Part One – Dennis DeYoung
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on 26 East Vol 2 and completing and releasing it so soon after last year’s volume, which made my Top Fabulous Albums of 2021 list. The new volume begins with your original Beatles’ tribute song, “Hello Goodbye,” and you are joined by The Ides of March brass section. When you did the 10 Albums That Changed my life series for Goldmine, four out of ten were Beatles albums, so it is no surprise on the influence they have had on you, which you share in the music and lyrics.
DENNIS DeYOUNG: Jon Anderson, formerly of Yes, heard this song. He had just written a new song for Feeding America, which I am involved with, and we video chatted. He loved it and we know that Yes and Styx would not have existed if not for The Beatles. We are both strong believers in that theory. Just because you are inspired by or admire a band doesn’t mean that you will just mimic them. You choose your own path that suits you best. David Gilmour has said that about Pink Floyd, too, and they told The Beatles that when they met them at Abbey Road in early 1970. It is fitting for me, since I did a song with Julian Lennon on the first volume, this is actually the song that I thought he and I would sing together, but then I looked at the lyrics and thought it wasn’t really appropriate for him to sing those lyrics, so I wrote “To the Good Old Days” with him, for he and I to sing. To acknowledge that The Ed Sullivan Show was the catalyst and the turning point in my professional life is something that I know is even the reason why I am talking to you today for this Goldmine interview at 74 years of age.
GM: The album ends with “The Isle of Misanthrope” and “GIF,” the “Grand Illusion” finale, which takes the listeners back to Styx.
DD: If this is my final album, which I think it is, then I can’t think of a better way to end my album recording days, because the last thing you hear from me vocally are the words that I believed in 1977 and still believe today, that deep inside we are all the same. I sing it in the magical key of C, my son is playing the drums, in tribute to the late John Panozzo, and he nailed it, and off we go into the great unknown.
GM: Speaking of family, you dedicate the song “Your Saving Grace” to your wife Suzanne, who we have seen singing with you on stage. My wife Donna heard this song and said it was so beautiful, and vocally you still sound the same to us, which we enjoy so much.
DD: Thank you. Fortunately, I can still sing. I took care of myself and I have the advantage of writing the melodies I sing. I dedicate this song to Suzanne. Many times, when I was incapable of saving myself, she was there. She is the one who convinced me in 1980 to call up the guys, after “Babe” had become a hit, while I was dealing with our son’s birth and the shocking news on what he would have to deal with for the rest of his life. My song “First Time” was planned to be the next single, but then our manager called me and said that Tommy threatened to quit if “First Time” was released as the next single, which was totally unexpected. We argued and I was kicked out of the band, but Suzanne convinced me to call the guys up, and that led to me creating the concept of Styx’s Paradise Theatre album to follow for us. Now getting back to “Your Saving Grace,” I structured it with my own experiences in life and, getting back to The Beatles, I was trying to offer my interpretation of “Let it Be,” looking for some higher power to save yourself.
GM: It touches on the melody of “The Best of Times,” which gets us to the classic Paradise Theatre album you mentioned, celebrating its 40th anniversary.
DD: Isn’t that something. I guess that’s why there are so many songs on the new album that deal with the passage of time, a reflection on what I have learned and what I haven’t learned on this long and winding road we call life. If the pandemic didn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will. It is interesting that the first three songs we are talking about today are also my favorite three songs, “Hello Goodbye,” “The Isle of Misanthrope” and “Your Saving Grace.”
GM: These three songs show variety, being very different from each other, which I like. The other two in my Top 5 new songs list are “Proof of Heaven” and “There’s No Turning Back Time,” which are two of the four songs you co-wrote with Jim Peterik on this volume. I spoke with Jim about these songs, which I’ll share with the readers in part two of the article.
DD: You’ve made good choices. A vast majority of Styx fans love the variety. That is what I am most proud of, is that we didn’t regurgitate the same thing over and over, but we were able to change and be successful as writers, arrangers and performers. Thank you for highlighting the variety. “Proof of Heaven” was a possibility for the prior album.
GM: Speaking of prior albums, let’s go way back to Styx’s Pieces of Eight, which I was fortunate enough to review when it was released in 1978. There were a couple of songs from the album which later became flip sides of singles from the next two albums, one of them is “Queen of Spades,” which has wonderful beauty and power.
