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May 17, 2014

Styx, Outlaws ready to rock till they drop

JOHNSTOWN — Classic rock and southern rock will band together for a double-barreled performance.

Styx and The Outlaws will perform at 7 p.m. June 25 at Cambria County War Memorial Arena, 326 Napoleon St. in downtown Johnstown.

Styx last performed in Johnstown in 2009, when they shared the stage with REO Speedwagon and Kansas.

Their best-known hits include “Lady,” “Babe” and “Come Sail Away.”

Members are Tommy Shaw on guitar and vocals, James “JY” Young on guitar and vocals, Lawrence Gowan on keyboard and vocals, Todd Sucherman on drums and Ricky Phillips on bass.

Phillips, who has been with Styx for 11 years, said original bassist Chuck Panozzo is still a part of the show when his health allows.

“I’d say he does 97 to 98 percent of the shows when he’s feeling well,” Phillips said. “He doesn’t do full sets. When he’s on, I move over to guitar. It seems to work out. We’re a tight brotherhood.”

Phillips first saw Styx in 1979 and has followed the band ever since, never dreaming he would play onstage with them one day.

“They’ve continued to improve and have a professional attitude that they’re going to do what it takes,” Phillips said.

“That was a deciding factor when Tommy Shaw asked me to join. He said we want to rock till we drop. Every year we’re on the road for at least 135 shows.”

While shows feature the band’s most popular and recognizable hits, Phillips said there is a catalog of Styx songs to celebrate, some which have never been performed live.

With three lead singers, the band’s sound is very identifiable.

“Every decade, Styx had something in the Top 40, but Styx has so many sides,” Phillips said. “We try to make sure fans see all those sides in a show. I love it when someone says they knew every song. Others come to hear one or two songs and find out they knew more. We see fans singing along. I’m astounded when I see 15-year-olds singing. Fans support and drive our shows.”

The band has made two Super Bowl appearances and toured with Def Leppard, Journey, Boston, REO Speedwagon and Bad Company.

From the beginning

After starting in a suburban Chicago basement in the early 1970s, Styx  transformed into the virtual arena rock prototype by the late 1970s and early 1980s because of their fans’ love for big rockers and soaring power ballads.

Early on, the music of Styx reflected bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Moody Blues in releases such as 1972’s self-titled debut, 1973’s “Styx II,” 1974’s “The Serpent Is Rising” and 1975’s “Man of Miracles.”

Styx failed to break through to the mainstream until “Lady,” a track originally from their second album, started to get substantial airplay in late 1974 on the Chicago radio station WLS-FM. The song was soon issued as a single nationwide and quickly shot to No. 6 on the singles chart, as “Styx II” was certified gold.

The band’s first release of the 1980s was the ’81 concept album, “Paradise Theater,” which was loosely based on the rise and fall of a once-beautiful theater. “Paradise Theater” became Styx’s biggest hit, selling more than 3 million copies in a three-year period.

The band became one of the top U.S. rock acts because of hit singles such as “Too Much Time on My Hands.”  

It also marked the first time in music history that a band released four consecutive triple-platinum albums.

A career-encompassing live album, “Caught in the Act,” was issued in 1984, before Styx went on hiatus. Most of its members pursued solo projects throughout the remainder of the decade.   

A re-recording of their early hit “Lady,” titled “Lady ’95” for a greatest hits compilation, united the former Styx bandmates, which led to a reunion tour in 1996.

The tour became a surprise sold-out success, resulting in the release of a live album/video, “Return to Paradise,” in 1997.

A whole new generation of rock fans have been introduced to the sounds of Styx via a humorous car ad which used the track “Mr. Roboto,” as well as songs used in television shows such as “South Park” and “Freaks & Geeks.”

Out of the South

The Outlaws are a Southern rock/country rock band formed in Tampa, Florida, in 1972.

Their first three albums – “The Outlaws,” “Lady In Waiting” and “Hurry Sundown” – featured radio favorites “There Goes Another Love Song,” “Green Grass & High Tides,” “Knoxville Girl” and “Freeborn Man,” which became worldwide gold and platinum hits.

The Outlaws earned a formidable reputation as a live act touring with the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band and Charlie Daniels Band as well as the Doobie Brothers, The Who, The Eagles and the Rolling Stones.

Current Outlaws are founding members Henry Paul on guitars and vocals and Monte Yoho on drums and percussion, along with Chris Anderson and Steve Grisham on guitars and vocals, Dave Robbins on keyboard and vocals, and Randy Threet on bass and vocals.

“Styx and The Outlaws are managed by the same people, so when an opportunity presents itself, we play together, but we’re not touring together,” Paul said. “We’re on opposite ends of the music perspective. Styx has a faithful audience, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them.”

The new Outlaws have been under the direction of Paul, who said the band has been turning in consistently exceptional performances with a professional presentation.

“We’re winning over fans with our affection and respect, and we’re starting to get some traction,” Paul said in an interview from New Jersey. “Word of mouth is the best form of advertising. There’s a lot of momentum in the marketplace, and business is booming.”

When it comes to categorizing The Outlaws as southern rock or country rock, Paul said the band is what their fans think they are.

“My definition is that we’re a rock band, whether its southern or country,” Paul said. “We’re not unlike The Eagles, but we’re not as laid back. Our music can overwhelm you.”

The Outlaws play more than 150 live shows a year with classic tracks and fan favorites from the first three albums sharing the spotlight with songs from their new album, “It’s About Pride, ”which are already being embraced by audiences. Its title track is a tribute and testimony from a band that has lived it all and played it all.

“Because The Outlaws have been out of the public eye for so long, it’s almost like starting over, but because of the band’s history, we’re seeing this as a new chapter,” Paul said. “We’ve written and recorded this album on our own terms, and we’re out to make a significant impression. What our fans loved then they will still love now, but most of all, they will recognize the heart and sincerity we put in our music.”

The new album features “Tomorrow’s Another Night,” a take on the band’s history; “Hidin’ Out In Tennessee,” classic Outlaws country/bluegrass energy; “Born To Be Bad,” biker boogie; “Last Ghost Town,” guitar rock; “Nothin’ Main About Main Street,” a Springsteen/Seger look at lost small-town life; “The Flame,” a tribute to original Outlaw Hughie Thomasson; “Trail Of Tears,” “Right Where I Belong,” “Alex’s Song” and “Trouble Rides A Fast Horse”; and “So Long,” a re-recording of Paul’s 1979 classic.

“I want people to hear this album and see our show and realize that The Outlaws are back,” Paul said.

“Our goal is to unite the fans and bring the band back into the light. In a way, this is like a second chance at my first love. It’s about finishing what we started.”

Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/RuthRiceTD.

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