By ANDY GRAY
Styx hasn't released an album of new material in a decade, eight years if 2005's "Big Bang Theory," a collection of covers, is counted.
Don't expect a new album anytime soon.
It's not that the guys in Styx have stopped writing music; they just don't see a place for it in the current marketplace.
"Look at the lack of success of our classic rock colleagues - Journey, Heart, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon," founding member James "JY" Young said during a telephone interview from a tour stop in Arkansas. "I haven't heard one track (from their recent albums) on the radio ever. Even the Stones and Paul McCartney, they've put out records, and you don't really hear them on the radio. Taking a year off to record a record with no chance of getting airplay doesn't seem like the right strategy."
WHO: Styx and Kansas
WHEN: 8 p.m. Oct. 17
WHERE: Covelli Centre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: $100.50, $79.50, $69.50, $58 and $37
The music business seems to have reverted back to the 1950s, Young said, when acts lived or died by a single. Performers are more likely to catch attention with a single song that becomes a YouTube phenomenon or gets prominent play in a movie or television show than by following the path Styx did nearly 40 years ago, when a band would record a full album, push singles to radio and tour nonstop.
"We may eventually put out a new track of some sort, but I don't know if we'll bother to sit down and put out a whole record again," Young said.
One thing hasn't changed - the nonstop touring part.
Styx - Young, guitar and vocals; Tommy Shaw, guitar and vocals; Lawrence Gowan, keyboard and vocals; Todd Sucherman, drums; and Ricky Phillips, bass (with occasional live appearances by original bass player Chuck Panozzo) - remains a busy live act. The group spent the summer touring with REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent, and it will play the Covelli Centre on Oct. 17 with Kansas.
"We continue to tour and upgrade our live show in every way we reasonably can," he said. "And the great thing is the younger section of our audience is growing ... Our career as a live act seems to actually be growing."
Since "Big Bang Theory," Styx has released two live CD / DVD collections, "One with Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra" in 2006 and "The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight Live." While Shaw - the other band member whose tenure dates back to Styx's '70s-'80s heyday - has released a solo album in between touring responsibilities, Young's main offstage creative outlet has been overseeing those live releases.
"I've been there at every moment of audio and video post-production and preplanning," he said. "I've channeled my energies into that aspect of the band ... We don't want to do it half-heartedly and say that's good enough. It always has to be great."
"One with Everything" was recorded with music students from northeast Ohio and filmed at Blossom Music Center. "The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight Live" captures the band's 2010 tour when it played 1977's "The Grand Illusion" and 1978's "Pieces of Eight" albums in their entirety.
While songs like "Fooling Yourself," "Come Sail Away," "Blue Collar Man" and "Renegade" never have left Styx's setlist, preparing for that tour meant revisiting some songs that hadn't been played for decades or, in a couple of cases, never were played live before.
Young, who doesn't make a habit out of listening to his old records, enjoyed digging back into those albums.
"I was very impressed by the work we did back then," he said. "We were highly motivated individuals, five young men who wanted to make something happen. And we had an incredible engineer, Barry Mraz, God rest his soul, who was instrumental in creating that big British rock sound in a little studio in Chicago."
In some cases, it was impossible to improve on the original - "'Renegade' ... I don't think there's any way I could beat that (guitar) solo," Young said - but he believes he was able to improve on "Miss America" and "Snowblind" from the original recordings.
"I think I have improved as a vocalist. My voice is more fragile than it was back then, but my ability to interpret lyrics with more nuance (is better). As a guitarist and a vocalist, it was fun to take a stab at these things again."
Many of those songs also seemed particularly relevant more than 30 years after they were written, from the working-class anthem "Blue Collar Man" to "Pieces of Eight" ("Don't cash your freedoms in for gold, money's not everything," Young said) to "Man in the Wilderness," which Shaw wrote about his older brother, who fought in the Vietnam War.
"I'm sure there was a young man or two sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan seeing those same kinds of feelings that existed after Vietnam," he said.
And with the economic problems and the housing market collapse that the country still is recovering from, the album track "I'm OK" from "Pieces of Eight" became a sign of hope in concert.
"I think people are looking for something to lift them up and remind them about what is great about America and what can happen when things are going well. People come to shows to get away from the fact that they're struggling in their job or 10 percent underwater on the mortgage. 'I'm OK' is a reaffirmation of how good things can be if we just get our mind in the right place."