DD: I sang the melody to JY’s chords. If someone plays a chord progression, I can create three to four different melodies to choose. Other than the melody, the rest of the composition is primarily JY’s work, his take on “Sweet Madame Blue” with lyrics centered on the addiction to gambling.
Flip side: Queen of Spades
A side: Too Much Time on My Hands
Top 100 debut: March 21, 1981
Peak position: No. 9
GM: One of the songs from Pieces of Eight that I highlighted in my 1978 review was “I’m O.K.” as being a great example of your style which fans would enjoy.
DD: “I’m O.K.” was a big lie. I was in a bit of a funk emotionally and mentally at that time, and I was telling myself that I was O.K. to try to convince myself of that. A lot of people have taken that song as a rallying point for how they were feeling. The self-reflective line, “I’ve finally found the person I’ve been searching for” is a wish. It is not pop psychology, it is the wish that we all can identify ourselves in this way, that we know where we are going, we know what we are doing, and doggone it, I’m O.K. this way. We all have doubts on our own abilities, so what. We are all humans. “I’m O.K.” was a nice attempt to validate that. I added pipe organ to it, and a lot of fans like it.
GM: You brought up “Babe” a little while ago. When “Babe” was released as a single, “I’m O.K.” was its flip side. “Babe” was in the Top 10 when Donna and I got married on the last weekend of the 1970s and was still in the Top 10 the following month, as the 1980s began and we moved from our hometown of Cleveland to Dallas, making a wonderful soundtrack for our life.
DD: You love our progressive songs on Pieces of Eight and you also love a big ballad like “Babe.” Some people say they can’t like both of those sides of Styx songs and that’s something I’ll never understand. There is a group of people who are uncomfortable with romantic love songs, lyrically. With the love I have in my life, being married for over a half century to Suzanne, I feel sorry for people like that. I think if you really experience love, then those songs won’t bother you.
GM: Definitely not. You seek them. You and Suzanne married in the first month of the 1970s and Donna and I married in the last month of that magical decade. As newlyweds, I was making love song mix tapes for Donna, so I thank you and others for writing these beautiful rock love songs.
DD: Exactly. You can say to Donna, “That’s how I feel about you, Honey.” Every moment in a marriage isn’t perfect, but fundamentally, at the core, love is there.
Flip side: I’m O.K.
A side: Babe
Top 100 debut: October 8, 1979
Peak position: No. 1
GM: I had mentioned to you previously that “Desert Moon” is Donna’s favorite solo song of yours, so thank you for the live version you sent us.
DD: That is a bonus track for the Japanese release of the album. Frontiers Records has a deal that any release in Japan has a bonus track that no other country gets. If I have written a better cinematic lyric than “Desert Moon,” I don’t know what it is. It is a song that should have been the next Styx hit in the mid-1980s, had Tommy not quit the band and the group broke up for the rest of the decade, so it reached the Top 10 for me as a solo performer.
GM: Donna and I, and our daughter Brianna, in March of 1993 when we were living in Chicago, saw you at The Chicago Theater on State Street in Jesus Christ Superstar. When Pontius Pilate came on stage, the Chicago crowd roared for you.
DD: Holy cow. You know, they like me here. I’m homegrown. That was the most popular Pontius Pilate was in his entire life.
GM: Brianna was nine at the time and loved it.
DD: Wow. Tell her I apologize. I was crucifying Jesus that night.
GM: Ha ha. I’m sure she forgives you. Your performance hooked her on Broadway for life and she tells people about that show to this day. Then you included “Pilate’s Dream” on your CD 10 on Broadway.
DD: Yes. That came out a year later. I never aspired to be on Broadway. I became Pontius Pilate because my brother-in-law was the executive producer of that tour and he wanted me to play Pilate. We had just ended Styx’s Edge of the Century Tour with Glen Burtnik in the band and it became clear to me then, in the early 1990s, why in 1984 I refused to agree with the others to replace Tommy when he left. In my mind, Tommy was too important to replace him with anyone. Finally, we did that in the early 1990s when Tommy joined Damn Yankees. JY found Glen Burtnik. At that point the rest of us had gotten back together and finally decided to go on without Tommy. At the end of the tour I realized that the fans didn’t want a replacement with Glen Burtnik. They wanted Tommy Shaw. After we did that tour, which was our least lucrative tour since we hit the big time in 1977, I was more convinced that this is not what the fans wanted, so I didn’t want to keep going on with Styx. Glen, JY, and I made a bunch of demos which were rejected, because it was grunge city in 1992. I had written “Show Me the Way,” the album Edge of the Century went gold, but we couldn’t get a record deal beyond that. I thought they are sending us a message. I could have continued and played the county fair circuit and I thought that Styx was more important than that. So, I took the job in Jesus Christ Superstar when it came up and when I was doing it, Danny Goldberg from Atlantic Records saw me on stage in L.A. and asked if I wanted to make a Broadway album. None of this stuff was precipitated by me.
