Interview with Lawrence Gowan of Styx - The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live DVD

Sally Rosen - OFC Contributor


February 5, 2012 Super Bowl Sunday. Performing Super Bowl is an extraordinary accomplishment for any band or artist. For the legendary band Styx, playing Super Bowl two times, 2001 and again in 2003, is beyond extraordinary! Last month Styx traversed the television airwaves with numerous network TV appearances in anticipation of their recently released THE GRAND ILLUSION / PIECES OF EIGHT LIVE DVD.  OFC chatted with Lawrence Gowan, lead singer and keyboardist of the band, about the excitement of the new release. The interview covers a multitude of Styx highlights, including Super Bowl gigs, and what it is like being part of a classic rock band that released their first album forty years earlier and touring stronger than ever today!

"Styx is originally a Chicago band and the Chicago blues that came out of that city was an integral part, particularly of early...inspirations" tells Gowan. Lawrence describes what it was like to re-record Styx signature hit "Blue Collar Man" in the Chess Records Studios with some of the legendary blues greats. Read the Crossroads Guitar Festival story behind the making of Beatles cover "I Am The Walrus," the Styx single that went on to soar the charts. Styx front man discusses with candor his views about the changing music world, what every new artist trying to break in should know and so much more.

Check out the sound bite sneak preview from the interview of Lawrence Gowan on video and read the full interview right here!

STYX - Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman and Ricky Phillips (along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo), have performed more live since ’99 than all of the previous years of its career combined.  Two Super-Bowl appearances, Pollstar Box Office chart-topping tours with Def Leppard, Journey, Boston, REO Speedwagon, Bad Company (to name only a few), two more studio albums and no end in sight, STYX continues to conquer the planet, one venue at a time!

Styx: The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight- Live [DVD / 2CD]


photos source Styx website, music property of the band, interview by Sally Rosen - OFC Contributor
mobile users can view the video on

Interview took place on January 27, 2012.

OFC: Let’s start out with the news of the new DVD release, Styx:  The Grand Illusion/Pieces Of Eight Live, and it is coming out January 31!
Lawrence: It is and we’re very happy about that.  And we enjoyed making it and I think people are going to really embrace it!

I saw the band has been generating a lot of excitement on the airwaves with the anticipated release.
(Laugh) We’ve done a few of those in our lives already so we’re used to it.  What was pretty amazing is that this month it seems to be “Styx Month” on television.  First the Rosie show and then we did this ice skating show called “Improv-Ice” for NBC which. And that gave us a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon (laugh) when some people were watching a thing called football, a good number of them flipped over and watched our concert with the skaters.  And then we had a new “Behind the Music” that came out, and updated one since the one that came out in 2001.  And that was great to see.  And now we have our DVD of “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” from that tour that we did just about a year ago.  We played one final show off that tour in Memphis and we videoed the entire thing, an eleven camera video shoot and the two albums back to back.  And that gets released at the end of this month.  And even in addition to that, they also played our most recent DVD just prior to this, the CYO at the Contemporary Youth Orchestra in Cleveland from a couple of years back airing again as well.  Styx has been all over the television for some reason this month and we’re pretty happy about it.

For newer generations, you are the definitive voice and keyboards of Styx. You joined the band in 1999?

Yes, I joined in 1999 and just finished my thirteenth year into my fourteenth year with the band and that’s kind of remarkable, really (laugh).  When I first came on board I  thought I was just going to do a summer tour but very quickly into it they said “can we make this permanent?” and I said “well, let’s see what permanent will turn out to be.”  And it’s been about fifteen hundred shows at this point and we’ve been around the world several times and it seems to be an ongoing, insatiable demand to see this band perform and we couldn’t be more pleased than we are in trying to fill that need.

