Dennis DeYoung opens up about his hearing problem: ‘I’ve never heard any rock performance I have ever done’

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If you’ve been jamming out to Dennis DeYoung’s new Styx-tastic concert film (like we have), you’ve probably noticed his yellow ear plugs. That’s not just a function of growing into a late-period rocker. In fact, DeYoung is living with hearing problem that goes back to Styx’s 1979’s multi-platinum release Cornerstone.

That album found Styx working for the first time at Pumpkin Studios in Oak Lawn, Illinois. They’d previously recorded four straight studio projects, going back to 1975’s Equinox, at Chicago’s Paragon facility.

“I spent more hours mixing that album then any album I had ever worked on,” DeYoung says, “in an effort to prove to the band that the move was not folly.” The work paid off, and not just with millions in sales. Cornerstone, powered by his huge hit “Babe,” was nominated for both best group vocal performance and — in a nod to DeYoung’s efforts — engineering.

Still, Styx’s unfamiliarity with the new environs played a role in an eventual tinnitus diagnosis for DeYoung. As the group gathered for its traditional post-production listening party, their late drummer John Panozzo inadvertently pushed the wrong button and sent a 1K signal tone through the studio at about 110 decibels — with Dennis DeYoung standing mere inches away from an enormous speaker.

“I was momentarily disoriented and then the ringing began. It would not stop,” DeYoung adds. His hearing has never been the same. “I wore ear plugs daily for the next year and have worn them ever since when performing,” he says. “I took nearly four years for my ears to calm down.”

He can joke about it now, and does. But, as a result, Dennis DeYoung has “never heard any rock performance I have ever done” since then. “For both Paradise Theater and Kilroy, I used them in the studio when playing, singing and mixing. This has taken the true joy of performance away from me, because what I hear is muffled and quite simply uninspiring. … I say this not for sympathy but to clarify why you will see those bright yellow things sticking out of my ears. No, that is not wax build up.”

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