The Grand Delusion : An Interview With Tommy Shaw
by Sterling Whitaker
Interview conducted via phone on May 24, 1993
This interview is ã 2007 Sterling Whitaker and is being used with permission on this site. It should not be copied, altered, or reproduced without the permission of Allan Hirt or Sterling Whitaker.

As many of you know by now, Sterling Whitaker has published his biography of the band Styx The Grand Delusion. The interview which you read below is the one Tommy Shaw gave to Sterling and provided source material for the book. The interview is the complete interview and has been graciously provided by Sterling for exclusive publication on The interview was done in the same timeframe I did mine with Tommy, and it is a great read.

Sterling's Foreward
Tommy Shaw was the first Styx member I ever met. In 1992 I first conceived the idea for a Styx biography. Tommy was a member of the supergroup Damn Yankees at the time, while Styx had recently released Edge Of The Century without him. I put out interview requests to everyone in Styx, and Tommy was the first to respond.

The first call came from his second wife Pamela, who told me that Tommy had been reluctant initially, but she had convinced him that granting an interview was in his own best interest. Tommy got on the phone and we exchanged pleasantries, and he agreed to an interview but set no date.

Months passed with no further word, and then the news came that Tommy and Pamela were getting divorced. Tommy moved from New York to LA, and our interview kept getting pushed back in the madness of Damn Yankees' touring schedule.  Finally the band set a date for a concert in Atlanta, where I was living, and I got a call that Tommy wanted me to come to the show and meet him in person before we did our interview. I met him for the first time amid the chaos of a backstage meet and greet swarming with fans, contest winners and radio people. We chatted briefly and shortly thereafter, I got a confirmed date for the interview.

I interviewed Tommy Shaw on May 23, 1993 by phone from a tour stop during the tour in support of Damn Yankees's second album Don't Tread. Tommy was very much as people had described him to me; cordial, funny, easy to talk to and likeable. I was somewhat surprised at how forthright he was about his Styx days, the band's dysfunction and his own role in that, as I had been warned over and over that Tommy could suffer from selective memory and could be, as one Styx associate put it, "wilfully disingenuous". I was pleased that Tommy was honest with me. I got the feeling that it was an exorcism of sorts for him, finally getting to tell the truth behind the familiar promotional half-truths that were the accepted story of Styx at that time.

Tommy was very clear that he would never return to Styx under any circumstances. "They would have to hold my daughter hostage," he told me, "and playing with them again would be the ransom."

About a year and a half later I was on the phone with the guitarist from another successful band out of Chicago, trying to arrange an interview for another project. He was friends with Tommy, and when I mentioned Shaw in passing he said, "You  won't believe the fax I got from him the other day. He just finished a new track in the studio with Styx, and he's agreed to join them for a week of media appearances in New York! He said what the hell; it's only a week, so if it's insufferable, it'll be over quick." We both laughed at the irony of the situation, and  the absurdity of an industry that creates such strange bedfellows.

That track turned out to be "Lady '95", and the year after that Styx, reunited with Tommy, staged the enormousy successful Return To Paradise tour. That was more than a decade ago, and as I write this Tommy is still going strong with Styx.

Sterling Whitaker: What was it that made you get involved in music, did any particular event inspire that?

Tommy Shaw: No, it just was always appealing to me. I guess it was always in my head. It wasn't until I was grown up and a little more analytical that I realized it was a gift. And by that time I had taken up the guitar and was able to take advantage of the gift.

SW: You sang first and then started playing, or did you play first?

TS: I always sang as a child. My grandfather used to give me nickels to sit on the front porch  and sing, sat around the table and we’d sing. I don't think I was more unusual than a lot of children are, but I kinda stuck with it and my parents encouraged me a lot. As the time went by and I picked up the guitar . . .I got a guitar on my tenth birthday, then my brothers say they really didn’t see much of me after that. I’d come home from school and just go straight to my room, close the door and start playing.

SW: Do any of the others play?

TS: Well, I’m the only active musician. My brother Danny plays guitar a little bit, but he’s never pursued it.

SW: How did you end up going professional?

TS: There never was a conscious decision. I just kept up my interest in music, and doors opened. Actually, my mother has got natural ability musically. She plays the harmonica, and she’s totally self-taught.

SW: Did you take formal instruction?

TS: I took a few lessons from a Mr. Carr in junior high school, but it was mostly a bunch of kids whose mothers were making them take guitar lessons, and they all hated it. I was just trying to learn something, and it was a really frusdtrating environment for me because they were learning stuff like “Red River Valley”, and I wanted to be doing Beatles songs.

SW: Is that your primary musical influence?

TS: That was the first thing that interested me, the first thing that I wanted to learn outside of the standard stuff that they were teaching back then. I wanted to find somebody who knew how to play Beatles songs. 

SW: What other early bands influenced you?

TS: There were the Ventures, Duane Eddy, just tons and tons of soul bands. As soon as I got far enough along where I was comfortable with the guitar, I started really getting into soul music.

SW: What was the first band you were in?

TS: My first band was called The Vagabonds, “Band of the South”.

SW: You had two names?

TS: You had to have a saying for your band. Ours was “Band of the South”.

SW: The entire South? (Laughs). That’s a pretty big concept for a bunch of kids.

TS: Oh yeah, we’re the Band of the South . . . don’t cross our path. (Laughs).

SW: Did you play originals then, or was it all covers?

