Before he ever sang a note on stage with Styx, Lawrence Gowan said he knew that he had made the right move to put his solo career on hold to join the band.
“When I met them, I just liked them,” Gowan said of his first impressions of his future band mates. “I wanted to do the shows with them and I just knew that we were musically kind of locked (in). At first we thought we’d just test it out. But we knew after three shows it was working so well that it was destined to continue.”
That was a welcome realization for both Gowan and Styx, which returns to the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach for a show on Saturday. Both had a lot at stake at that point in time in 1999.
For Gowan, he was stepping away from a six-album solo career in Canada that had included a pair of top five albums and a half dozen top 15 singles. But because of contractual obligations with his label, he had never had the opportunity to extend that success to the United States by releasing his music in this country.
As for Styx, Gowan was filling a critical vacancy in the lineup that was created by the rather turbulent split with Dennis DeYoung, the band’s primary singer/keyboardist and writer of many of the group’s hits. The band’s future essentially hinged on finding a musician who could fill DeYoung’s major role in the group.
Today, 14 years have passed since those first three concerts, and Styx and Gowan are still going strong as a touring act.
Like many veteran bands, Styx hasn’t had much luck getting its recent music played on radio. Its post-DeYoung studio CDs, “Cyclorama” (2003) and “Big Bang Theory” (2010) failed to return the group to its platinum-selling heights.
The group’s latest recording projects have been two EPs, “Regeneration: Volume 1” and “Regeneration: Volume Two,” that have featured the current lineup – Gowan, guitarist/singer James Young, guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips – re-recording its versions of songs from the Styx back catalog.
But if Styx no longer lights up the charts, it continues to be a popular touring act.
The band’s schedule is busy, but there have been enough breaks between tours to allow Gowan to work on his first solo album since he joined Styx. He’s also begun to do occasional solo shows in Canada again. The return to occasional solo activity does raise the question of why Gowan thought it was time to set aside what was a very successful solo career when the opportunity to join Styx came along in 1999.
“It was the right move first of all because I was very honored to be asked to join the band,” Gowan said. “They saw me as the solution to the difficulties they were going through at the time. I was honored by that. Also, after being a solo artist for 14 years and doing six albums and a greatest hits album, I was looking for something new that would extend my career. And when a legendary band like Styx calls, that’s a very big phone call to get when you’re having those thoughts. So that really was the motivation for a career change.”
Of course, joining Styx in 1999 was a risk for both Gowan and the group. Any time a band changes a lead singer, there’s always a chance that fans won’t accept the change. And in this case, Styx was replacing the man in DeYoung who had sung many of the group’s biggest hits, including “Babe,” Come Sail Away,” “The Best Of Times” and “Lady.” Gowan, though, said he never personally experienced much of a backlash, even when he first started performing with Styx.
“A lot of the fans were more knowledgeable than you would think,” he said. “They realized that basically the band had split and needed some kind of solution, and I was the guy. And usually they were distracted by how strong the show was.
But he’s aware of the criticism from those who support DeYoung, who is also touring with his own band playing Styx material.
“I’m aware on the Internet there’s always an ongoing debate about which version of Styx is better, this era or the past era?” Gowan said. “And it’s a very lively debate. Sometimes I actually look in on it just to take a look at what people are saying. It’s amazing how polarized they can be, but of course, that’s the nature of Internet discussion, so to speak. But that’s the only insight I have to it. I (only) just saw tens of thousands of people on their feet at the end of every week and they seemed to be loving the band.”