Interview with Chuck Panozzo of Styx

Photo: Ash Newell

For nearly 40 years, Styx have been linchpins of rock radio, bringing their bombastic, hard pop sound to speakers all over the world. Following their more progressive beginnings, the multi-platinum act came to define arena rock, filling countless stadiums in the late 70s and early 80s. Over the years, audiences — young and old — have continued to connect with the group’s poignant power ballads and fervid opuses, helping them sustain a hearty career.

Styx are currently out on a US tour with Yes. A few weeks prior to the trek, founding bassist Chuck Panozzo was gracious enough to have a phone chat with Rock Edition. He discussed the band’s summer tour, ‘Regeneration, Volume 2,’ and the ever-changing music industry. Check it all out below.

Did you have a nice morning, Chuck?

Yeah, I just came back from the ocean. I got a phone call this morning to go fishing. Fishing is like being on a tour bus — you never stop moving. You don’t catch much fish on the tour bus though. [laughs]

I honestly haven’t done much fishing.

I actually went out with people who like the peace and calm, which is kind of a treat for me. We got off on listening to the waves, and we weren’t that far from land. It was nice to get some fresh air.

That’s great. I noticed that the band recently wrapped up a UK tour with Foreigner and Journey. You guys haven’t played with Journey since about 2003. How did it go?

It was great. We have a wonderful rapport with the other bands, and it made for a very wonderful and successful tour. Because we have a comfort zone and we’re all professionals, there’s no fighting and we’re all just pulling together to make the shows work. We’re three successful, highly professional bands working together to make music, which is everybody’s goal, and we’ve achieved that very well.

Absolutely. Having been around for some years, it’s obvious that you all know what you’re doing.

I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m a professional. [laughs]

Well, it’s true.

And we’re lucky enough to have a good crew. They’re basically all musicians themselves that have turned into high tech guys. They know my bass better than I do. It’s their job to make sure it works right, and it’s my job to play right. This is what we do for a living. We want our fans to know that they’re going to get their money’s worth, and beyond that have a great time.

That’s what it’s all about. By the way, how was Sweden Rock Festival? Does it blow your mind that a once little-known band from Chicago continues to have so many Swedish fans?

Well, as I always say, bands never start in arenas. They start in small spaces, like a basement or garage. Of course, the dream is to get on a gigantic stage. Anyway, we played Sweden Rock a few years ago and kind of rocked the stage that day. We felt really good about it. When we came back this time, the disc jockey that introduced the band remembered me and complimented me. Before, the fans were like, “Oh, we kind of know that band,” but now it’s gone from that to something a lot more. That blows you away. I think the music breaks down barriers — all kinds of barriers — even language. When you’re remembered for your music, it’s a really overwhelming and powerful feeling.

I’m sorry I missed it.

Next year. [laughs]

Did you have time to watch any other bands or check out the sights?

In Sweden, I had more time to walk around than I did in the UK — well, I did walk around the UK a little because we were there for a couple days. Anyway, the moments that you get to just walk around and have a talk are really nice. I cherish them because you get to be yourself and not have to worry about doing much of anything else.

Totally. Now, for any Styx fans who have been living under a rock, can you explain to us what ‘Regeneration, Volume 2’ will be comprised of?

Actually, we videoed ‘Regeneration,’ and during the process of that we have now decided to turn it into a DVD. It’s really kind of spectacular because we not only incorporate the songs, but we put a theme to the background and have made it a visual experience, an audio experience, and performance piece. It’s one of these magical ways of taking a time machine and looking back at another part of Styx history. What we did was re-record classic Styx songs with the same arrangements and everything, exactly the way they were first done. It was kind of cool for me because I was there for the original songs, and my brother was part of that, who’s no longer with us. Those early days of art rock music are kind of lost in time. The guys had worked very diligently because there’s a lot of dynamics and rhythm changes in these songs. They really did a great job. To me, it showed their commitment to the band, and a commitment to our past and present.

Let’s talk about Styx’s summer tour with Yes. I read that [Yes bassist] Chris Squire said 20 years ago that he wanted Yes and Styx to tour together. It’s been a long time coming.

Photo: Jason Powell

Yes is one of our role models. To share the stage with them after all these years is quite remarkable. We’re all very excited about it. As with Foreigner and Journey, we kind of play to the same people. And for us to know that the next band behind us is going to be powerful too is great.

Looking at the music industry today, do you think the dream of starting a band in your garage and selling out arenas is a lot more difficult?

The industry has changed so much. The Internet has changed everything, now that you can download anything and everything. You no longer have to go to the store or look too hard to find what you want online. When it comes to music, there’s a lot of competition, let’s face it. When we were starting out, no one even knew what we looked like because there was no MTV at the time or anything. It’s a different world now, but the whole idea is to find the right musicians and a core audience for yourself. It really comes down to a lot of work and dedication.

What’s nice about the Internet is the fact that bands are able to promote themselves easily. In fact, I see you guys posting photos and videos on Facebook all the time.

Yeah, Tommy [Shaw] and Lawrence [Gowan] in particular have been taking a lot of videos and photographs. I actually recently saw a video of us from 1978 in San Francisco and it was really wild to see what I looked like back then. It’s great to document these things. It’s kind of like a time capsule.

With over 30 million albums sold worldwide, two Super Bowl appearances, and having played some of the biggest stages around, what makes you want to continue playing?

Occasionally, someone will make the mistake of asking me when I’m going to retire. One of my smartass remarks is, “When I can’t fit in my rock ‘n’ roll pants,” which I wear on every tour. The real answer is, how many people have a job where you wake up, go to your job, you’re introduced, everyone stands and applauds you, you wave to them, you leave your job, and people are still applauding? I don’t know how many people have that opportunity. When I was a teacher, no one stood up in my classroom and said, “Hey, Mr. Panozzo’s here, let’s give a standing ovation.” This job is still exciting. I get to be creative on stage, and we still have these great opportunities to perform, which is really unique for someone my age. Guys like Frank Sinatra performed until the end. There’s no reason to stop as long as you’re still able to entertain people.

Pick up Styx’s latest EP, Regeneration, Volume 1.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their website.

  • Kingof Allwhites

    We really don’t need James Young in the band.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513319213 Matt Cooper

    I only wish at some point Chuck would sit down with Tommy and JY and discuss a reunion with Dennis.

    Chuck himself has stated he wants a reunion with Dennis.  More recently Dennis has stated “if it were up to me I would be in Styx with them right now”

    No hate to Gowan after being in the band for almost 12 years, but I think it really comes down to JY not wanting to be around Dennis…

    I’ve seen Styx without Dennis 7 times and Dennis once solo.  I need Styx + Dennis!