TS: No, it was lots of Beatles songs. Actually, we played Roy Orbison too . . . I went on television when I was eleven years old and sang “Pretty Woman” and dedicated it to my sixth grade teacher, Louise Hinton.

SW: That’s better than the apple-on-the-desk trick.

TS: Oh, she loved me.

SW: I heard that you were playing guitar for Jerry Lee Lewis when you were thirteen.

TS: No, that didn't happen until I joined a band called MS Funk. Our manager was Jerry Lee Lewis’ agent. His name was Roy Dean, out of Memphis. Jerry Lee decided he wanted to see what he sounded like with a big horn band and that’s what we were, an 8-piece rock horn band. So we went with everyone but our drummer and our bass player, he flew us out on his private plane all the way to Anaheim, California and then Fresno, California. We played two shows, then we dropped him off in Memphis and he gave us his plane to fly back to Atlanta with. It was pretty awesome. I was telling Jack (Blades) the other day that believe it or not, I have had The Sons of the Pioneers open for me. That was with Jerry Lee Lewis, The Sons of the Pioneres opened.

SW: That’s a little mind-boggling.

TS: Yeah, talk about jumping across the generation gap. I remember when I was a little kid seeing old reruns of Roy Rogers, but Sons of the Pioneers . . . I never thought they’d be going on before me.

SW: Was MS Funk a separate band, or was it more of a backing group for other artists like that?

TS: It was a totally self-contained band. Lots of singers and lots of players.

SW: Was that around the time when you were first doing your own songs?

TS: Well, I always wrote. I had just piles and piles of songs when I was in high school.

SW: Do you remember the first one you ever wrote?

TS: The first one I wrote was when I was five years old. “India Was the Town That I Was Born In”. That was before I learned geography. (Laughs). I didn't know if it was a country or a town. Alabama, that was the world to me. When I was a teenager I would write these . . . as soon as my hormones started kicking in, I was writing about all these feelings I had, I guess the precursors to “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and all that. I really got into the introspective, almost poetic things, and though I wasn’t really good at setting them to music at that point, I wrote a lot of prose and lyrics and things like that. They kinda amounted to a journal. And for me it felt safe to write about things like that. I never kept a journal, but it was easy for me to write songs.

SW: So you worked it out another way.

TS: Yeah, there seems to be an artistic license that exempts you from responsibility when you write things in a song. If you were to call somebody up and say things to them on the telephone, you would be etching them in stone in a lot of ways. You’d be committing yourself to those feelings. But when you put them in a song, they’re more metaphoric, symbolic and hopefully universal, I guess is what I’m looking for. I guess it’s just one way of being slippery. It’s only in my late thirties that I’ve thought this through so much.

SW: Back in those days did you not realize that’s what you were doing?

TS: I just didn't think that . . .  I’m a man, I’m a guy, you know. I think girls are a lot better at thinking those things through. Not me. I just did stuff.

SW: You obviously have a lot of influences outside of straight rock and roll. Did you listen to folk and that kind of thing as well?

TS: Anything that spoke to me, and that’s still the rule. Nothing draws a blank in me more than when I’m doing an interview and they ask me who my favorite artist is or what my favorite kind of music is. Because I just love music. If I was trying to create an image for myself so people would think I was really cool, I’d make something up to tell you what I was listening to, because if I told you what I was listening to, you wouldn't get it.

SW: I know I’ve seen you mention things in past interviews that were so far apart that I thought . . .

TS: A lot of it I just made up. I’ve never been very honest about what I listen to.

SW: You’ve said everything from Dan Fogelberg to Faith No More.

TS: And I have listened to all of those . . .

SW: Do you think that other musicians still influence you as you go along?

TS: Absolutely. I listen to tons and tons of music. I like very little of it. I’m a real song person and being a songwriter, I know when you’re just churning it out and when you’ve actually stumbled on something brilliant. There’s an occasional brilliant song out there. You know, they're gifts, and I get an occasional gift myself, and I know it when I get it. The rest of the time I’m doing what I do, I’m writing songs. And I love them all, but certain ones really shine.

SW: Can you give me an example of one that’s really a good one for you?

TS: I think one of the bst songs that I've written, that I got started and that Jack and I finished, is a song called "Can't Change Me" that Vince Neil has on his new album. That's the best thing that I've written, that Jack and I have written in a while. That's a great song. It'll probably be a single.

SW: Did you perform on the album as well?

TS: I sang a couple of oohs and aahs in the background. You can't hear me. I'm there, though.

SW: You're getting around these days, songwriting-wise.

TS: I'm busier than I've ever been in my entire career, can you believe this?

SW: It does seem that way. Who else have you been working with other than Alice Cooper and Aerosmith?

TS: We just wrote another song with Aerosmith that may or not appear on their Greatest Hits LP. We wrote a song with Sass Jordan and we did a couple of songs with this group called the Monty Brothers, ten and thirteen-year-old brothers who just did a record for SBK. They put a band together, they're playing a showcase in New York and then they're going to Russia to play a big festival over there for 150,000 people. Their record is coming out I think this fall. It's kinda cute. One thing is kinda like a Joan Jett vibe, that's the direction I saw for them. It's a real attitude thing. It's called "Don't Call Me Junior". The other thing I think is killer is a kind of crossover sort of mid-tempo thing called "What's Gonna Happen Tomorrow", and that too is a really good song and was written for these boys. It took me back to when I their age, because I was writing songs back then, and it was a chance to revoice some of those same feelings back then.

