Coming Into His Own
by Rosemary O'Brien
James Young released a solo album. Many of you are now probably thinking, I know that name, but from where? Rest assured, you do know that name. James Young, or J.Y., sings and plays guitar with Styx. You know, the guys who sold 20 million albums world-wide, and had five Top Ten hits including 1979's #1 hit "Babe"?
Now that the band's guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw has his product out, and keyboardist/vocalist Dennis DeYoung is getting ready to release his solo project, fellow bandmate Young has joined them with CITY SLICKER on his own Absolute Records label.
This project was not something that Young dreamed up overnight. Marking his priorities, the first thing he wanted to do was detach himself from Styx's record label (A&M) because the other two Styx members were working on their own material under that label. Young thought if he joined the roster it would be just one too many.
"I just didn't feel that I would get the right kind of attention or the right kind of enthusiasm because it'd be, 'OK we have to put these out to get the next Styx record,' and I didn't really want that for my project," said Young by phone from Los Angeles.
"I waited and was patient and finally got my release from A&M. It was sort of a mutual understanding, and so I just took my time searching for the right label. There were a number of major labels interested but they wanted me to change things and I said 'I'm through compromising, at least for the moment.' This was a statement that I wanted to make in the form that I wanted to make it."
Young began work on his project in 1984 with the help of Jan "Miami Vice" Hammer. "The album was almost released in September," Young said, "but the 'Miami Vice' theme was coming out. Jan Hammer, we thought was going to become a household word. He hasn't gone quite that far, but he's had a #1 song."
Young was aware of Jan Hammer's talents since the early seventies when Hammer was playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Young said Hammer's synthesizer solos from his Orchestra days really stand out in his mind.
"I wanted to work with the best," Young said, "and I didn't know Jan, but I knew some people that did know him and I said, 'Give him a call and see if he'd be interested in talking to me.' And he was. I went up to his studio and he came out and saw a Styx show and boom, we were working together."
"I was In awe when I first started working with him," he continued, "and I still have the healthiest respect for Jan Hammer. He is, in my mind, unparalleled at what he does. It was a privilege for me to work with him."
With Hammer as his co-producer, Young wanted to get away from the thematic albums that traditionally mark the work of Styx. He doesn't feature any melodic songs on this album. The only rock/ballad song that even comes close is "Waiting." Overall, CITY SLICKER is more aggressive, Young stated
"The lyrical content is a little darker," he said. "It's a little bit more challenging. And, there's a little more anger on this record than there is on a Styx record.
"I think that performers tend to have separate lives on the stage and away from the stage. I'm actually, and it's probably bad for my image, a very easy-going guy and I often don't let things upset me, but we all have this primal beast within us that needs to come out now and then for us to stay healthy. I think it balances us as human beings. This is my favorite kind of music. A real powerful hard rock song, to me, is the purest form of rock 'n' roll, and it's rock and roll at its distilled essence."
To insure that CITY SLICKER would be pure rock 'n' roll, Young employed other musicians to help him with songwriting. "Besides Hammer's writing, keyboard and drum contributions, the credits include bassist/songwriter Colin Hodgkinson, songwriter Steven A. Jones, bassist Rick Young (James' brother) and songwriter Mic Fabus. "I wanted a diverse album, and as a writer I don't have that great of a range so I wanted to do material by other people because I feel that I have a greater range as a performer than I do as a writer."
Young is better able to determine where his own career is going than the future of Styx. "We worked together for a long long time," he said of the band. "I think it was time for us to have a separate creative vacation from one another. I think you saw that when The Beatles broke up. You saw where McCartney was inclined to go and where Lennon was inclined to go and where Harrison was inclined to go. And it was very easy to see who contributed what to the overall process. That also is true with the Styx solo projects."
There are definite possibilities, however, that Styx will record again. "I think that we all just needed a rest and I think as a result of all these solo excursions, Styx will be healthier in the future.
"I know personally as an artist, I feel like I'm just coming into my own," Young concluded. "I didn't have the confidence 10 years ago to be sort of the leader of Styx the 'way Dennis (DeYoung) was. I feel that I now have the confidence to be successful on my own but also to have a much larger voice in the future of Styx. I feel like I'm coming into my own, and I'm having a great time."