Styx Interview: Larry Gowan
By Keith Lacey.
September 4th at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
Larry Gowan says rumours about the death of rock and roll music has been greatly exaggerated – and will always have the power to change lives.
The longtime lead singer of Styx, the iconic American band Gowan has fronted for the past 20 years following a hugely-successful solo career, says although other genres like rap, hip hop and country largely rule North American airwaves, classic rockers like Styx continue to sell millions of records and sell out arenas because the power of rock and roll never will, literally, never die.
“I first head the expression rock and roll is dead around 1972 and I’ve heard it annually since,” said Gowan, who is as friendly and articulate as he is talented. “It’s now an indisputable historical fact that rock music is the greatest musical statement of the last half of the 20th century.
“Just as so many agree that jazz is the great musical statement of the first half of the century … from jazz we got swing and all kinds of other offshoots. The second half of the century is when electricity was introduced into music through rock and roll and it was discovered a small group or musicians could make very big noise and you no longer needed 80 or musicians playing on stage to make something beautiful and devastating.”
On any given night, more than half of Styx’s audience is made up of fans age 35 and under, which is another strong sign rock and roll continues to attract new and loyal fans, he said.
“Not only were they not born when the biggest Styx records were made, but they were just born when my album Strange Animal came out,” he said.
Styx is nearing the end of a lengthy cross-Canada tour that pays a visit to the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton Wednesday evening.
Iconic Canadian rockers Loverboy have been the opening act on the current tour.
Gowan, who penned such popular classic rock hits such as Moonlight Desires, Strange Animal and Criminal Mind, joined Styx as leader singer back in 1999 following the departure of Dennis De Young.
Even though he was enjoying a great solo career with several Top 10 hits and albums selling very well, Gowan accepted an offer from founding members James Young and Tommy Shaw and has never looked back.
It was simply a matter of fate that he would become lead singer of Styx, said Gowan, in a phone interview from Calgary the night after performing a sold-out show in Regina.
Gowan was scheduled to perform a solo show at a theatre in Montreal back in 1997 at the same time Styx was scheduled to perform soon after the Molson (now Bell) Centre – home of the Montreal Canadiens – had opened.
Legendary Canadian promoter Donald K. Donald had booked Styx the at the new arena same night he booked Gowan at a place called the Theatre St. Laurent.
Instead of playing the theatre, Donald contacted him and asked him to open for Styx.
“He called me at my hotel … I hadn’t spoken to him in probably three or four years,” said Gowan. “Instead of doing the theatre … he wanted me to open for Styx.
“I originally said ‘no’ explaining to him I was playing solo on piano on this tour. He told me he wanted to do that, so I did. I played my show and it obviously went really well is the best way I can describe it.”
The members of Styx were standing side stage and he met them coming off and Shaw commented “that worked out great and I hope we can work together again in the future. It was rather prophetic words.”
Two years later, Gowan got a phone call from Young and Shaw informing him De Young was leaving the band and wondered if he might be interested in joining them as lead singer in April of 1999.
Deciding to interrupt his thriving solo career and disband his own band was a very tough decision, but he wanted to try something different and liked Styx’s music immensely and accepted the offer and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history, said Gowan.
“I really liked their show when I saw them and I had this really weird kind of feeling that I would really fit into that particular band,” he said. “I had done my solo career at that point for 15-plus years and had just put out a greatest hits record and I thought to myself why not try something completely different with a fresh start and I could always come back to my solo career if things didn’t work out.”
From the day he joined, he’s “never once” tried to emulate De Young’s iconic voice, but opted to bring his own unique voice to classics such as Come Sail Away, Renegade, Babe, Mr. Roboto, Too Much Time on My Hands and Blue Collar Man.
“Never once, from the time we first may to this very day, has it ever been suggested or hinted at that I should try to sound like, mimic or in any way imitate Dennis De Young,” he said. “It’s always been take these songs and make them your own … and that’s why I’ve tried to do.”
The fact Styx’s best songs are so well written “and have stood the test of time” has made his job of interpreting them his own way that much easier, he said.
The fact Styx continues to play to large audiences around the world with him as leader of the band “is a testament that the songs are really strong and the spirit of the band really survived” De Young’s departure, he said.
The current makeup of Styx recognizes and honours “all 10 people that have been members of Styx” from the time the band was formed more than 40 years ago, he said.
The advent of the internet and YouTube has introduced younger generations to listen to and view the classic rock bands that their parents and grandparents grew up idolizing, he said.
“Bands like the Rolling Stones can still sell out any size venue they still feel like playing,” he said. “These younger people can easily access and find out what bands like Led Zeppelin and Queen were like, what was Styx like, what was Genesis and Yes like. What was Elton John like. You can instantly, within seconds, access a taste of that.”
The live rock show remains, in his estimation, the “greatest form of entertainment in my lifetime.”
He remembers seeing the legendary Canadian rockers Guess Who in their prime as a teenager and being transformed.
“I was 14 and they were so good … I still have goosebumps remembering that day,” he said. “It was the closest thing to a revelation from God to me. You can’t forget those moments. It’s truly life altering. You can’t download the experience of a live rock show.”
Styx will have performed 90 shows by the end of 2019 and Gowan will play another 20 solo shows and he says the jolt of electricity that goes through his body when he first steps on stage never goes away.
“I’m so lucky, at my age, to still be able to do it and enjoy it so much,” he said. “Music still reaches into the soul and can change lives. Good music does not hold the capacity to let you down. If it works for you once, it will work for you 10,000 times.”
Being able to travel across Canada and America with Loverboy is a thrill and honour, he said.
The fact lead singer Mike Reno is from Penticton and will return home for the first time in many years should make Wednesday’s show something special.
“They’re so good and so amazing live, so we always are happy when we get to do shows with them,” he said. “They never disappoint. Mike is such a phenomenal singer, but each member of the band is a powerhouse.”
An interesting sidenote is that a man named Jeff Burns, an executive with CBS Records in the early 1980s, signed Gowan and Loverboy months apart to record contracts, he said.
“Jeff had a great set of ears that ever came along and a lot of Canadian music that became popular he heard first and got us recognized,” he said.
Gowan said he hasn’t performed in Penticton in decades and he and his bandmates promise a rocking show Wednesday night.
Tickets remain for the big show. Doors open at 6 p.m. with Loverboy set to hit the stage at 7.
For more information, go online and visit www.valleyfirsttix.com, in person at the SOEC box office or charge by phone at 1-877-763-2849.