SW: You have to put yourself in their shoes.

TS: It's not that hard to do. It's still all about girls. (Laughs). That's one thing that's constant.

SW: Hmmm . . . so we find out the truth at last, that's been the driving force . . . (laughs).

TS: Well, come on, Sterling, why are you doing this book? To get laid. That's what makes the world go around. I didn't start it.

SW: You know, the person who told me about the Jerry Lee Lewis thing was Cuppy (Tommy's ex-wife).

TS: Did you speak to her?

SW: Yeah, Vose introduced us.

TS: I haven't spoken to her in ten years. I take it back, it's been six years.  Did she sound okay?

SW: Yeah, she's doing all right.

TS: I should call her. Probably be interested to know that I'm getting divorced again.

SW: I heard about that. When did that come around?

TS: Around the first of this year.

SW: Back tracking a little bit here, do you remember if it came as a realization that you were good enough to make a career out of music, or did you just assume that's what you were going to do?

TS: Once again, you're assuming that I've thought all of this through. This was just pure instinct and love of it. I'd be doing it if I was having to do a paper route, because it's the one thing I do automatically. I had this fear when I was little younger that eventually I would have to get a real job, and I had no idea how to go about it, what I would do. And it's just been in the last couple of years that I've accepted the fact that this is what I do, and chances are I won't ever have to do anything else. But you never know. How the hell was I to know?

SW: Have you ever thought of what you might have done if not for music?

TS: No. To get a job and be an employee, I wouldn't know how. I'm totally confident in doing what I do as a musician, but I have no experience to base any kind of confidence on to do anything else. So I would go from being this cocky guy who walks on stage totally relaxed, to being this totally lacking in confidence guy who's going in to get the lowest job on the totem pole. In my mind that's what it would be like, but in reality I doubt it. If I really had to go do that, I'm sure I would rise to the occasion. But I've never been in that position.

SW: So you've literally never held a job other than music?

TS: One time when I was married to Cuppy, I went out and worked as a surveyor and just happened to take my guitar with me. I wound up getting fired that same day because I had a great idea for a song, and literally got in the truck and was trying to remember what it was, and the guy came out and saw me doing that and fired me.

SW: I suppose this question's already been partially answered: did you have any sort of plan to get noticed, or did you just kind of stumble from show to show and think, "We'll just keep doing this . . ."

TS: No, I showed up every night and gave it my best. I was always kind of shy in person, but on stage, that was my terrain and still is. I take on a totally different personality when I get on stage, because that's my territory and I rule there. And that's not the way it is in real life. You may think it is, but it's a lot different. At least it is for me.

SW: What was it like in those early years, traveling all over the place and playing for what I assume was very little money?

TS: Just like it is now. (Laughs).  I mean, the pay is a little better now. It's just nicer hotel rooms now, and there's cable television, and I'm not sharing a room with four other guys. But it's the same thing, same towns, a little nicer transportation. I've watched myself go from my teens to, I'll be forty this year. I've seen myself grow up in hotel rooms, in hotel mirrors.

SW: How have you changed since then?

TS: I'm probably in better shape now physically, and probably mentally than I was back then. I take interest in taking care of myself now. You know, when you're nineteen years old, you're pretty much bulletproof. Nothing you do has any effect on you. So it wasn't until I got around thirty that I realized, "I kinda feel what I did yesterday." I like to feel the good things that I did for myself, and I really don't do anything unhealthy anymore other than if I make a conscious choice to stay up a little later. I can't even say that I do anything bad anymore.

SW: Does that help you in the rest of your life?

TS: Absolutely, It's opened up, it's expanded my creativity as a writer, producer, songwriter, musician, singer . . . it's opened that up in ways that, I wish I'd known years ago how great an effect that would have on me. But I think that's just life. Everybody my age is saying that about whatever it is they did in the past.

SW: Is it more difficult to be in a band and be married, with all the travel?

TS: I'm sure it must be. Look at my track record. It takes a special kind of relationship. I think it takes someone totally comfortable having their own life without you, and then jumping back into their life with you.

SW: Do you think it harmed your marriage, being in bands back then?

TS: Back then? Nah. I had no business being married. I got married when I turned twenty-one, and for a musician it should be like the opposite of dog years. (Laughs). You know, one year should equal half a year for musicians. Because musicians are given the opportunity not to be mature, and so we jump at it.

SW: What was Cuppy like when you met her?

TS: She was gorgeous, sexy, and she was the type of woman that I wind up being with because she was very assertive and outgoing. She approached me.

SW: Her family didn't like you or something?

TS: Her father gave me every opportunity to get out of the marriage the day of the wedding (laughs), but I was so young and eager to please, I didn't want anybody to be mad at me. Really, we weren't that hot for each other the day we got married. It went downhill from there, I think. I think our best years were the two years before we got married.

SW: What changed along the way?

TS: We both drank a lot during that time. I was playing in bars, and a lot of drunken disagreements and just silly stuff. We were just young and partying. It wasn't like old geezers in a trailer somewhere living in a pile of beer cans. We were the young version of that. (Laughs).  We hadn't bottomed out, but we just didn't have a clue. We were partying most of the time. Looking back, I don't think we knew each other at all. Our days were numbered to begin with.

SW: How long was it between then and when you joined Styx?

TS: Joined MS Funk in 1973 I guess; joined Styx in December of 1975.

