Former Styx lead singer-songwriter-keyboardist Dennis DeYoung’s old band mates might not like the guy — some have called him a “dictator.” But get DeYoung, 65, on the phone at his Chicago home, and he’s a blast.
Open, funny and insightful, DeYoung dishes on the music industry’s crumbling business model, staying married to the same woman for more than 42 years ( Suzanne DeYoung was the inspiration for his Styx hit, Babe), his reluctance at going solo in 1984, and making his peace with the Styx legacy, which brings him to Hard Rock Live on Monday for a greatest hits tour of Styx classics.
DeYoung will tell you it wasn’t his choice to leave Styx; he was ushered out in 1999 after recording sessions for the Brave New World album dissolved in acrimony. DeYoung developed a chronic fatigue-like syndrome that left him sensitive to light and sound — basically the tools rock stars trade in — and wasn’t up for an immediate tour to support the album. The others hired a new lead singer.
“This has been their decision from the very beginning,” DeYoung says. “In a nutshell, I would still be in the band had it been up to me. I got sick. We were making a record together, they were committed to a tour I was incapable of doing physically at that particular moment at time, and the decision was made by two people. Here I am. There it is.”
DeYoung’s reclamation of his Styx past began in earnest with the 2007 release of his last solo album, One Hundred Years From Now, a return to rock that made for the most Styx-like album anyone in either camp had released in decades.
“My solo career moved into a more pop direction, I tried to recreate myself into something else,” DeYoung says. “I had some success but nothing approached what Styx was. Styx was better than me. When it came time to do One Hundred Years I had been encouraged to really make a Styx album without the guys. I gave myself permission to do that. I set out to get people who sang with me who could make those harmonies.”
That acceptance, and the multigenerational appeal of Styx’s music, has led to his current tour in which DeYoung will not only perform the songs he had written for the band ( Come Sail Away, The Best of Times and Lady) but also songs from ex-band mate Tommy Shaw such as Too Much Time on My Hands and Blue Collar Man.
“It’s been a real joy to go on the road. I put a band together specially to recreate the sound and spirit of my former band,” DeYoung says. “When the audience hears these songs, one after the other, they are thrilled.”
Still, he’s at a loss to explain why these old songs continue to inspire devotion.
“There are two kinds of music, the kind you like and the kind you don’t. If I could define it, it would be easier. But they just like those songs. What you do creatively to be successful is confounding. You don’t know why it happened in the first place. It’s not a calculation; it’s a mystery.”
• Dennis DeYoung performs at 8 p.m. Monday at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, near Hollywood. Tickets: $64-$34 at www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000. Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.