James "JY" Young: 'Dennis DeYoung taught me the lesson of humility'

Sterling Whitaker - Classic Hard Rock Examiner
December 27, 2011

In a surprising new interview with, Styx guitarist James "JY" Young said that former Styx front man Dennis DeYoung  -  about whom Young has often had less-than-flattering things to say since his 1999 departure from the band  -  taught him a lesson in humility during the years they worked together.

The guitarist said that the tension between him and the singer/keyboardist was there from the outset of their relationship, when Young joined DeYoung, guitarist John Curulewski and twin brothers John and Chuck Panozzo in TW4, a predecessor act to Styx that performed popular cover songs of the day. Young had been playing in a heavier, less commercial group.

"I had never seen them play, but I sort of looked down on anybody who did what they did," Young recalled. "My band broke up, and I heard they were looking for a guitar player. I just wanted to be a working musician. When Dennis recounts it today, he says that I was the most arrogant human being he’d ever met in his life. And I probably was.”

The differences between the two men worked in the band's favor, at least at first. "All the bases were covered, and my own narrow vision was broadened, which was a good thing," JY said. "And their broad vision was refined. We all brought our separate gifts to the table, but when we combined them we really had something good."

Styx won a recording contract with Chicago-based Wooden Nickel Records, and Young and DeYoung co-wrote Styx' debut single "Best Thing," which was a minor radio hit. The group's second album slanted far more heavily toward DeYoung's contributions; the breakthrough success of his piano-based rock ballad "Lady" launched a string of Top 10 hits for Styx that would last through the mid-1970s and into the early 1980s.

“I was the guy who had the most songs on the first record, but then Dennis jumped in and became a writing machine," JY acknowledged. "He took the banner up, and ran with it in a way that I was incapable of."

Personal and musical friction between the two men continued over the course of decades, and Young told Connect Savannah that part of the problem was that they were too much alike in one respect. “I’m a controlling person, Dennis is a controlling person," he admitted. "He enjoyed mastery over the rest of us through the Grand Illusion album and up until Pieces of Eight. Because ‘Lady,’ he wrote and sang. That’s a home run, and none of the rest of us did that. So he deserved to be listened to."

That began to change in 1975 when Styx replaced John Curulewski with singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw, who was also a very strong writer. Shaw had both of the radio singles from 1978's Pieces of Eight album, while DeYoung for the first time had none. "I think that freaked Dennis out," JY said. "There was another guy hitting home runs on the team; he wasn’t the only guy who could move the ball around the bases."

The tension between Young and DeYoung only grew worse after Styx scored a #1 hit single in 1979 with DeYoung's "Babe," a light romantic ballad that JY hated. "I feel that Dennis turned to what his strength was. And that was writing emotional songs to women," the guitarist said. "For me, that was a very hard left turn on the wheel."

Despite the other band members' misgivings DeYoung continued to bring lighter, more melodic material to Styx, scoring Top 10 hits with songs like "The Best of Times" and "Don't Let It End." Styx finally splintered after 1983's divisive Kilroy Was Here album and tour, but JY said that his association with DeYoung was valuable in retrospect.

“As arrogant as I may have been, Dennis taught me the lesson of humility," he reflected. "I learned that I’ve got to compromise a little bit, but compromise can lead to success."

It's a lesson he doesn't feel was reciprocal. "Unfortunately, the lesson of compromise was something that Dennis had a harder time with," JY lamented. "So he went away from rock ‘n’ roll to try and find success. I know ‘Babe’ alienated a lot of our audience – of course, it built another audience – and the ironic thing is that ‘Roboto’ kind of killed our audience.”

Styx reunited without Shaw in 1991, then broke up and reunited again with Shaw for 1996's Return To Paradise tour. The band recorded a reunion album titled Brave New World, but old tensions surfaced, and in 1999 Dennis DeYoung departed Styx acrimoniously, subsequently suing the group. He now tours under the billing The Music of Styx, while Styx  -  led by JY and Tommy Shaw  -  performs more than 100 concerts every year with Canadian singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan in DeYoung's old position.

"I’m doing something I love in my very, very, very late 50s," JY said. "What Styx has, and what Styx brings, comes from a higher place. And it flows through us. Music is just this incredible force that has the power to soothe, to calm, to inspire, and in the best cases to heal and motivate.

"We are the stewards to this incredible power.”


Source - December 27, 2011

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