GM: We have that CD on the shelf next to 26 East Vol 1, with “Unbroken,” which made my Fabulous Songs of 2020 list.
DD: No kidding? Wow! I think the music on that song I began writing back in the late 1980s. Jim Peterik said it was a good one, so we worked on it and finished it. I’m glad that you like that one. It has a positive message that comes from me from time to time. Both volumes are eclectic but still based on that band that I was in for so long. I am glad that you like both volumes. These songs that people embrace now don’t belong to me. I wrote and recorded them and sent them out on the wings of my passion and now other people have found them and now they belong to you, Donna and the Goldmine readers. All right my friend, thank you.
Part Two – Jim Peterik
GM: Great talking with you again. You recently had a pair of shows with The Buckinghams’ Carl Giammarese. I am sure people enjoyed getting back out to a concert.
JIM PETERIK: It was a roaring success. After the first show sold out, another was added, and both sold out. The chemistry between us was terrific. I have known Carl forever. He was more nervous because he really hasn’t done solo shows. I thought he was great on the first show but he wasn’t happy with his performance, saying that he was nervous, but with the second show, he really found his feet, and afterward he was much more pleased with his performance. He’s such a wonderful guy. The place was nicely spaced for social distancing and everybody was happy.
GM: On to another one of your Chicago music buddies, Dennis DeYoung. Let’s discuss a couple of the songs you co-wrote with him. “Proof of Heaven” is my favorite song on the new album, with almost a touch of sci-fi, “Whisper in my ear the secrets of the universe.” I love it.
JP: It really is a touch of sci-fi. At the end of the day, we are seeing proof of heaven in every stranger’s face, and that’s the real payoff, because we are all in this together, and we see in stranger’s faces the same kind of questions we have about where is it going and what is going to happen to us, and if there are any more like us in distant galaxies. This is timely as we are going to Mars. Dennis was extremely instrumental in the lyrics. In a way, I am a Dennis DeYoung architect. When we first started this two album project, I had to convince him to do this. He really wondered if anyone would buy his albums. I was at dinner with him and our wives and he asked, “Jim, why would I want to do another album?” Finally, I said the definitive answer, “Because people need your music.” That resonated with him. Soon I sent him a blurb of a song I wrote when I was visiting Italy, which became “Run for the Roses” on 26 East Vol 1, and he flipped out and that started the whole chain of DeYoung and Peterik creativity. He finished that song nicely. When it came time for the second volume there was quite a bit of material not used on the first album. The people at Frontiers wanted to divvy it up into two pieces because there were so many songs. Dennis originally called this new song “Signs of Heaven” and I suggested “Proof of Heaven,” and after that title change, the lyrics just poured out of him. I have never met anybody as creative as Dennis. Week after week he would come to me with all these great songs that you hear on this new record.
GM: “There’s No Turning Back Time” starts with a gentle acoustic guitar and piano in the first half before it turns more musically dramatic.
JP: I said, “Let’s borrow from your catalog with a bit of ‘Crystal Ball.’” I started playing an acoustic guitar part, which Dennis said he loved, and then I overdubbed a high string guitar, and he loved it even more, which created the mood of “There’s No Turning Back Time,” and became quite an epic, with imagery of old scrap books and video tapes. The Moog solo on the song is certainly turning back time.
GM: Thank you for all your work again with Dennis that my wife Donna and I enjoy. Now, what do you have coming up?
JP: I am in the midst of recording with Robert Lamm of Chicago and hope to have something available by the end of the year. It is turning out tremendously, produced by Joe Thomas, who has produced The Beach Boys in recent years. The latest thing that I am in the middle of is an album titled Tigress, a play on “Eye of the Tiger,” for Frontiers, featuring a lot of great female rockers, coming out in a few months. With The Ides of March, we are going to re-release our current album, Play On, as it didn’t get a fair shot during the pandemic, and now we have summer dates lined up, too. I really appreciate you and your passion for music. Your interest of what I am up to and what Dennis is doing is so great. We both appreciate it. Thank you.