SW: Somewhere in between there you also wound up with another band, is that right?

TS: When the recession hit in 1974 I guess, all the clubs that we had managed to get a relationship with around the midwest and on the east coast and the south, all of a sudden it dried up, because they didn't have the money to keep paying bands. And they wanted dance music because of Saturday Night Fever. All of a sudden everyone wanted to dance and be like John Travbolta and we wouldn't play, you know, we had our standards and we were going to play our songs, and that was it. So a lot of the bands like us had to break up, because there was no more work. I left the band and moved back to Montgomery and started playing, I got an offer from my friend Eddie Wohlford in Montgomery. Eddie offered me two hundred a week, cash, to come down there and play, and that was about four times what I was making with MS Funk. And I said, "Hell, yes!"  And so I left the band and went down there, and I was able to buy a house and a car and a phone. All my bills were paid. Working in the yard, I thought that was it.

About six months later Kiss came to town, and their opening act's truck had broken down, and the local promoter liked our band and said, "Will you guys come open for Kiss?" And we were like, "Hell, yeah." We went over there and they even gave us a soundcheck, and there I was on Kiss' stage playing acoustic guitar, doing Eagles and Dan Fogelberg songs, and the sudience was looking at us like, "You've gotta be kidding me." (Laughs).  We had our local fans, but the rest of them were like, "Where's Kiss?"  I got a taste of what it felt like to be on a big stage like that, and it changed my life, and that's what I wanted to be doing.

Not long after that I got a call from Jim Vose, and he said, "Styx is looking for a guy to take John Curulewski's place." And in my mind Styx was just a local band that all the other bands hated, beause they never schmoozed or hung out; they just had better gigs and made a lot more money, and nobody knew them. They had a record deal with Wooden Nickel Records, and everyone kinda looked down their nose at them. Even though we had never met them,we all hated them. I'd never seen them, but I hated them anyway. So I figured well, what the heck. They told me about their record deal with A&M, and they had a record that was just about to come out called Equinox. They flew me up there, I made the trip to Chicago. Jim Vose picked me up and took me out to Dennis' house, and I was all nervous. I brought my demo tapes and my guitar with me, and JY said, "Here's kinda where we're going," and played "Midnight Ride" from Equinox. I was speechless, stunned, because all I had heard was "Lady" and "You Need Love", and those were kinda nice pop songs, but not heavy songs. I was literally speechless. I was trying to be cool, but I forgot Vose's name! (Laughs).

So we sat down at the piano and they gave me the highest part to sing. I'd been used to singing quietly with Harvest, and these guys were belting out like fog horns. I just blasted out a little bit myself, and the rest was history, because it sounded like what it sounded like. But driving back to the airport I asked Vose, "What do you think?" Because I just thought of them as a Chicago band, but he said no, these guys are big all over the world right now. And I just hadn't gotten out very much and been all over the world, so I didnt know. I thought they were just a local, regionally successful band. So he said, "You should really do it, you're gonna regret it if you don't."  So I took his advice and called Eddie from the airport and told him. And they even offered, which I think they came through on, they wanted to get going immediately; Styx didn't want me to give Harvest two weeks' notice, they wanted me to go pack my bags and come back, since they had a tour booked and they were ready to hit the road. So they paid my band a week's salary so that they could take a week off to replace me and work someone else in. My old band actually made money on me leaving,  because they didn't take a week off, they just had somebody come in and fake it for a few nights. It turned out to be Beth Nielsen Chapman, who is also now signed to Warner Brothers in Nashville. She took my place. So that was how that started.

SW: When you met the band, what was your impression of them?

TS: They were very impressive. Very articulate, educated, thoughtful, serious. Exactly the opposite of the band I'd just come from. (Laughs). Although those guys were educated. We were rock and roll dudes, we were a band, you know, we drove around the country and we paid dues. These guys had money, they had a plan, they had a deal . . . all totally foreign to me.

SW: You came in after they had already formulated the future.

TS: Oh yeah, it was their fifth album. So I was quite a few years younger than them, and I was the new kid. They took me in and I knew nothing, other than I knew how to kick ass on stage, and I knew how to write songs. And that's what I did. I was this insanely energetic new guy in the band.

SW: How did they react to that?

TS: I don't know, I was too busy playing. I had the job and I was going for it. I don't know whether they liked it. I'm sure they must have liked it.

SW: How long was it before you felt comfortable in the band?

TS: Never felt comfortable. I never felt totally comfortable amongst the other guys. I felt totally comfortable on stage, always, but never really was made to feel like an equal member. And I still don't understand that one. But you know, they all grew up together, pretty much, and I dont think they related to my lifestyle or my upbringing, or just because I was younger than them, my approach to things. I just saw John Panozzo the other day, and it was the most comfortable time that I have ever had with him.

SW: What's he doing these days?

TS: He's living in Chicago, he plays around a little bit. We didn't really get into what he's doing.

SW: Were you intimidated by those guys?

TS: I was intimidated by their intelligence, their education. I was a high school graduate, and you know how some people can make you feel "less than" by their education. Some people like to hold it over your head. And it may have just been my own insecurity, but I always felt like they were a little bit ashamed at having someone in the band who wasn't a college graduate. Becuase in interviews JY would say, "We're all college graduates." And I would think, 'I never went to college,' but I just kept my mouth shut about that. That tended to hurt my feelings a little bit, but I was not ashamed of the fact. I already knew what I wanted to do, and I was educated in the streets and the clubs  and on the road. And I've done well for myself. But that part obviously baffled me.

