Chuck Panozzo of Styx: "I Never Imagined We Would Become Part of Popular Culture"

Formed by twin brothers John and Chuck Panozzo way back in 1961, The Trade Winds were just another bar band from Chicago. Changing the name to Styx helped their fortunes somewhat, but it wasn't until Tommy Shaw joined in 1975 that things really started to happen. After that, Styx started experimenting and broadening their sound. The result was 1977's The Grand Illusion, the album that catapulted Styx to worldwide attention.

Several multi-platinum albums followed and the rest is history. Of course, into the '90s and beyond, Styx became relegated to just playing the hits, even as they continued releasing new albums, one as recently as 2005.

From his home in Chicago, and in preview of the band's performance Saturday at Billy Bob's, bassist and founding member Chuck Panozzo was kind enough to talk with DC9 about Styx's lengthy career and how his own health concerns have not gotten in the way of doing what he loves.

Is it true that you once attended seminary school? Yes, I was 14 years old. I put myself in a world that I was totally unsuited for.

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And you were also going to be a teacher? I was a teacher. I went to college and Styx used to play at all these clubs around the college. I went to a teachers college and I graduated in 1971. I was teaching during the day and playing in Styx at night.

I know that health issues have resulted in you not playing on various tours with Styx. How is your health these days? Well, I don't want to go over the entire story, but I contracted AIDS in 1998 after testing HIV positive in 1991. I've had to take some time off to take care of my health. But I do as many shows that I can. I did 187 shows last year. I am doing very well. I appreciate you asking about it.

Why did you decide to write your autobiography, The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life With Styx, in 2007 and were you surprised that it was so warmly received? Well, I wrote it after my brother died. You know, people write stuff about you and they don't know you. They kind of lump you in a category. They wrote that my brother was an alcoholic. When he died, they were calling me asking for personal information about my brother and I found that kind of hurtful to my family. I thought that one day I could set the record straight. Plus, I thought I had a message to share. I wasn't quite sure how it would be received. I won an award for the book and that was nice, but the message is about trying to overcome something really catastrophic. And AIDS has never been a gay disease. AIDS affects everybody, not just gay men. I think my book has an educational point. I had editors asking me, "Why do you have to tell people all of the time? Why do you have to lecture people?" But it's a new generation. People are still having sex all of the time and we have to teach them how to be safe.

Do you have aspirations for writing more books in the future? Everyone has one book in them. I'm sure my next book would be a million-seller [laughs]. But right now, I am very busy with the band. There is a lot going on. There might be a time down the road where I write again.

Why do you think the heyday for Styx was the late '70's and early '80s? We started out as this bar band in Chicago barely making enough money to tour or record. We made several records, but we didn't really take off until Tommy [Shaw] joined in 1975. We got more successful and we were allowed more freedom by the label. Then we recorded The Grand Illusion and things took off. I never imagined we would become part of popular culture.

Do you have a favorite Styx album? Well, that's kind of like asking if you have a favorite kid. I really like The Grand Illusion because it was very cohesive. The songs were great and it was a time of freedom for the band. Last year, we did a series of dates where we played all of the Pieces of Eight and Grand Illusion albums and we made a DVD out of a couple of those shows.

Originally, the band was called The Trade Winds. When you changed the name to Styx, did you think people might see that as having religious, even Satanic connotations? In 1962, my brother and I started a band. I was 22. God, I can't believe that was 50 years ago. When we decided to be more of a rock band, we just picked a name out of a bag and it was one we all liked. Not one moment in my entire existence did I think that the word Styx had anything to do with Satanism. I'm sorry that I don't think records of mine ever had evil messages either. The whole thing is that the name is from mythology.

How has the strained relationship with former member Dennis DeYoung affected the band over the years? It's been 13 years since he left. I don't think there is any reason for animosity on either side. Dennis is doing what he wants to and we are doing what we want to. I just want to leave it at that.

Is there any possibility of a new Styx album? We have worked on some new songs. Because of the changes in our industry, we are trying to expose people to our new songs via the Internet. A band like us really lives through our older songs, so it really is a challenge for us. The guys are always working on new songs, though.

Styx performs Saturday, January 14, at Billy Bob's Texas.


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