I understand you are classically trained.  Can you talk about your history as a musician prior to Styx?
Well certainly.  Prior to my inclusion in Styx, I had a long career fifteen year as a solo artist in Canada.  It’s been on-going question: “why were your records never released in the United States?”  And the simple and unfortunate answer to that is the way my record deal was structured with CBS back then.  My records were guaranteed to release in Canada and they were import records everywhere else.  Those are the boring kind of contractual details.  What happened with my solo career, I had four platinum records and three gold records and a gold single and several number one songs.  People were very familiar with my music in Canada and it still receives a lot of airplay there.  So that’s basically how I came into the Styx universe. They asked me to open a show for them at the new Montreal Forum which is where the hockey games are played in Canada.  Those are gigantic arenas with 20,000 seats.  That’s how we wound up meeting, when they heard the audience singing all these songs and saw me as the solution to an ongoing back stage drama that they had for years where they just weren’t getting along.  And I was kind of the solution to that and that’s part of why I came on board.  And, of course as, you mentioned the classical influences were all important too.   We are musically very like minds and we speak the same language so to speak and that’s why it’s such a simpatico relationship we have.

Do you think the genre of classical rock is living on with bands like Styx? Are you mentoring other younger musicians to carry on the legacy?
Yes.  We meet a lot of younger bands in our travels.  A lot come out to see our shows.  I am very reluctant to give advice to anyone.  Music is a fine thing. It’s not like any other career in the world.  It’s really something we don’t fully understand, why does it communicate on such a profound level that it does and how do you actually manage to make this your livelihood. It’s a difficult thing and for everything its completely different on how that path is set out.  So I am reluctant to give out a lot of advice.  I can inform them on where they can go wrong (laugh).  But so often it’s the type of life and career where what’s wrong for one person is entirely the correct thing for another person to do.  There is no rule book what so ever as long as you make sure the audience is pleased and you’re pleased when you’re on stage and what you’re writing, etc.  That’s kind of it.  Having said all of that, I love when younger bands come out.  And even if they happen to ask the question like “what to do next” or “how does your keyboard spin around” (laugh), I love getting those kind of questions.  It shows they are seeking ways to do what we’ve been fortunate enough to do in our lives.  All the more power and l love going to the shows of younger bands as well.  I think they are not only good but better than ever.

2003 – 2004 Styx had some very significant milestones – a second Super Bowl performance, Crossroads Guitar Festival and Chess Records and rerecording “Blue Collar Man”.   What was the highlight for you personally?
Yeah.  All of the ones you mentioned.  The recording at Chess Records with Johnny Johnson, who was the piano player who played with Chuck Berry.   In fact, it was his band originally and Chuck Berry joined that band and “Johnny Be Good” was written about Johnny Johnson.  Having him play with us along with Koko Taylor as well.  Some of these legendary, legendary rock and blues musicians was just phenomenal experience for us and a way for us to connect with our past.  Styx is originally a Chicago band and the Chicago blues that came out of that city was an integral part, particularly of early JY's guitar leadings and inspirations.  So it was great to connect to that.  All of those things, Super Bowls, we played both of them and the records we made.   They’re all kind of pivotal high points. Personally, since I was born in Glasgow, Scotland, it was pretty great to play and for all the relatives I still have in UK.  When we played at Wembley for the first time, we’ve done it a couple of times now, but to go back and playing Glasgow was fantastic.  And since I am Toronto raised and I’m the lone Canadian in the band,  whenever we go to Canada that’s quite a high point for me.  In fact, Styx drew the biggest audience we’ve ever played for in one show with 78,000 people in Quebec City which is in Canada. And that’s a place that’s really dear to me.  So that’s one of the great personal highlights of the band among many.

I understand Styx is one of the original arena bands.
The bands from the seventies, the great thing with classic rock era, they really began to perfect what arena rock could be.  In the 1960’s they were still inventing where rock could go, what the possibilities were.  And progressive rock you can trace back to bands like Procol Harum and the lot of the early Jimi Hendrix was very, very progressive and can be looked upon as that.  But the bands that came out in the what they call the “classic rock era” Styx, Genesis, YES, Pink Floyd, they really homed the live experience in an arena.  That’s the tradition we are called upon to uphold every single night and we do that with epic thunder (laugh).