SW: Did you ever voice that to them?

TS: No, no . . . I was already intimidated, I'm not about to let them know it. I wanted to learn as much as I could from these guys. They were very bright, and so I learned some good things, and I picked up a few bad habits. But you know, in the balance I think it was pretty good. I made a lot of friends out on the road that I still come in contact with. One thing that I picked up on very early was the fact that people who were around at that time will probably be out there as long as I am, and it was true. So if someone got burned back then, you were likely to suffer the consequences of that at any given time in the future.

SW: Styx used to have a little bit of a reputation of  being difficult to deal with in business.

TS: They still  have that reputation. I spoke to someone two nights ago who had contacted them and tried to work something out with them, and they were lamenting that same sort of story. I've seen it and heard it many years. I think it's unfortunate, and I don't think it's the way they intend to come off. It's just the way it comes off, and it's probably a misunderstanding. But first impressions are first impressions. It doesn't take long to get one.

SW: When you joined,  did you take over John Curulewski's old songs in the show?

TS: I think so. They gave me all the high parts. I have a feeling they probably switched parts to make sure I had all the parts they didn't want to sing anymore. (Laughs). But that was okay, I didn't mind doing that.

SW: How did the audiences react?

TS: Well, they loved Styx already, and they accepted me openly.

SW: So you didn't run into the problem of fans saying, "Where's JC?"

TS: Never did. I only met John one time. He came over to Vose's house one time. I was staying in Vose's apartment. He was a nice fellow. A lot of hostility toward Dennis.

SW: And you never saw him again?

TS: Never saw him again.

SW: Did you hear about it when he died?

TS: Yeah, I did. It was tragic, very sad. This guy was so hostile toward them. I don't know if he ever came and collected the money that he had coming to him from Equinox. This was his A&M money; he had thousands and thousands of dollars, and all he needed to do was just enter into some kind of agreement and he would have gotten his money. Knowing what I know now, this may be different than what it seemed like, beause almost three years later I'm still trying to get some money from them, and it's over a real simple agreement. They're very into the attorney scene. There's nothing I can do about it. I just laugh to myself.

SW: Where does that come from?

TS: It's from JY.

SW: For what reason?

TS: I don't know. I think I know . . . I think he was really mad because when I joined Damn Yankees I had been discussing the possibility of re-joining Styx. But I wasn't very excited about it, because I still was feeling the same dynamics . . . you know, it was, "Here's what I want. . .  here's what I want." There was never any discussion of, "What would you like?" So I didn't feel particularly emotionally attached to the possibility, and so when Damn Yankees came along, all of a sudden I was totally hooked emotionally. Because musically, socially, and in all things it was like the old days of being back in MS Funk. It felt like a band. And I never really got back to those guys about the reunion. JY was very, very upset about that. My experience with those guys is, as intelligent as they are, their one downfall is their difficulty in forgiving and moving on. Once you have gotten on their bad side, you're pretty much locked in that position.

SW: They do that as a band? They unite against a common enemy?

TS: I think JY first, and Dennis second. The Panozzo brothers are much more sensitive. But they're also number three and number four in the pecking order there.

SW: I keep hearing that they are fighting amongst themselves right now.

TS: Boy, you know, I'm so glad I didn't go back to that band. I got those vibes, that it was going to be more of the same, and life is too short.

SW: When you first joined, did you realize right away that it was going to be that way?

TS: It was mostly good, but there were those times when I kept wishing that it would be fun, that they would loosen up and they would like me more. And I was always disappointed. So at a certain point I just drank or got high, tuned them out. I made my own peace.

SW: What was their reaction to that? I assume they did not care for that?

TS: You'd have to ask them that. I didn't care.

SW: I would love to ask them, but I can't get any of them to call back. (Laughs).

TS: They didn't like it. I'm sure it made their life difficult, and I'm sorry for that. You know, that's the only thing I knew to do at the time. That wasn't very cool, but I was too young and had too much money. Who was going to tell me I couldn't do it?

SW: The working relationships were strong, if not the personal chemistry. When do you feel like that started to go sour?

TS: After the song "Babe" became a big hit. We all knew that was the turning point, and there was no way we could have refuced Dennis at that time, because we all knew it was a hit. But at the same time we knew it was going to put a big crack in our armor, and it would forever change the image of the band. Once we had the success from that, that was the direction he went wholeheartedly into. And I think he became more and more into songs like that, and less and less of a rock guy. And you can't blame him.

I, on the other hand, wantd to be further and further out there in the rock world. But because of my rebelliousness I was creating less and less, and being accepted less and less by them. And I just kinda felt like, fuck it. I just kinda shut down. You'll notice, on Paradise Theatre and Kilroy, my writing contributions were less and less. There just wasn't much acceptance or encoouragement for my ideas. So I just partied on, and really, it was about the middle of the end for me.

The end came when I was over in England and I went to see the Go Gos, believe it or not. This is when they were really heavy over in Europe and they hadn't broken yet in America. They were like the cool thing there, you had to be really cool to even get in to see them, and I got an invitation to go and see them. So I went to the Town and Country  Club in London and God, there were lots of cool bands there. The Pretenders were there, Joan Armatrading, lots of cool people. And it may have just been my own insecurity, but I felt like they were loking at me like, 'Oh God, Styx is here', and I just didn't feel like they were welcoming me into their . . . they were all talking and having a good time. I'm sure a lot of it was my own feeling about myself. That's the way I felt about it.

