By Martin Popoff
Guitarist James “JY” Young is the hard-rocking heart of Styx, a band which is something quite indefinable.
Prog rock? Classic rock? Pomp rock? A ballad band? Whatever label you choose to give to Styx, rest assured that top-quality music is a given.
The band is one of the ’70s-era acts most demonstrative of the axiom “If you build it, they will come.” Styx decided long ago that it wanted to maintain the showmanship and larger-than-life quality of the shows it began back in the 1970s. The band loves it, the fans love it, the venues are packed, and everybody goes home happy. So what albums helped shape James ‘JY’ Young into the crowd-pleasing musician he is today?
Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger: First LP I ever bought. I don’t even know if I had heard the music before I bought it. It just embodied, I guess from a pop-culture standpoint, the idea that there was this guy with a crazy guitar. I had two older sisters who listened to some rock music, and we had some singles — Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis and stuff like that. But Bo Diddley, for me, was some guy who would put on this Western outfit and sing about kind of Wild West stuff. And to an 11-year-old mind, that was just it: Wild West, firearms and rock ’n’ roll guitar.
The Who, any album: I played music starting at the age of 5 — started out on piano, and then went to a band instrument, and then inherited my older sister’s clarinet from eighth grade through high school. I picked up the guitar about age 14, and I made great strides. I went through a few guitar teachers who said, “I can’t really teach you anything; you’re already beyond what I can help you with.” But there was this jazz guitarist who would come over, with a mop head of hair. He was a jazz guitarist, but he would get hired a lot because he had that British look. So he was kind of riding on the coattails of the British invasion because he played guitar. But he brought up The Who as a negative example, saying, “These are just these crazy guys that turn their guitars up to 10, turn their amps up to 10 and it gets feedback, and they break their guitars and equipment up,” and what have you. And it was like a negative example of what a pure musician wouldn’t do. But for me, that was like, “Man, when they comin’ to town?”
Van Halen, Van Halen: That, to me, was clearly the first time I heard a guy who could sort of do those kinds of things on electric guitar. An incredible rock attitude. “Runnin’ with the Devil” — I can still picture myself in England in ‘78, listening to that on a tiny little radio.
Jethro Tull, Aqualung: Ian Anderson … I just thought as a vocalist, lyricist and frontman, he was just supremely intelligent, supremely sarcastic, supremely sort of irreverent. I’d seen Jethro Tull play live for the first time, actually at a rock festival that happened in L.A., a month before Woodstock. It was set in Devonshire Downs, although I don’t remember what it was called. He was just so charismatic from the stage. “Aqualung” was, I think, the ultimate album of his, sort of capturing the whole thing. Plus, it sounded like it was a quantum leap in terms of recording quality.
Jeff Beck, Truth: Another guitarist who influenced me was Jeff Beck, with the Jeff Beck Group. I just think their version of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” with Rod Stewart on vocal, is just a classic — one of the greats. I saw that band play live with Ronnie Wood on bass, and it was bad-ass.
Cream, Wheels of Fire: I met Eric Clapton at the Crossroads in Chicago, and I told him that I took his guitar solo in “Crossroads” from that live performance on that LP, slowed it down to half speed — because they had spoken word records that were played on 16 — so all the notes in his solo would be an octave down. They would be half speed and an octave down, but they would be going slow enough so that I could sing them, memorize them by ear, and then I would think of them on the guitar, an octave up, you know, where I would normally play, just to kind of figure out how he figured it. So I told him that solo is what stepped my game up, because I learned that note for note. And he goes, “I made some mistakes in there.” And I go, “I didn’t notice it.”