Grand Illusions: An Exclusive Interview With Dennis DeYoung
by Allan Hirt
Interview conducted via phone on Friday, October 8, 1999
This interview is ã 1999 Allan Hirt and cannot be copied, altered, or reproduced without my permission.

Founding Styx member Dennis DeYoung released his new collection entitled Ultimate Collection (Hip-O) in the USA on October 19, 1999. This collection contains tracks from his first three solo albums - Desert Moon (1984), Back To The World (1986), and Boomchild (1988). If you are a collector of Styx at all, you might have seen that original CDs of these albums are highly sought after. Not one to rest on his laurels, DeYoung re-recorded the classic Styx track "The Grand Illusion" for the Siegfried & Roy IMAX movie, and it can be found only on this compact disc.

During the interview, DeYoung was open and candid about the current seemingly strained relations within Styx, the status of his Hunchback musical, and more. As I did in 1996 with the interview that became the Keyboard article, I found him to be funny at times, serious at others, but still a very good interview.

Without further ado, I bring you this Collector's Guide exclusive interview.

[A foreword - Dennis called me directly; after we started exchanging pleasantries, he got a call waiting click. It was the record company guy - he was supposed to conference us instead of having DDY call me himself. The conversation starts after we are connected again. A similar thing happened in 1996.]

Dennis DeYoung: How are you doing?
Allan Hirt: I'm doing pretty good.
DDY: I remember Keyboard Player magazine.
AH: It was a good interview.
DDY: Well, must've been a mistake because I usually give bad ones ... just kidding. I remember - I had a black t-shirt on. I have that issue some place.
AH: Good. I wasn't sure because they said they were going to send it to you and they never told me they did.
DDY: Next time tell them that the version they sent me was all printed in Gaelic so I had no idea what it was saying.
AH: First and foremost, how are you feeling, and is there any news on your mystery illness?
DDY: As a matter of fact, I'm going down for an MRI today. We may be onto something this guy saw yesterday. He's kind of what they call a "dental snoop". I've had trouble, you know, with this nerve in my face well over a year and a half. But, I mean, it goes back further than that from when I had a wisdom tooth extracted in February of '97 just before the Return To Paradise album when I was doing that. It's been nothing but madness, Allan, ever since. I mean, It's just like ... it's crazy. The guy I saw yesterday, who really deals in these kinds of tri-geminal things thinks that damage was done on the removal of that wisdom tooth that when I did get a virus a year later, it got in there and has caused that thing to get all goofed up. Which makes the nerve react inappropriately to light and to heat. And you know how many different, crazy things can go wrong with the nervous system ... this is one of those things and where it hasn't stopped me from living - I write and I have a life - it's just been miserable because what happens when that nerve starts firing, right, and it goes into overdrive what it does is it dries out my eyes, and my nose, and I get tired. The guy told me yesterday the amount of energy that's being utilized by that happening is causing the fatigue. So it's been horrific for me.
AH: I can only imagine.
DDY: Yeah. But my best friend is very seriously ill. It puts it all in perspective. I go and see him a couple of times a week.
[Note: I did not want to dwell on the negatives, so I moved into music stuff ... hence a weird segue.]
So how did the idea for the Ultimate Collection come about?
DDY: I don't know. The only thing I can attribute it to is the complete insanity on the part of the music business. They literally had no other albums they could release and they said, "Hey, what about DeYoung?" That was my only guess. I dont know - I think the thing is ... here's couple factors now that I've given you some of my perspective on how crazy the music business is. Number one, that Desert Moon record, right? Which is a big favorite with people never with people was really available on CD because it came out the year ... just about the year CDs were brand new in '84.
AH: Actually, it did come out on CD and is actually getting a lot of money, I don't know if you know this or not, on the Internet.
DDY: Yeah, I've heard rumors - people [are] telling me these stories. The two questions most often asked of me by people that I meet musically: number one is "Dennis, don't you think you should use some deodorant?" That's number one. No, they ask me "How come you guys don't play 'Roboto' in concert?" That's number one. [Note: he laughs after this one] And number two is "How can I buy Desert Moon?"