And on the cab ride back from the show I wrote this song called "Fading Away", and I booked some time in the studio the next day and went in and demoed it out by myslef. And it felt so good just getting to do whatever I wanted to do, that was it for me. The rest of it was just, "How do I get to that point?" But I was on my way to being out of Styx. And in retrospect, I never realized what an opportunity I had when I left Styx. There were a lot of fans who gave me the benefit of the doubt as a solo artist, but I had no idea of the importance of that moment in time. I just went about it as if it was another record, and I didn't have the guys in Styx to bounce ideas off of and help to edit the ideas and say, "This is good, this is bad." I would just throw everything I do in there, and it was a disappointment. It took me a long time to feel the effects, to even know that it was a disappointment, and by that time I was partying even heavier and absorbing less. It's just the way you are when you're kinda numb like that.

The second album, although it had some really good songs on it, the production really suffered, and so there's strike two with radio and with the fans. You know, my personal life was kind of on the skids, and so it was hard for me to totally . . . I couldnt get that together, and so it was hard to get my musical life together. And when I finally got around to my third solo album, I really had started to get it together, and I got with a really good producer whom I had chemistry with and I finally made a really great solo record. But by then I didn't care anymore about being a solo artist, so that led me into Damn Yankees.

SW: When you look back on your solo years, how do you rate the work in retrospect?

TS: I just went back and listened to all three albums with a friend of mine, the guy that's on the cover of our album, and he'd never heard any of that stuff. And there's so many near misses, so many things that just weren't finished. And some songs that should have never made the cut. But a handful of songs still stand up.

SW: What are your stand-out favorites from those records?

TS: "Kiss Me Hello", "Come In And Explain", "Reach For The Bottle", "Nature of the Beast", "Count On You", "Weight of the World", "Outsider", and "Somewhere in the Night". Those are all really good songs.

SW: How about songs you don't particularly like?

TS: Don't work? "True Confessions" . . . what the hell was I thinking of? Well, "True Confessions" was what it was. It was like, "I got really fucked up last night, and now have to call and try and figure out who do I need to apologize to?" And "Friendly Advice" .  . really bad. Horrible.

SW:  I'm kind of glad to hear you say that . . .

TS: (Laughs). You thought I liked those songs? 

SW: (Laughs). I was kind of nervous about sending you my capsule reviews, because I hit those pretty hard.

TS: I thought you were right on target with your reviews. These are all a part of my story, and I have had a great life. I love where I am at right now, I love being my age, and all those pieces of it led up to where I'm at today. So I cherish all those little experiences, and I've tried to learn something from all of it.

SW: Had you worked in the recoding studio before joining Styx?

TS: Oh, yeah. I've been in the recording studio since the seventh grade. I was used to being there.

SW: How were those early experiences different from Styx?

TS: My experiences before were very short-term. There was no budget. You had to get in very fast, or you were doing one song. In Styx, we got our hands right on top of it. We produced our own records.

SW: The albums say "Produced by Styx". Does that mean that each of you produced your own work?

TS: We each spent more time on our own songs, but Dennis was the guy, he was the anchor there. He knew more of what he was doing than the rest of us did. Knowing what I know now, I see what he was doing then. But at the time I didn't understand why he would just keep working at things. I just wanted to move on to the next thing. Dennis had a real vision, and he knew which song to put more emphasis on to get it through.

SW: Was he as pushy as people portray him as being?

TS: Not pushy, I just think focused. You've got to be able to keep things moving when you're making an album. You just can't keep taking little side trips, otherwise you lose your edge.

SW: Quite a number of people have potrayed him to me as someone they don't like very much.

TS: I think Dennis is very likeable. You know, not everybody gets his humor. He's a very bright, very charming guy. Except for when he's mad at me, I enjoy being around him.

SW: So what is it about him that seems to rub so many people the wrong way?

TS: Well, he's very confident, he's very intelligent, and he suffers no fools.

SW: Sincerely, a lot of people feel like he thinks he's the Lord of the Earth and they are just  peons.

TS: (Laughs). I know Dennis better than that, and I know he can come off like that. But I have a lot of respect for Dennis. I think there's more to Dennis than what people know. I think he has more talent than has been appreciated.

SW: Have you seen any of the reviews for Jesus Christ Superstar?

TS: No, but I've talked to people who have been there. They said that he was the best thing in the show.

SW: Believe it or not, that's what reviewers are saying, too. I would never have believed it.

TS: Oh, I would.

SW: Just beause I didn't think they would review him fairly even if he was great.

TS: That is totally his realm. I always felt he wanted to be an actor.

SW: And that's not your thing, obviously.

TS: It's close enough to what I do that I can do it. But I would never claim to be good at it. You could put me in a movie and I would not embarrass you, you know, but I would not see me accept the best actor award. I have an appreciation for the craft, and I haven't studied it. But I know how to sit in front of a camera and not pick my nose, where to hit my mark, and not trip over the furniture.

SW: When you were doing Kilroy, were you pretty uncomfortable?

TS: I was pretty high. (Laughs). I was a little jittery, pretty anxious. (Laughs).

SW: Is that the guy from Fast Times at Ridgemont High that's in there?

TS: Yeah, Robert Romanus.

