A lot has changed from that long ago time. For one thing, I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d be typing on a wireless device that can reach every corner of the globe in the blink of an eye. And I really didn’t think I’d be drinking spicy mochas like I used to drink Kool-Aid. But one thing has never changed in my life from those early formative years until now, and that’s my love for the music of Styx. I put those old records on today and they still sound exciting and vital to life for me.
I always wondered if there were other fans of the band that have kept the music as close to their heart as I have. I know it’s been said that the song remains the same, it’s the people that change. For so many, the “rock & roll feeling” turns into more of a “sentimental mood” and that youthful fire turns to ash. How many fans of that long ago time have endured life trials, children, spouses, and houses and still come out with a desire for the same rock and roll that inspired them in their teens? I would’ve guessed it wasn’t too many. I thought of myself as one of the few and proud rock and roll soldiers. And then I met the Styx Chyx.
So what is it that keeps these women coming back for more? Thinking of the “g” word feels like sinning when talking about these ladies. The word “groupie” has a stereotype attached to it, and it’s one that is grossly inaccurate in the case of the Styx Chyx. Sure, they like the fact that Tommy Shaw looks like a fit 26 years old even though he’s now in his late 50’s, and that bassist Ricky Phillips’ 5 o’clock shadow looks sexy at any point in the day. And yes, I’ve heard that singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan fills out a pair of Levi’s quite nicely. But, make no mistake, it’s all about the music for these ladies. Anyone that’s heard Tommy Shaw sing “Man In The Wilderness” in his late 50’s will attest that talent is what’s being served up by this band, and these ladies recognize it and respect it, first and foremost.
Being just outside of Chicago, I’ve encountered the Midwest chapter (if you will) more than any other, but rest assured, there are Chyx everywhere. But where they live doesn’t really matter because they reside in front of any stage where their beloved rock heroes will be performing. I’ve come to find that the Chyx won’t hesitate to travel anywhere in the world to find their rightful places in front of the stage. No journey is too far, as long as they can find funding and time away from their busy adult lives. Having seen the band quite a number of times myself, I think the relationship between this band and its fans, especially the Chyx, is quite different than most. You will see band members pointing out familiar faces and acknowledging them from the stage. The smiles that come from all involved with that exchange are enlightening. There is a sense of appreciation and togetherness. It’s about family. Not only does the band seem to treat the Chyx like family, but the relationship amongst the Chyx themselves is something to behold. For so many of the Styx Chyx family, seeing their fellow Chyx at a show is of utmost importance. They thrive on the chance to spend a few minutes with each other. Sometimes it’s a quick “catching up,” and other times may allow for a nice group dinner or drink. Sometimes they may not even know each other’s names, but by sharing a simple wave and a smile they acknowledge the fact that they have come together as a group to support Styx and their music. Whatever the case may be, you can see that every wave or word shared among them is special, and every moment treasured. A man that has spent a great deal of time with the Chyx is Styx’s longtime Production Manager, Keith Marks. Marks and his crew have been “setting the stage” for the live Styx experience for more than 20 years now, and he is more than familiar with the faces in the front row. “The Styx Chyx are awesome,” he declares. “They are just the sweetest people. They never ask for anything and always show up and have a great time. I can walk out on stage in Tokyo or London or Milwaukee and know half the people in the front row. It blows my mind. (And) they are all very intelligent and passionate about life. They travel together, hang out and eat together, enjoy our show and others (REO, Night Ranger, etc.)” Marks also told me about the thoughtfulness of the ladies when he went through a difficult time with the loss of his father. “When they found out my father had passed away, they all signed the most beautiful card and sent flowers,” he said. This kind of respect for music and friendship does not happen all over, so the front of any Styx stage is a very special and unique place. Passion and camaraderie ride a wave of incredible Styx music and inevitably wash over each fan in attendance.
Styx is a band that has endured quite a bit of change and tragedy throughout its existence. The turbulence of alcohol abuse and the eventual death of original drummer John Panozzo was a difficult time for fans, as well as the band. The discovery that original bassist Chuck Panozzo is HIV positive was a crushing blow to fans and the band. And the separation from original singer/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung is often seen as one of the most devastating blows to the band. These were all tough times. And, being that the Chyx have just about lived their lives through this band, you might wonder what the vibe is like concerning these potential road blocks. Firstly, I can tell you that the applause is deafening when Chuck Panozzo hits the stage these days. He doesn’t play every song in the set, and he doesn’t make an appearance at every show, but when he does walk out he is greeted like an old beloved friend. And, good luck in finding a Chyk without his autobiography, The Grand Illusion. You can count on every legitimate Chyk having a copy. They love Chuckie, regardless of any sexual affiliation or disease. He’s family. The unfortunate death of Chuck’s brother John was difficult for any Styx fan. I think John will always be in the heart of everyone intimately involved with Styx music. It’s often difficult to embrace a new member of the family when one is taken away, but the addition of Todd Sucherman behind the drum kit has been very warmly welcomed. And as far as the loss of Dennis DeYoung to the futuristic world of Mr. Roboto….. that subject always draws a few awkward silences or slightly differing opinions. I’ve come to find that the Chyx have a place in their hearts for Dennis, and they are very thankful for all of his amazing contributions to the history of the band. They recognize his talent and they will always respect him for it. However, judging from the stirring reactions to his performances, it is my feeling that most of the Chyx are thrilled to have Lawrence Gowan in the band. I truly believe that most of the Chyx feel the fit of Gowan within the current lineup is darn near perfect and they wouldn’t want anyone else behind the spinning keyboard at this point, not even a guy named Dennis. Gowan’s light-hearted and friendly persona along with his high energy performing style, make him an extremely important part of the Styx legacy. One thing is clear, no matter what obstacles this band has had to hurdle in its past, the Styx Chyx have continued their undying support of Styx and its music.
In trying to sum up my loving feelings toward this wonderful group of women, I keep going back to something Production Manager Keith Marks said to me. As he put it, “They don't sit on the sidelines or care what anybody thinks and they have a real zest for life, unlike some of us who are jaded and could care less. We need to learn a little more from them as to how to live our own lives...” That really hit home for me, because I always feel as though I could learn something about living life to the fullest from the Chyx. Being near them at a show leaves me breathless. The excitement in their eyes is electrifying. Watching another Chyk join the “strum club” as they drag a pick across the strings of Tommy Shaw’s Les Paul is nothing short of inspirational and moving. Marks went on to say, “I always try and look out for them and tell security to back off and let them have a good time. It's a rock show, not church. Everyone should have a great time at a Styx show!” Amen, Keith. And I think that’s what it is. It’s a vibrant sense of family togetherness and one heck of a good time that keeps the Chyx coming back ….over and over and over and over again.
I recently attended a Styx concert in Goshen, Indiana and had the pleasure of seeing so many of these very special ladies that I just spoke of. We laughed, we talked, we rocked out to the majestic music of Styx. After the show had ended, most of the Chyx in attendance gathered for a very special group photo that I was asked to be a part of. I just want to say that I am truly honored to sit amongst this group and be a part of their family.
Photo courtesy of Luke Smith
Thanks to Keith Marks for sharing his thoughts and keeping the Styx rock and roll train rolling at full steam. Also a big thank you to Todd Sucherman for sharing his thoughts with me (and for throwing me sticks!).