So I think, in all honesty, the people who ran A&M Records for the last, oh, I don't know, eight or nine years that it was in existence, really had no appreciation ... I should say it's one guy had no appreciation for the power of a catalog sale - including Styx even! It was so undervalued, it's just absolutely ridiculous. So now that A&M is defunct, that guy is gone. All these people at MCA look at this stuff and they say, "This is a goldmine all this stuff sitting here I think." You know, it's just sittin', so somebody got the bright idea - I don't even know who - I think it was Bill Levenson [Note: one of Ultimate Collection's co producers]. I think he's the guy who's behind all this because he was always trying to convince the president of A&M at the time that he was being rather, um, foolish by not taking advantage of this. Coincidentally, in this corporate world, all three of my solo albums ended up at the same record company [Note: DDY really does seem amused by this - he chuckles while saying that sentence]. So Boomchild which was on MCA, and A&M - they're all in the same place. So someone said, "How about if we all put them together?"
AH: It makes sense. Funny that you bring up Bill Levenson. The way I had heard it was that A&M was - I'm not sure if you're aware or not - but A&M/UMG originally was going to put a box set out this summer, a 3 CD box set ...
DDY: This fall, yeah
AH: Oh, it's coming out this fall?
DDY: It was supposed to, but I haven't heard a thing about it. It has something to do with what's going on with the band over there with attorneys and all that kind of stuff. I'm not really sure. It has something to do with something that's completely out of my hands, because I talk to Bill ... I put the whole package together. He and I did. And then it got in the hands of the other guys and I don't know what's happened.
DDY: I was going to ask you about your involvement with the box set because the way I had heard it, it was going to be a sort-of hits package, a little bit of rarities ... like a completely unreleased version of "Man In The Wilderness" - a full length version, the live "Boat On The River", which appeared in Europe which appeared on a "Babe" CD single in Europe from about 1990 ... things like that.
DDY: Yeah.
AH: And out of that, I had heard that you would get a new best-of, Tommy [Shaw] would get a best-of, maybe James Young ... but nothing was set in stone. Yours is the first thing to be released.
DDY: Yeah. [Pauses] I have no idea what's going on over there. It's a little bit, um, strained at the moment.
AH: I can imagine why.
DDY: Explain to me Allan what you have - you have a website?
AH: Yes. Actually, it's one of the more popular Styx sites on the Internet.
DDY: What's it called?
AH: It's called The Collector's Guide to Styx on Compact Disc, Laserdisc, Printed Music ... And More.
DDY: Gotcha.
AH: I don't know if you've ever seen it.
DDY: You know what, I know there's such a thing as the Internet. They tell me about it. I read about it in the papers constantly. I've been on a couple [of] times. I've never seen your site. Basically, the only one I've ever been on is that Paradise Theatre [Note: This is the official Styx website.] - that's the one I look at. And I have a site that I haven't really paid much attention to a fella just started for me [Note: This is Bill Vincent's Grand Illusion Music site]. And I haven't really done much about it, but I'm going to.
AH: Actually, my site is linked from your site and the Keyboard article I did I contributed to your site.
DDY: Great
AH: So it's on your site as well. It was a nice thing for them to ask me to put that on there.
AH: The Ultimate Collection, I'm sure you're aware of it, but it seems a lot like an Asian only release called The Best from the early '90s.
DDY: It's going to be very similar to that. In fact, I used the same artwork because I liked the artwork.
AH: On the disc and the booklet seemed pretty much the same.
DDY: You've got a copy of this already?
AH: Yeah, they [Hip-O] sent it to me.
DDY: Oh Jesus! I've got to call those rat bastards.
AH: They sent it to me but they didn't give it to you.
DDY: No [he's laughing at this point] ... I haven't seen it.
AH: Complain to Todd [Nakamine, the press guy at UMG].
DDY: Hey, Todd, I want 'em tomorrow, baby. Send 'em Saturday FedEx. I want to look at 'em! [we're both kinda laughing at this point]
AH: It's good and it sounds remastered.
DDY: It is remastered. How does it sound?
AH: It sounds great!