SW: How did he wind up in there?

TS: He answered a casting call.

SW: When Styx became very famous, did a lot of celebrities come see the band and become hangers-on?

TS: Whenever we hung out much in LA. Not that many, to tell you the truth.

SW: Did you hang out with other bands?

TS: We weren't a very sociable band. And it was that Chicago, Second  City mentality thing. Really not that much of an LA vibe.

SW: It was shortly after you joined Styx that Dennis had a complete nervous breakdown.

TS: As far as I could tell.

SW: How did that affect things?

TS: He was kind of not around as much with the Crystal Ball album. I don't know how it affected things, really. We just accepted that he's a little more fragile than what we had thought, and in a lot of ways I kind of miss the old Doc, the crazy guy with the beard. It was good when he was crazy.

SW: How was he crazy in the early days?

TS: He was the crazed-looking, swashbuckling, blackbeard madman singing "Born For Adventure"!

SW: What changed him?

TS: Well, he wouldn't smoke pot anymore; whatever that did for him, he wasn't doing that anymore. But I'd rather have him the way he really is. I hate pot heads.

SW: How did he get the name Doc?

TS: He used to carry around so many pills, vitamins and supplements. We used to go through customs . . . you know, we went to Canada a lot, we'd go through customs and they'd shake his bags and say, "What are you, a doctor?"

SW: What are John and Chuck like?

TS: They're great guys. Chuck is the more quiet of the two. Chuck's a very intelligent guy. They're both very intelligent. John's more athletic, and they're both funny once you get to know them. John's the more demonstrative of the two.

SW: What's JY like, I mean outside of him being upset with you right now?

TS: JY enjoys the fruits of intelligence.He enjoys being perceived .  .  . and he is very intelligent, but I think there's a real need for him to be thought of as intelligent. JY has a lot of responsibility in his family. He's the quiet patriarch. But musically he always wanted to be on a par with Dennis and me, but he would always wait until the very end. And there was a kind of hostility JY had about him. He would be critical of my material but not offer any suggestions,  and then not come to the table with anything until right near the end. And it would generally need quite a bit of work, re-working, yet he was very insistent that he be looked upon as an equal writer with Dennis and me. So there was a discomfort factor in working with JY.

I think he took more naturally to the legal and accounting side of things. He would always be writing . . . he had a computer, word processing before anybody. He was always dictating memos and sending out mean-spirited letters. (Laughs). I always just cringed when I got a letter from JY. It was always in legalese, and mean-spirited; you dare not step out of line because you would hear from him, and you know, carbon copies to this guy and that guy, and my God, JY, lighten up, please! I must say, in all fairness to JY, that I haven't gotten one in years.     

SW: That's just completely opposite of what some people say about him.

TS: I know, and when he's nice to you, he's the funniest, sweetest guy. But boy, when you're on his shit list, better just find another way to get on with your life.

SW: In an interview last year you said you had the moment you decided to leave Styx on video.

TS: It was on stage at the Capital Center. I was really angry, and I just leaped up on top of John's drums, and he looked at me like, 'You're scratching m drums.' And I thought, 'Is this what we've come down to? Now we're not performing anymore, we're just . . .' I just took it wrong. I probably was scratching his drums. He always had nice drums. I was just looking for an excuse. But that was like the straw that broke the camel's back, you know, a totally insignificnant thing. But that's all it took, was one more insignificant thing, and I took my guitar off . . . one of my nice ones, too . . . and smashed it. Took the transmitter and everything, you know this six-hundred-dollar transmitter is on my strap, and threw the whole, everything out in the audience. Walked off the stage, and they played a song without me. I went into the dressing room, found a phone, called my manager and said, "I quit. I'll finsih the tour, I'll do promos, I'll do all the stuff that I need to do, but when this tour is over, I'm out of here."

SW: Did the audience know that you'd gone haywire, or did they think it was part of the show?

TS: They probaby thought it was part of the show.

SW: I heard it was commonplace for you to break guitars on that tour.

TS: And I would break nice ones. I had two really nice Telecasters, broke both of those.

SW: Was that just your way of expressing how unhappy you were?

TS: Yeah. It would have been cheaper to chop wood. (Laughs).

SW: Did you become way more argumentative with each other toward the end?

TS: No, I just kind of stuffed it and just would get loaded. Then it all exploded and I just finally said, "I quit." And Dennis was very, I respect Dennis for trying to take a calm approach to, "Why can't we just discuss this?" But by that time there was no discussing anything with me.

SW: What was the band's reaction?

TS: They were shocked. You know, I had always pretty nuch done what the group wanted to do. And all of a sudden, it caught up with us.

SW: What about the relationships between the other members of the band, were they pretty strong still?

TS: Well, they have history of all being together. But they're not necessarily all drinking from the same cup. The brothers are inseparable, of course. But with Styx it's a business. Business first, business second, business third, and probably business fourth. There's not a personal thing that goes on there, even though they have a history of being together for a long, long time. When it comes down to it, I don't think people  come into it, it's just incidental.

SW: Is it true that Dennis actually got kicked out of the band at one point?

TS: Yeah. I don't remember what it was about. We felt like we had been pushed too far over something, and we said, "Oh yeah, then you're fired." He never forgot that, never let us  forget it. (Laughs). But we did it. It was pretty shitty, you know, but we felt very strongly about it. That's so long ago, I don't even recall too much about it. I remember it was pretty heavy. He talked to us, we brought him back into the band, but he never forgave us for it.

