Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tommy Shaw interview: Part II (Styx, Yes announce summer tour)

Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw in concert at USANA Amphitheater in 2007. (Photo by Doug Fox)

Styx announced its U.S. summer tour plans this morning, releasing dates for a 22-city co-headlining tour with Yes. The one-month jaunt, dubbed the "Progressive U.S. Tour," will kick off July 4 and conclude Aug. 3.

While Styx's tour with Yes will not have a Salt Lake City date, local fans of the band can look forward to a co-headline outdoor date with another well-known band in the fall.

When I interviewed Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw on March 12, we mainly discussed the impending release of his new solo bluegrass album, "The Great Divide." The album, incidentally, debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Bluegrass Albums chart, coming in behind "Rare Bird Alert," by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

The last portion of our interview, however, touched on Styx's tour with Yes, as well as other projects the band and Shaw have in the pipeline. Styx has probably been one of a handful of bands that have most taken advantage of the popular double- and triple-bill format — aggressively touring in packaged formats nearly every summer. Past Styx touring partners include REO Speedwagon, Def Leppard, Journey, Foreigner, Kansas, Boston and many others.

One touring package that is kind of the Holy Grail for Shaw fans would put Styx with Night Ranger and Ted Nugent. Once those lynchpins were in place, you could add on Damn Yankees (the 1990s supergroup that featured Shaw, Nugent and Jack Blades of Night Ranger) and also Shaw-Blades (the Tommy-Jack enterprise that has released two albums to date with a third in progress). What a night of music that would be — well, if you didn't have to sing and perform most of the night. As Shaw was quick to point out when I raised the possibility, such a nightly grind would certainly exact a physical toll. Still, for fans, it's a fun prospect to think about, even if it never materializes.

Also in the works, a DVD of last fall's "Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight" theater tour and "Regeneration, Volume 2," a CD which features eight re-recorded songs from the Styx and Damn Yankees catalog. The CD, which will be available at tour stops this summer, includes new versions of "Renegade," "Blue Collar Man," "Too Much Time on my Hands," "Queen of Spades," "Snowblind," "Miss America" and Damn Yankees tunes "Coming of Age" and "High Enough."

Here's the concluding portion of my interview with Shaw:

DOUG FOX: I would probably be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Styx’s summer tour plans ... and I know the Yes thing is not announced yet, but in this part of the interview I’m hoping to get a few more updates and then when things become available kind of plug them in.

TOMMY SHAW: Well, we’ve been saying that we should do this for years, and it never would come through — I don’t know if schedules just wouldn’t allow or you couldn’t get everybody on board to do it. I don’t know your experience with Yes, but I just remember getting that first Yes album and putting that on and hearing that music and thinking, “Where did this come from? This is, like, music from another planet ... it’s better than anything I’ve ever heard.” It’s taken rock music to a level that I didn’t even know is possible. And Styx was influenced by Yes. If you listen to songs like “You Need Love,” you can tell they were listening to Yes. So we’re very excited about going on tour with them. 

DF: Is there a third band, too?

SHAW: There’s probably going to be an acoustic act or just someone to play, you know, to get people in the building. It’s a great opportunity for, like, an acoustic guy to come in and warm everybody up and introduce themselves.

DF: So will that mean that each of the bands, you and Yes, obviously, would get maybe a little extra time on stage as opposed to the triple bills?

SHAW: That’s exactly the plan. That’s exactly what the intent is.

DF: Can you just comment generally about co-headlining tours and how popular they’ve become in the last, what’s it been, seven or eight years?

SHAW: Yeah, we would join forces with people, and as fan bases get older, you know, some people, their life just dictates that you’re not going to as many shows as possible. It gives people a reason to go, “Wait a minute, these are two of my favorite bands, I’ve got to go see this.” And you wind up playing to their fans, and hopefully they become your fans and vice versa. It’s a great way to keep constantly infusing the genre with new fans. It’s a great idea because it’s working. We’re constantly looking out there, and I’ll say, “How many people are seeing Styx for the first time?” Routinely, it will be 20 to 50 percent of the people are first-time concert-goers to a Styx concert. That’s pretty amazing.