DDY: Yeah I thought it sounded ... I remastered it with this guy at A&M.
AH: Do you intend in reissuing all three solo albums after this?
DDY: Does who?
AH: Do you ... on your own? Or is this going to be the only collection that comes out of this?
DDY: I think for the time being this is ... to tell you the truth, Allan, I'm the kind of guy that is surprised anybody's even interested after all these years. I don't know what to make of it all, but, quite truthfully, this is a really nice representation. I would love to have all these CDs available because I think each one of 'em is pretty doggone ... I think they're really, really undervalued and overlooked - even when they came out. And I would love to have that happen, but for right now, I really believe that this is a nice representation. People can get an idea of what I did, at least, during my solo days.
AH: Absolutely. And the new version of "The Grand Illusion" is also pretty good.
DDY: How do you like it?
AH: I like it. It's different ... it seems like it's based on the live version with the extra riffs in the beginning.
DDY: Yes it is.
AH: Is that the same arrangement you used for orchestral thing you did in '96 with Styx? Or is it a different arrangement completely?
DDY: What did we do ... oh, you mean Atlanta. [pauses] I gotta be honest with you, I can't even remember if we played "The Grand Illusion" down there.
AH: Yeah, actually you did. [And as I transcribe this, I double checked ... they did.]
DDY: Okay, good. Somebody should know these things. That arrangement [referring to the Ultimate Collection version] was done by Alan Silvestri. You know who that is?
AH: Yes - he did a couple of soundtracks, I think ... "Forrest Gump"
DDY: ... "Back To The Future", he's an Academy Award winner. He's great. So that's where that came from because of the Siegfried & Roy involvement.
AH: I also noticed that it's copyrighted to Babe, Inc.
DDY: Yeah
AH: Is that your new company?
DDY: No. I've had that company since 1979. It had to be copyrighted to someplace or something because it's new.
AH: What's the status of Hunchback? I know you premiered it at the Tennessee Rep Theater, and nothing much has been going on with it since, at least publicly.
DDY: No. We've done one reading since that time. Right after that happened, man, I just got the hell kicked out of me. I really took six full months off and I didn't do hardly anything. I spent my time going to 14 different doctors. So, I really didn't do much of anything. We're working on it right now - we're doing our damnedest to get another production of the thing. I have an offer to do it here in Chicago, but it's predicated on me playing Frolo. And I just, you know ... that's a lot when you have to write these things and they change all the time. When you're responsible for 25 odd songs, and all the lyrics and the music, and you're part writer in the book ... to stand on the stage - you know what I mean? I'm afraid my head might explode.
AH: It's a little overwhelming.
DDY: It's overwhelming! It's the first time I've done it, so people have been trying to convince me to do that from the beginning, and I'm very reluctant to do that.
AH: I'm much the same way. I'm a musician - I have my own jazz ensemble and it's tough, because I wear producer's hat, and I do a lot of the writing and arranging ... it takes a lot out of you. Plus I play.
DDY: Yeah ... I mean, two things: a man must know his talents, and a man must know his limitations.
AH: Exactly
DDY: And if that was the only way I could get it up, I would do it. The biggest ... right from the very beginning, the reason this thing hasn;t gone full speed, to be summed up, can be summed up in one word.
AH: Which is?
DDY: Disney. That's the word. When I was at Atlantic [Records] - I did that Broadway album [10 On Broadway] - I was weeks away from getting an album deal for the Hunchback CD. And then they caught wind that Disney was coming with a cartoon. Coincidentally at that exact moment in time, guess what was the number one album in the country was? The Lion King. So Atlantic got nervous that Disney was coming with a cartoon, and they backed down. I played this for all the biggest guys at Atlantic and they fell in love with it, and they were ready to do it until the heard that. So the Disney thing has been difficult, because they're the biggest girl on the block.
AH: You can't argue with that one.
DDY: No. So it has been difficult, but we're ever hopeful because Allan?
AH: Yep
DDY: All you've ever heard is the CD, right?
AH: Right
DDY: You never saw the show?
AH: No, I didn't get down to Tennessee to see it.
