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.
Edited by Ron