DF: And you’re playing with Journey and Foreigner in Europe.

SHAW: Yes.

DF: And you’ve been with both of those bands before ...

SHAW: Yes ... we all light a fire under each other, which is only that much better for the fans that are coming to see it.

DF: And I guess Night Ranger is playing with Journey and Foreigner during the summer in th U.S.

SHAW: I think that’s awesome.

DF: Now, I always thought ... and this is probably just my thought in looking at the tour schedules and what not, but Night Ranger has maybe never been involved, perhaps, with Styx as a full-time touring partner because it seems like they don’t do full tours very much but just kind of weekend dates and things like that.

SHAW: Right.

DF: Is this a change for them ...

Tommy Shaw stomping out "The Grand Illusion."
SHAW: Yeah, it’s a change. I’ve always encouraged Jack, you know, Night Ranger is such a great band, you really should do something like this. Not that I’m taking credit for it, but I’m just glad that he’s finally pursuing it like that, because they have the music, they have the hits, and they have a great band, and everybody’s still in great shape. When you go hear them, you’re singing along to every song — you’re getting your face ripped off by the guitar shredding. “Sister Christian” is in “Rock of Ages,” and it’s a pivotal song in that play. So I’m really happy to see them getting the recognition they deserve.

DF: You know, people think that Styx and Night Ranger would be the perfect touring couple.

SHAW: I don’t disagree. I’ve been saying that for years. Fortunately, they don’t listen to me because I don’t necessarily know what’s going to make up a successful tour. But I think eventually, I’m going to be proven right on that one.

DF: Because that’s the one a lot of fans are holding out for.

SHAW: For one thing, you know you’re going to get a third act out of it! (laughs)

DF: Exactly!

SHAW: Whether it’s on the bill or not.

DF: I think that’s why everybody wants it.

SHAW: Yeah, I would love to see that.

DF: Of course, I know the schedules lining up are probably the big thing that would prevent this, but people are also looking at the fourth and fifth act ... by inviting Ted [Nugent].

SHAW: They want me to die! (laughs) “Maybe he’ll keel over on stage and I want to be there!”

DF: They better get tickets for the first part of the tour!

SHAW: Oh crap! It’d be great for the first three days, and on the fourth one I’ll be on a gurney up there. (laughs) I like the concept of that, though.

DF: And then if you could just tell me what are the future plans for Shaw/Blades. I’m sure people would be interested in that.

SHAW: Well, there is a future, definitely. We just suddenly got sidetracked doing other wonderful things. But there is a record that was started already, that has some great songs on it, which I told you about. Once this [bluegrass project] has run its course for the time being, then that will be the next thing we jump on. We’ll finish that. We want to go play some shows, and offers are out there. So it’ll happen.

DF: And then the DVD of your theater tour [doing "The Grand Illusion" and "Pieces of Eight" albums in their entirety]?

SHAW: We’re in post-production with that right now.

DF: I know we’ve talked before, but you said the great thing about being where you guys are right now is there’s no set timetables or deadlines, things just kind of happen when you can do them.

SHAW: Yeah, there’s no rush to kind of put it out prematurely. So we can take our time and produce it the way we want it to be. We’re recording our old masters because the record company, there aren’t really any original people who were there during the days when we made those records — so whoever has the masters has not stepped forward. So we’re just redoing them. It’s actually better because it’s the guys who you’ve been coming to hear play it for the last generation are playing on it. So they sound very much like the original, except it’s like we put a bigger engine in it.

DF: So you really don’t know where any of these masters are?


DF: Wow.

SHAW: It’s pretty amazing isn’t it?

NOTE: If you missed the first part of the interview, you can find it HERE.

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