DDY: I'm telling you right now, you haven't heard the whole score then. What you've been listening to, those are demos I made. Like the album says - just as I was writing the song. A lot of it is very different. But this work, these 25 odd songs, are the greatest work of my life. If it ever sees the light of day, I really believe it will ultimately dwarf what I did with Styx. I believe that. I mean it's just ... you know ...
AH: Knowing what I know about writing and arranging, I can understand where you're coming from. I've done pit bands for many shows myself.
DDY: You want to hear the orchestrations ... I have a bunch of performances done live - absolutely magnificent!
AH: I'd love to hear that stuff.
DDY: I'd send it to you if I could, but I can't, becuase I would be screwed. Then everyone on that thing would have to be paid if anybody actually got their hands on that. In other words, what I have is what falls under the guise of what they call for the unions - you're not to disseminate that stuff at all ... it's called archival. That's what it is. But that's the problem with it. It is absolutely spectacular.
AH: Moving onto Styx ... last time I interviewed you in '96 for Keyboard, when I mentioned to you that A&M put out a June sampler with "While There's Still Time" on it
DDY: Yeah
AH: You got a little perturbed and you said you would talk to A&M, and then about a week later - I know this really happened - the sampler itself was recalled because my friend worked in a record store that had received it.
DDY: Yeah - that was never supposed to happen.
So they had it recalled, but why did you have a change of heart and re-release it on Brave New World. And to me - in listening and comparing the two versions - it almost seems like the same backing tracks on some level.
DDY: It is! It's the same track! I mean, I added some stuff to it.
AH: I hear the echoing "time" at the end and a few keyboard things here and there.
DDY: Yes. The reason I retracted it was simple: I knew A&M didn't give a flying hoot about us. Not a hoot!
AH: Right
DDY: We gave them that, um, the what the hell's ... I was against the Greatest Hits Part 2 being released. I was against it - because I thought it was foolish. I was outvoted, and "It Takes Love To Make Love", to me, it's a hit record. I always thought it was a hit record. And I knew in my heart that A&M was not going to lift one finger - okay - to promote that record. They just want to get control of the catalog, because our contract read that they could not arbitrarily release stuff - which was the greatest thing. You know what I'm saying.
AH: Yes
DDY: Like RCA, with Wooden Nickel, they can do whatever the hell they want because that's what that contract said. But A&M couldn't arbitrarily release things. So I said don't give them control of the catalog because I knew the people involved didn't give a hoot about anything, so at the last minute I just said, "Get that outta there!" I don't want A&M to have control ... see, I didn't want them to have artistic control of that piece of property, so I took it away. Because "It Takes Love To Make Love" was written by Glen Burtnik and somebody else, and "Little Suzie" was on there, wasn't it?
AH: Yeah
DDY: And that was written by Burtnik and somebody else. I did not want A&M to have one more chance to control my songs. And that's why I took it off.
[Note: This is proof positive I created the June Sampler rarity, and I haven't been lying for 3 years!]
AH: It makes sense. Actually, "It Takes Love To Make Love" was the only song to survive from the demo sessions between Edge Of The Century and when Hits 2 was released.
DDY: Yeah. There are still nine unreleased tracks - a full album of material recorded with Glen Burtnik that I have.
AH: I could tell you, if you released it, a lot of people would buy it.
DDY: In many ways, I'll tell you, it sounds more like Styx than this new record we've done.
AH: Actually, I was going to ask you a little bit about that. I'll get back to that in a second.
DDY: You've got to fire at me because someone's going to call me in, I think, ten minutes.
AH: It's apparent Brave New World lacks the cohesion of a typical Styx album ...
DDY: Yes
AH: ... despite some good songs by everyone.
DDY: Yeah
AH: I saw the letter you posted on the Internet, and what really did happen because being on the Styx mailing list and on the Internet, there are so many rumors that are floated about - that Tommy threatened to walk again ... for once and for all, I want to squash all the rumors and say what really happened.
DDY: Well, you know, I've already said what happened. Clearly, I told you that both JY and Tommy were very, very concerned about the tour.