In 2004 “I Am The Walrus” hits # 5 on the charts.  Were you surprised at its success as a new song?
Well, of course, “I Am The Walrus” is anything but a new song. It was done by the greatest band of all time originally and their version is pretty damned good.  It was a fluke thing and this is what often happens; something completely unexpected will lead to a string of successes.  When we did “I Am the Walrus”, it was JY hearing me play it at the sound check of the Eric Clapton blues fest in Dallas.    He wanted to us to play something that distinguished us from the other bands and yet tied to Eric Clapton.  And well Clapton played on a lot of Beatles records and Billy Preston was there, one of the greatest keyboard players of all time, who played with the Beatles and played with Clapton and the Stones.  We should work up a soul band version of “I Am The Walrus.”  We all thought it was going to be a one off thing.  To do a Beatles song you’re on sacred ground but we were in a good spot there to give it a shot.  What we didn’t know was that show was live on radio in Texas.  They got a ton of requests for our live version after it aired.  So we wound up releasing that and it lead to us doing the album THE BIG BANG THEORY. Then TV show came out after that (laugh).  Maybe they were inspired by the title (laugh) but anyway we were inspired by Einstein (laugh).  It was great to see the success of that song and bring a fresh version of it to another generation was very satisfying.

Do you think you will go back to 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival?
We would love to do that.  I’ve heard talk of it.  It comes down whether or not it can be worked into the scheduling of the band.  With over 100 shows a year, I stay out of that.  If we wind up there, I would love it and when I heard it was a possibility, it excited me.  So we shall see.

Regarding music industry in the digital age, what do you think of the era of EPs (or just singles) coming out rather than full albums?  Is music becoming fragmented and is the album dying?
That is really how it is and it’s been moving that way for numerous reasons and people’s attention spans are limited now.  The album as an artistic statement is not looked upon in the same way today as it was in the past by a number of people.  There are still millions of people who want the album and want to dive in deep into a longer experience of what a band and artist is delving into.  Because we live in a different age now, we get our music in a different fashion then we used to, we have an ability to have an almost endless variety of things and program our own way on our computers and ipods and various devices.  That’s just the way it’s moved.  As musicians realign themselves and thinking about things in fresh terms, they’re smart to put out EPs or put out one track at a time and I think that’s a smart way to go right now.

Do you have a personal favorite Styx song that you really enjoy performing?
The easy answer is all of them (laugh).  I usually love when by the time we get to “Renegade” every night.  That’s a Tommy Shaw classic song and he sings it so well.  People are dying to hear it.  It’s usually at the end of the night and the audience is in such a state of enjoyment at that point wherever we play around the world, last year we played it in Sweden and we’ve done it in Japan and done it in all kinds of places.  The audience ends up in the same emotional state no matter where we happen to be playing that song at the end of the night. Since I don’t sing lead, Tommy sings lead on that vocal, I get a chance to observe the whole situation during that song and that is the most enjoyable for me!

Do you think when you go on tour you will feature the entire “The Grand Illusion” or “Pieces of Eight” albums? Sort of like Roger Waters with "The Wall" tour?
The DVD we just released is all the “Grand Illusion” album and all of “Pieces of Eight” album back to back.  And what we are doing now is taking good chunks of those records and throwing them into the shows right now to keep the tunes fresh.  We will likely reprise that entire tour, perhaps as early as the end of this year, where we’ll play like as you said like Roger Waters does with “The Wall”, we’ll play the entire record in support of the DVD.

Do you have a personal message you would like to impart to your fans?
Keep coming (laugh)!  Thank you for doing so!

Interviewer Sally Rosen - OFC Contributor