Though Ricky Phillips is only nine years into his current stint as bassist with Styx, he’s actually a rock music veteran who was part of both the respected late-1970s group the Babys as well as 1980s hitmakers Bad English. Still, there’s no talk of retirement — not any time soon.
Phillips joined the Babys in 1979, after the band had already scored a pair of No. 13 John Waite-sung favorites with “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I Think of You.” Together with a retooled lineup that also included future Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain, the Babys issued 1980’s Union Jacks, which included the hit “Back On My Feet Again.”
Bad English was actually a reunion of three former bandmates from the Babys era — Waite, Cain and Phillips. The band also included guitarist Neal Schon, a member of Journey with Cain. Their self-titled debut spawned the No. 1 smash “When I See You Smile,” as well as the Top 10 hit “Price of Love.”
From there, Phillips served as a bassist on a one-album project featuring former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and former Deep Purple/Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale. After a number of years of studio work, Phillips was invited to join Styx by longtime guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw in 2003.
This current edition of Styx that has become a staple on tour, having actually played more concerts since 1999 than all of the previous band lineups combined. In fact, the group has been so focused on live shows that it hasn’t put out an all-new recording in about 10 years.
And nobody is even considering slowing down, Phillips says.
“I was talking with Tommy Shaw,” Phillips tells Jon Lewis of Enjoy Magazine, “and asked, hypothetically, about retiring. We both realized, why? We’re the center of attention at the party every night and we’re getting paid pretty well. Besides, we don’t look our age or act our age.”
Styx issued a terrific new song last year, but otherwise have only entered the studio to re-record old favorites. Styx, which is rounded out by James “J.Y.” Young, Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman and Chuck Panozzo, continues a new tour tonight in South Dakota that will last through November; complete upcoming dates and venues are below.
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Here’s a look at our recent thoughts on Styx. Click through the links for complete reviews …
SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JAMES “J.Y.” YOUNG, CO-FOUNDER OF STYX: “I’ll be darn,” guitarist James “JY” Young says with a chuckle when told that Styx garnered praise recently from Rolling Stone, which cited the band’s current Midwest Rock ‘N’ Roll Express tour with REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent as among “The Ten Hottest Summer Package Tours of 2012.” “That’s a turnaround for Rolling Stone in relation to us, but who am I to disagree with them?” says Young, who has been in the band from the beginning. Truth be told, Styx have never been critical darlings, but throughout a 40-year-career that’s withstood various personnel changes and creative conflicts, the band has sold over 30 million albums and continues to draw sold-out audiences across the country.
STYX – THE GRAND ILLUSION/ PIECES OF EIGHT LIVE DVD/Blu-ray (2012): At the moment of Styx’s earliest breakout successes, as it achieved these first- and second-ever triple platinum-selling albums, the band was already starting to go its separate ways. 1977’s Grand Illusion was the first to fully spotlight the trademark elements of both Dennis DeYoung and relative newcomer Tommy Shaw, and already you could see where Styx would eventually come to a fork in the proverbial road musically. Tracks like “Miss America” were brawny, six-string rockers, yet you also had the title track and the opening stanzas of “Come Sail Away,” Styx’s second Top 10 hit, which became showcases for DeYoung’s preening Broadway affectations. At the time, this seemed like the kind of creative tension that might keep the band working at a high level. In truth, the center could not hold.
ONE TRACK MIND: STYX, “DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD” (2011): There’s a world-weary melancholy, a hard-won realism, to Styx’s new song that didn’t exist in Tommy Shaw’s fun-rocking “Renegade” days, and that points the way out of the band’s more recent habit of backtracking. It’s not just the rest of Regeneration, Vols. I and II, which finds Styx rerecording some of its best-known tracks with next-generation singer Lawrence Gowan. In fact, since the departure in 1999 of Dennis DeYoung, Shaw and Co. have issued five concert recordings and — in the last four years alone — at least seven best-of packages. Styx’s most recent original long-player was Big Bang Theory from all the way back in 2005, leaving many to wonder if the group was spent creatively. Fast forward to “Difference in the World,” as Shaw, over a plaintive guitar shape, admits: “It’s hard to keep from giving up. It’s hard to make a difference in the world today.” But, through the course of a complex and involving musical soundtrack, Shaw rouses himself to try again — in a nice metaphor for the band itself.
SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST – STYX: A band suspended forever between the formalism of Dennis DeYoung’s Broadway pretensions and the harder edges of James Young and Tommy Shaw, Styx sounded different every time it came on the radio. Yet, critics insisted, somehow the same: Mediocre. They were, by turns, soft-prog keyboard-tweaking intellectuals, CroMagnon guitar shredders and dorky show-tune pompsters … though with very little circumstance. Every gesture, as Lester Bangs once wrote, is writ huge — to the point of flatulence. (DeYoung knows he’s not English, right?) That makes them easy to hate, or love, or whatever. They were, at once, everything … and thus, to many, nothing. Yet … how many times have we turned this stuff up? Here, we sort through it all (the adult-contemporary crap, the hair-sprayed arena rock, the robot thing) to uncover a few clues to Styx’s enduring fame — from ‘Equinox,’ ‘Crystal Ball,’ ‘Grand Illusion,’ ‘Paradise Theater’ and, yes, even ‘Kilroy Was Here.’
Dates, cities and venues for Styx’s on-going tour:
Sat 9/15: Deadwood, SD, Deadwood Jam
Thu 10/4-6: Niagara Falls, ON, Avalon Theatre at Fallsview Casino
Thu 10/11: Sewell, NJ, TD Bank Arts Centre
Fri 10/12: Wabash, IN, Honeywell Center
Sun 10/14: Reading, PA, Sovereign Performing Arts Center
Fri 10/26: Harris, MI, Island Resort and Casino
Sat 10/27: Harris, MI, Island Resort and Casino
Thu 11/8: Nashville, TN, Ryman Auditorium
Fri 11/9: Biloxi, MS, Hard Rock Casino & Resort
Wed 11/14: Provo, UT, Covey Center for the Arts
Fri 11/16: Las Vegas, NV, The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort
Sat 11/17: Las Vegas, NV, The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort
Sun 11/18: Scottsdale, AZ, Talking Stick Resort