AH: Right
DDY: This was in February, they wanted me to commit to a fall tour. In February, I was so ill, there was no way I could commit to anything and I was baffled - the problem was, I couldn't find any help from anyone - medical help. I mean, nothing would help me improve. So I did not want to commit to something that I was fearful that I wouldn't be able to uphold. [pauses] I've already said that Tommy called me up - we were two-thirds of the way through the record, and everything was going fine as far as I could tell. And he just said that if I wasn't going to commit to the tour, that finishing the album was not in his best interest. That's it. That's what happened. Two days later, JY calls me up on the phone and said, "We want you to come on this tour with us. We really want you, but if you're not going to go, we're going to go without you." And that was the end of the discussion.
AH: Wow.
DDY: That's what happened to me.
AH: Knowing all that, how difficult was it to play the CMN [Children's Miracle Network] gig back in June?
DDY: Well ... it was not easy, but I had made that commitment before all this stuff happened. And as a man of his word, when I say I'll do something ... I could have backed out of that - easily! It was months between when this happened in March, and June. I could have easily said, "No, I'm not going to do it." But I had given my word not only to the band, but also to the Children's Miracle Network, and it was unfair in any way, shape, or form to back out of that. I mean, it's a great cause and an important thing to do, so I did it.
AH: Despite all the problems right now, it seems Todd [Sucherman] is filling in John Panozzo's shoes fairly well.
DDY: Todd Sucherman? Todd's a wonderful drummer.
AH: He's very powerful and right in the Styx mold.
DDY: He's a wonderful drummer. Have you seen the show yet - the new band?
AH: I have, I have. It's ... not the same. It's a different show. That's all I can really say. I wasn't thrilled when they did some of your songs, I will admit, and I'm sure you'll hear that as well.
DDY: I've heard it over and over again.
AH: His piano playing is good.
DDY: No he's a great ... look. Let me ask you a question.
AH: Okay
DDY: Is Rod Stewart a really good singer?
AH: Absolutely
DDY: If you took Steven Tyler out of Aerosmith and stuck Rod Stewart in there, can he sing?
AH: Yeah, it wouldn't be the same.
DDY: Would it be Aerosmith?
AH: It just wouldn't be the same.
DDY: Alright. And the fact of the matter is, I am the soul of that ... you do know why this new album doesn't sound like it's a Styx album, don't you?
AH: Well, pretty much you've been behind the controls for the most part.
DDY: I produced them! Every Styx album since Equinox. That's why. Does Edge Of The Century sound like Styx? Yes. Doesn't it?
AH: Mmm hmmm - absolutely
DDY: Did all the new songs on the live album - "Dear John", right? Did you ever say, "Hey, this doesn't sound like Styx" one time?
AH: Not at all
DDY: When did it not sound like Styx to you? On this record. And you want to know why? Because I was the guy who could bring those three different songwriters together, and, I believe, make the correct decisions on what songs should get on the album and how we should go about doing them.
AH: It also seemed to me that Tommy Shaw is also credited as playing keyboards on the album ... there were certain tracks, like "Everything Is Cool" where the keyboard run at the end - the organ sound - it's definitely you, but not all the tracks seem like you were on it. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe it's just buried in the mix somehwhere.
DDY: Buried. Gone. Do the vocals seem right to you on those nine tracks that they did?
AH: Um ... not all of them. "Brave New World Reprise" - the harmonies sound a little out of whack.
DDY: Thank you.
AH: That's just my opinion; I mean, there are people who would disagree with me.
DDY: Well, you know what? There are people who ... you know what the old saying is: to each his own said the lady as she kissed the cow's ass.
AH: And it also seems like you and the rest of the guys haven't really talked much over the past few months.
DDY: Not from a lack of me trying.
AH: The way it seems in interviews I've read that people have transcribed, that, you know, people are taking shots at you unnecessarily.
DDY: Who?
AH: Like, the Illinois Entertainer article was a really good one. Where JY says stuff like, "And to quote Mr. DeYoung, there's no deodorant like success" or "you're not completely happy about us being on tour without him. Emotions are too high to talk about what current affairs are, but eventually cooler heads will prevail".
DDY: Allan, how should I feel that when I got sick, the band decided ... not the band, JY and Tommy. And Chuck's not in the band.