SW: When he came back, was that when he started to have separate representation?

TS: Yes.

SW: When Styx started working at Pumpkin Studios instead of Paragon, did Dennis have more control at that point?

TS: He did. He started to get more and more involved. I think once he realized for himself that he was on his own, then he took the initiative. I can't say that I blame him. He was the one who had the skills and had the vision. He was the one guy who could do everything with or without us and make it sound good.

SW: When you were apart, did you contact them very much?

TS: Not at all.

SW: Did you keep up with their solo careers?

TS: Not really. People would keep up with them for me.

SW: Have you heard their stuff?

TS: I didn't have to try to, people would put it in front of me.

SW: What do you think of their solo careers in turn?

TS: Good sounding stuff, kinda like Styx. Sounds like Styx without me. They were Styx for five albums without me.

SW: Did you go see Dennis live at all?

TS: No.

SW: Did they ever come to see you?

TS: Some of them came to see me in Chicago when I opened for Rush. JY, John and I think Chuck.

SW: As time went by, did you get a little more open to the idea of maybe going back to Styx?

TS: Yes. After my third solo album I really wanted to be doing something else. JY and I had gotten friendly enough to the point where he came and sang on one of my songs on the last record. You know, we were warming up. I thought, what the heck, I'm over all the stupidity of the Kilroy fiasco and all of that, so we started warming up.

But it was never a matter of, you know, "What would you like, what are your feelings?" It was always like, "We won't do it unless we get this, Dennis won't do it unless he gets that.' We never sat down in a room together. I would sit down with John, Chuck, JY and my manager. Then I'd sit down with my manager and Dennis and they'd all talk to their attorneys. Not a band vibe at all. It was more a matter of, "I'll do it only if I get this", and "I won't do it unless I get this." It never once came up, "Tommy, what would you like?" Never once. And I guess maybe I should have been the one to step forward and say, "Well, I won't do it unless I do this." That was the way it was. It all seems pretty silly now.

SW: How much have you seen them since deciding not to go back?

TS: Three or four times.

SW: How has it been, besides the one obvious time that you got kicked out of their backstage?

TS: I saw Dennis at the ASCAP Awards last year. Suzanne, Dennis and I had a very pleasant visit.

SW: Is she as meddling as some people portray her?

TS: She loves Dennis, and she's his wife. And of course she feels protective. I think that would be unfair for me to make a characterization of her because she . . . they've survived two of my marriages, and whatever they're doing works for them. I respect their relationship.

SW: I heard she and Cuppy used to fight all the time.

TS: No, there was never any fighting, just no warm relationship there. There was no actual playing out of the bad vibes. They just generally stayed out of each other's way.

SW: You garnered by far the most publicity of anyone in Styx, because you wound up becoming somewhat of a teen idol. How did that affect the band?

TS: They were pretty cool about it. I think they were flattereed and appreciated the fact that we were getting publicity.

SW: When you got divorced, did you worry about how it would affect you as far as getting that kind of coverage?

TS: It was  hard because I was gone so much. I just got through it. I didn't think of it in terms of my image.

SW: There was a fan who wrote to you and said that "Crystal Ball" had saved her from suicide.

TS: Oh yeah, I've gotten several of those.

SW: Do you remember the first one?

TS: Oh yeah, I met the parents and everything. She was going to kill herself. She's in Kansas City. I can't remember her name.

It made me feel very peculiar, because at the time I wrote it, it just came to me. And then I re-wrote it in the back seat of a car on the way to some city. Dennis was sitting in the front and I was writing lyrics and handing them over for him to look at. I was just writing another song, and I had no idea of the impact of the lyrics.

SW: You have many fans who are very, very loyal and feel extremely protective of you. Is it a strange  feeling, knowing that so many people that you've never met hold you in such high regard?

TS: I love it. That's the payoff. I consider myself very fortunate and I'm very grateful for that.

SW: Have you ever had a negative fan experience?

TS: Sometimes you're just not in the mood, and need more privacy, and can be cranky. Sometimes you haven't eaten. Sometimes you're not on. I'm not on twenty-four hours a day; I've had my grumpy times, but I've always regretted taking it out on the fans. I really try my best to  put on a good face. I think it's what they expect.

SW: Do you have fans who go too far and invade your privacy?

TS: Yeah, there's a boundary. When someone is by my room, I don't give a shit what they think. If they've invaded my space, they've gone too far, then they obviously don't think that much of me to begin with.

     People get my home address somehow. I never respond.

SW: I've heard stories about people impersonating Dennis and impersonating JY. Have you ever had somebody impersonate you?

TS: No, but there's a jock in Minneapolis right now who has taken my name. I just did an ID there and I read it: "Hi, this is Tommy Shaw from Damn Yankees, and you're listening to Tommy Shaw on . . . what's this!?" (There is a beeping noise in the background, one that has gone off several times in the course of the interview). I'm going to have to get off here, Sterling. My life is catching up with me.

SW: You want me to transcribe this and send you a copy?

TS: Do whatever you need to do. I trust your scrutiny. If you want to transcribe and just send me a copy, I guess that would just be a matter of you making a copy of your work. You just stay in tuch, and if there's anything I can do to help you along . . . I don't know too many people in the publishing business.

SW: That's no problem.

TS: Well, if there's anything I can do to help, I will.

SW: Thank you.