan we like— Dennis: It’s nice stuff for what it is, but they were demos, they weren’t like records. DDY Talk: You’re a singer, writer, keyboard player, producer. What’s your greatest strength? What do you feel is your greatest strength? Dennis: I think I see the big picture in everything I do. I see the finished product when it's beginning, whatever it is. But I want to be remembered as a writer first and foremost above everything. I’ve said it before: As a singer (shrugs), you know, I’m better now than I was. I know when I was starting out people loved those records, though, and they loved the way that I sang in those days. I was always afraid of allowing the legitimate side of my voice to come out on rock records. I really did stylize my vocals in those days, to not sound like a real professional singer. But being a writer is what matters most to me. It is the way that you touch people more than singing or playing or any of it. The songs I write—you saw “Come Sail Away” tonight—that’s not about me the singer, because I know that people are still playing that song, and I’m not singing it. But the meaning it has to people—that’s the reason I do what I do, is the opportunity to touch people and to illustrate the oneness of human beings. Because that song is just about me. It’s not about you, or anybody else, it’s about me and how I felt at that time in my life. And guess what? So did a lot of other people. But I didn’t know that. These songs belong to me. They are an expression of the sum of the experiences of my life, and I try to get them down musically. And when I get ‘em right, people like them. And that’s all it is. It’s the song. Always was. That’s why “Boat on the River” is a great song. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t have a power chord on it, that’s such nonsense. It’s just great. It doesn’t matter. DDY Talk: The fans are fans because of the songs. Dennis: Here’s the thing that I believe has been so misguided and misinterpreted. The people who loved Styx, whether they knew it or not, loved them because of the variety of songs. The variety of songs. There were different points of view. I think that’s why we had such a big fan base, and sold so many records. It was the diversity. It was what made us. DDY Talk: One of my favorite parts, you could put the needle down on the first track, and let the thing play through. You could listen to the whole album. Dennis: We tried. We weren’t always successful; there’s always a couple of clinkers once in a while. DDY Talk: One of the most requested things I see on the site. We love “When I Hear a Christmas Song”. Dennis: If I may say so, that’s a really good song. It’s on an album now up in Canada, with a bunch of other people. DDY Talk: Fans would love to hear a whole album from you, specifically, “O Holy Night”. Dennis: Oh. Well, a lot of people have done that one pretty good. But I do like that song. I love that song. It’s one of the greatest Christmas songs. Fall on your knees, baby. DDY Talk: Tour dates this year: You have a lot of stuff on your plate. How many tour dates? Dennis: I don’t know. It’s a tough year, all around. We’ll do probably what we always do, somewhere in there. I have the album coming out, so we’ll do what we can. DDY Talk: Any other closing thoughts or message? Dennis: Tell the people at DDY Talk that I appreciate their, what I would consider unwarranted devotion. I’m glad they like me and I’m glad they like the music, and I’ll try not to let you down. DDY Talk: Thank you very much, Dennis. I appreciate the time. One Hundred Years From Now on Rounder Records available wherever you can get CD’s nowadays April 14th.
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