AH: I know.
DDY: Is that Styx then? At what point does it not become Styx? That is my question. Was it Styx to you? You're a big fan!
AH: Yeah, I am
DDY: Was it Styx to you?
AH: You know ... when JY or Tommy was singing, a little bit ... but, again, I have a different opinion than most people do. Was the show enjoyable on some level? Yes. Was it the same? No. I certainly missed you on the stage - there are certain keyboad things or presence things ... it's just different. There's no other way to describe it. I think it's hard, going forward, knowing what I do about rock history and bands that if you take the one driving force out of a band, it sort of ... you can continue, but is it the same? And on that level, I do agree with you. So I guess that begs a question - what's next for you and what's really next for Styx?
DDY: Uhh ... I don't have any answers for that. I'm trying to get answers for that. That's what I'm trying to understand. But Allan, you have to impress - I became ill. We were making an album and I became ill so I could not commit to a tour. And I said, "Give me the opportunity to get well."
AH: And that's one of the reasons I wanted to do this interview. Not only to promote the Ultimate Collection, but to get what's happening out there, because, again, a lot of people like to float rumors based on a quote.
DDY: So are people thinking en masse? What do they think?
AH: Basically, people are supporting the tour
DDY: You mean the 600 people on the Internet?
AH: Yeah ... people are going, and then you have your people who are like, well, "We know it's not the same ...
DDY: They're desperate to have anything. Now let me ask you a question. They just played a place in Akron, Ohio - 1,800 seats, 2,000 seats, and they didn't sell it out. Allan, Allan, what is Styx doing in those places?
AH: The one thing that struck me as odd this summer, and I will admit being a longtime fan and being someone who has stuck with even all the solo projects, that they were playing places like county fairs and places like that. It just seemed like ...
DDY: Is it lost on people? I mean ...
AH: It's a different experience, I'll say that. Glen, I think, filling in for Chuck isn't a bad thing at all. And I know he has Chuck's blessing. And I know Chuck's reasons for not touring.
DDY: What?
AH: Between his mother dying and the whole thing with John he needed time off to totally deal with everything.
DDY: Uh-huh
So I guess that's not the ...
DDY: I'm not saying anything. I'm just saying uh-huh. I saw some rumors attributed to the fact because I wasn't touring, he wasn't touring. That is the most outrageous ... it's a lie. It had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Nothing. In fact, Chuck had decided not to do that before this whole issue with me even came up.
AH: One of the things, at least for me on Brave New World, is that as a bass player myself, some of the parts didn't seem very Chuck-esque. I can't put my finger on it.
DDY: What do you want me to say to that?
AH: I don't know. It was very, um ...
DDY: You'll have to come to your own conclusions.
AH: I'm with you on that one.
DDY: You'll have to come to your own conclusions.
AH: I know you have another one coming up, but I want to thank you for your time.
DDY: Okay. You know what, I'll keep your number. If ever I feel I wanted to tell you something, I'll tell you something. Styx people go to your site quite often then?
AH: Yes, in the past month or two I've had a few thousand hits, and with this interview, and other things I put up there, and I continually update it, it keeps going up.
DDY: Right. Was there anything you liked about Brave New World?
AH: I think "Everything Is Cool" I like, actually
DDY: Mmm hmm
AH: That's probably the most Styx sounding song on the album, in my opinion
DDY: Right. But here's my next question: just because something ... there's two things you can do - it can sound like a band, or it could be a great song. [DDY laughs]
AH: "Goodbye Roseland" is probably one of my favorite tunes by you
DDY: It's a gem! And I begged people to release that as the single.
AH: That probably is one of, if not my favorite on the album
DDY: It's my favorite! There's no question about it. Absolutely, positively 100%. You know, 'cause I got five songs on the record, and I can like the other four, but that one is just like when I hear it ... it drops me to my knees.
AH: It's a very powerful song
DDY: Yup
AH: I thank you for your time.
DDY: Alright, Allan.
AH: And I'm sure we'll talk again.
DDY: Alright.
AH: Thanks! Bye.
DDY: Bye.