Dennis DeYoung and Guitarists Jimmy Leahey and August Zadra Discuss New ‘Music of Styx’ Live Package
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Dennis DeYoung’s acrimonious split from Styx.
But one thing’s for sure: DeYoung’s contributions to the success of that band run much deeper than his role as the band's keyboardist.
Together with a new band dedicated to preserving the legacy of his old one, DeYoung’s new DVD/Blu-ray package, Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx: Live In Los Angeles, quickly dispels any notion that he wasn’t a "rock guy" in Styx.
Filmed with eight high-definition cameras in front of an enthusiastic audience at the intimate El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, DeYoung performs the catalog of Styx hits that have become staples of classic rock radio, including “Lady,” “Blue Collar Man,” “Show Me The Way,” “Mr. Roboto,” “Babe,” “Best Of Times” and “Come Sail Away."
Guitarists Jimmy Leahey and August Zadra perform regularly with DeYoung. I recently caught up with DeYoung, Leahey and Zadra to ask them about this new live package and more.
GUITAR WORLD: Dennis, how did this project come about?
DeYoung: Originally, AXS TV came to me last year and asked me if I’d be interested in doing an acoustic "Live from the Grammy Museum" performance. But I was bound and determined to do an electric show with this great band to dispel any notion that I wasn’t a "rock guy" in Styx. So they suggested we go to the El Rey Theatre, because that's where they did shows with John Fogerty and Ringo Starr. That’s when Frontiers Records got involved and said they wanted to make the performance into a CD/DVD/Blu-ray. That's how it all began.
Was there any sense of added pressure going in with this being a one-shot, live performance?
DeYoung: When you do a show like this, you have to accept the responsibility that you have to be good, right then and there. There's always a certain amount of pressure when you know it's live and going to be recorded. But having said that, I wasn't really nervous because I had great belief in this band. They did so admirably that all I can say is, "fantastic!"
A few of the songs on this collection are ones the current version of Styx no longer includes in their repertoire. Was there a reason for adding them?
DeYoung: I knew that if it was going to be a true greatest-hits package, then those songs had to be on there. The fact is, for the first 10 years I toured as a solo artist, I wasn't playing any of the songs I didn't write or sing. And my former bandmates [Tommy Shaw and James "JY" Young] still don't play "Babe," "Best of Times," "Show Me the Way," "Don't Let It End" and "Mr. Roboto." Those were all Top 5 singles. So I thought, I know what Styx audiences want. They want to hear all of the songs, for goodness sakes!
Jimmy and August, how did the two of you hook up with Dennis?
Leahey: I had been working with John Waite, and the two of us had opened two summers in a row with Dennis as an acoustic duo. At the time, Dennis was in the process of recording his album, One Hundred Years from Now, and he asked me if I'd be interested in playing some acoustic on the album. It was an incredible experience that just took off from there.
Zadra: The story goes that Dennis' son Matt saw a video of me singing and performing in a Styx tribute band. He then called Dennis in the middle of the night and told him to turn on his computer and check it out. A few months later, I got a call from Dennis’ manager and then from Dennis. I couldn’t believe it! Everything happened pretty quickly after that.
What's it like working with him?
Leahey: To actually stand on stage and play with the guy who penned all of those classic songs is just amazing. Then to get to know him personally as a friend has been awesome. He's such a great guy to work with.
Zadra: Dennis is a very intelligent guy with a great sense of humor. He’s a great boss who treats everyone in the band really well. To put it back on a guitar slant, he gives Jimmy and me a lot of latitude in our approach to the crafting of tones.
What’s your favorite Styx song to play live?
Leahey: I have to say I probably teared up the first time I played “Come Sail Away." I know that’s the obvious choice, but when we’re out there, everyone is standing up singing and holding up their camera phone "lighters." It was a magical moment for me.
Zadra: I really enjoy playing “Fooling Yourself." That’s a fun song to do. I also like playing “Blue Collar Man” as one of the more “aggressive” songs.
What can you tell me about your musical upbringing?
Zadra: I grew up in Alaska and as a young teenager was very fixated on playing baseball. I wound up hurting my arm, though, and couldn't pitch anymore. That's when I started playing guitar. I remember I used to go out into the garage in 40-below weather with nothing more than a space heater, record player and amp and would spend four to eight hours a day, every day, practicing.
Leahey: I knew I wanted to be a guitarist from an early age. My father was a touring guitarist and teacher in the area. He was a jazz guitarist who played with guys like Phil Woods, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Al Cohn. I studied with him and followed in his footsteps. He was a brilliant man and a great guy.
Tell me a little about your current setup.
Zadra: About 10 years ago I stumbled upon an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis guitar. The second my hands touched that neck, it just felt like home, and it's been my main guitar ever since. I'm also currently using Blackstar Series One 100 heads. I'm really happy with those. There's also an amp I run at home and locally that’s made by Splawn, a small company based in North Carolina. It’s basically the ideal "hot rod" Marshall with three channels or gears. They've got a Hot Rod Plexi, a Hot Rod JCM800 and a Super-Hot Rod JCM800. It's more for a hard-rock show, but it really kicks ass.
Leahey: I love Fender amps. I have a '59 reissue Bassman I use mostly along with bucket loads of pedals [laughs]. Guitar-wise, I have a few Strats and Teles, depending on the gig. Through August, I recently hooked up with Music Man and have been using the Albert Lee model, which sounds incredible.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
Zadra: I've accumulated a lot of guitar riffs and chord structures over the years and have been focusing on getting together some rough demos of complete material and plan to have something out next year.
What excites you the most about the future?
Leahey: I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd be up there doing the robot dance with Dennis [laughs]. I'm not sure where the future leads, but I've been so fortunate to find myself in this situation. I love working with Dennis and the rest of this band. These are all great songs and each show we do has something unique and special to say.
Zadra: This whole experience has been a thrill for me, and not a day goes by where I don’t say to myself, "Wow! I get to be on stage with Dennis DeYoung!"
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.