‘Come Sail Away’ with Dennis DeYoung

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

Former Styx member and songwriter Dennis DeYoung looked into his “Crystal Ball” and said he predicts his Nov. 18 show at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford will not disappoint even the band’s biggest fans. He plans on playing classics like “Come Sail Away,” “Babe,” and “Lady” as well as “Renegade” and “Too Much Time on My Hands,” two songs he didn’t sing on with Styx.

“We’re going to be doing all the songs the fans want to hear and give them something that’s just short of a reunion, which they’ve been clamoring for the last 10 years,” he said. “In the years that I was on the road, I was only doing the songs that I sang so we’re weeding out some of those. If you miss this show you’re missing out.”

With Styx, which had five top-ten albums in the 1970s and early 1980s, DeYoung wrote songs that serve as the soundtrack for a generation of people. Today, many of his hits continue to be played on the radio.

“I had no idea it was going to happen,” said DeYoung. “During the time, you don’t think your records will still be enjoyed 30 or 40 years later. When you’re doing it, you’re just trying to get to the next record or the next tour.”

Nevertheless, DeYoung is grateful. He feels humbled that he has been able to perform for the last four decades.

“When I started out there weren’t any rock stars in the world that were 64-years-old,” he said. “Audiences my age love nostalgia and they want to remember being 18. They’re the ones that allow us the privilege of playing these shows and it has been the greatest joy.”

While many bands are playing some of their classic albums in their entirety from start to finish, DeYoung doesn’t think it’s the best idea. He said he hasn’t considered it because he doesn’t believe his fans would enjoy it.

“If I were to do that, a lot of songs would be left out that people really want to hear,” said DeYoung. “I have to be pragmatic and perform the songs people love.”

With the addition of bassist Craig Carter and guitarist August Zadra to his band in 2010, DeYoung said he is able to recreate the sound of Styx, as both musicians are also vocalists. This, he said, was intentional.

“I purposely put this together to make that sound,” said DeYoung. “Together, we form a harmony that is unmistakably like the harmonies you heard on those records. You could put three great singers in a room and they still won’t sound like that.”

After a friend suggested Carter to DeYoung, Carter sent DeYoung a demo, which impressed him. It wasn’t long before the bassist was enlisted.

DeYoung then recruited Zadra after his son Matthew woke him up at 12:30 a.m. one morning and told him to check out a YouTube video he discovered online of Zadra singing “Blue Collar Man” in a Styx tribute band called Mother of Pearl. He said he knew he found the missing ingredient.

“The video was six years old and I didn’t know that but when I saw it I said, ‘Wow,’” DeYoung said. “The rest, as they say, is history.”

But it can’t be forgotten that DeYoung not only brings his vocals to the mix, he also contributes his keyboard skills. His main influences are John Lord of Deep Purple, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, plus Jimmy Smith, who DeYoung described as the Jimi Hendrix of organ playing.

“I took accordion lessons for eight years before switching to organ so the way I play is like accordion playing,” he said. “I think that’s what makes it unique.”

Another aspect that puts him in a distinctive category is the fact that he’s a successful musician who has been married for 41 years. His wife Suzanne joins him on tour.

However, she doesn’t hang out in the audience or backstage. Instead, she gets up there with him and sings.

“A lot of people wonder why Paul McCartney had Linda on the stage. Do you want to know the answer to that?” said DeYoung. “He needed her there because being on the road is like being in the Twilight Zone. You’re here, there and everyone.”

DeYoung said they’ve been able to sustain their relationship by staying committed to one another. He referenced a quote made by George Harrison’s wife Olivia in Martin Scorsese’s “Living in the Material World,” an HBO documentary about the former Beatle, to illustrate his point.

“When she was asked what kept them together she said, ‘We didn’t get divorced,’” DeYoung said. “When she said that I thought, ‘there has never been a better answer to that question.’ I don’t think there’s any magic. There’s no potion. It’s easy to give up and I guess there are plenty of good reasons to get divorced but there are also many stupid reasons.”

Prior to becoming a professional musician, DeYoung was a music teacher at an elementary school in Chicago. At the time, he and Suzanne had one child. Now, the couple have two children, Carrie Ann, 40, and Matthew, 31, who joined them on the road in their youth. Like Suzanne, Matthew still takes part in the fun, as he operates the lighting for his father’s shows.

“I’m happy that he chose a position that allows him to be creative and make sure the lights are on his old man,” he said.

At the moment, DeYoung plans to put out a DVD/CD of the acoustic show he performs with his band. He also continues to write music.

“I just wrote a couple songs that I think are pretty good,” he said. “I wrote them with a couple artists in mind and I think it’d be great if there was someone who could give them to the right audience.”

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