Hailing from Chicago, Styx was formed as 'The Tradewinds' by twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo along with a neighbor, Dennis DeYoung all the way back in 1961. Chuck was originally the guitarist but he left to attend seminary and was replaced by Tom Nardini. On his return, he switched to bass. John was playing drums and DeYoung was on keyboards. In 1965, due to a name conflict with another band they became 'TW4'.In 1969, the band added John Curulewski on guitar to replace Nardini and a year later, James Young joined as a second guitarist, making TW4 a quintet. In 1972, the band signed with Wooden Nickel records and changed their name to Styx, allegedly the only suggested name that no one in the band completely hated. As the band began to really break out in the mid-70s, Curulewski left to make more time for family and was reeplaced by Tommy Shaw. Those five - Panozzo, Panozzo, DeYoung, Young, and Shaw - would be the classic Styx lineup.
The harmonies that typify a lot of their music indicate an early influence by doo-wop, barbershop and other late 50s influences. You can hear traces of the Beatles and Beach Boys in the arrangements and given the early roots of the band's founding, that makes sense. One of the most powerful influences throughout the band's history has been DeYoung's love of musical theater which has typified both the worst and best of Styx. It is also clearly the source of what makes them a prog band instead of a pure arena rock combo.
Main Creative Force
Dennis DeYoung was generally the front man on stage and his theatrical approach to rock permeated most of Styx's most popular albums. As such, he has to be considered the creative driver of the band's sound, but other members wrote songs and when Styx truly sounded like a rock band, it was probably the work of Tommy Shaw.
Most Likely To Be A Mainstream Rocker
Tommy Shaw was the band member most uncomfortable with DeYoung's tendency toward dramatic, concept-driven pieces. Shaw disliked the overly theatrical approach to the band's sound and it was not surprising that he was the first of the main lineup to leave. The fact that he joined up with Ted Nugent, Jack Blades and Michael Cartellone to form Damn Yankees in 1989 makes it clear that Shaw was the most mainstream rocker in Styx.
First Hint of Prog Brilliance
Styx put together several albums with Wooden Nickel including Styx, Styx II, The Serpent is Rising, and Man of Miracles. These records were obviously the band feeling its way into the music business and they are largely straight-up rock and roll with some prog flourishes. The Serpent is Rising was actually something of a concept album which would clearly foreshadow the band's future prog qualities. The power ballad, 'Lady' from the Styx II album would be their signature hit for a few years and was not really progressive in nature though it featured heavy keyboard use. The band would join A&M records in 1975 and move into much more progressive territory. 'Equinox' mixed rock and prog sounds very well and that 1975 album charted higher than any previous Styx records. The burgeoning AOR format in FM radio made their songs like 'Lorelei' and 'Suite Madame Blue' into big hits. The 1976 album 'Crystal Ball' was modestly successful though not up to the level of 'Equinox.'
In 1977, Styx released The Grand Illusion. The album featured strong writing from DeYoung, Young, and Shaw, but the biggest hits were DeYoung's title track along with 'Come Sail Away' and Shaw's 'Fooling Yourself'. Personally, I thought Young's scathing 'Miss America' was outstanding, as well though it we never considered a hit. The album was the peak of the band's powerful orchestration and arrangement up to that date. The album was truly the breakthrough for the band. It went triple platinum and made them an arena rock headliner for a decade to come.
Their follow-up was 'Pieces of Eight' in 1978 which was probably more radio-friendly. It spawned hits by both DeYoung and Shaw once again. The same pattern was repeated in 1979 on 'Cornerstone' with DeYoung's pop ballad 'Babe' becoming the band's first and only true #1 hit. The album garnered Grammy nominations as well and was a huge seller in Europe. The success of 'Babe' drove DeYoung to increase the theatrical nature of the band. The next album,1981's 'Paradise Theater' was a concept album and induced new tensions into the band. DeYoung wanted musical theater. Young and Shaw fought for a harder rock sound. The album was their most successful to date and again, both DeYoung and Shaw wrote major hits. It was their fourth consecutive multi-platinum record.
Influenced By Them
The mixture of keyboards, layered guitars, and tight vocal harmonnies was pretty common in the late 70s and early 80s in what was known as Arena Rock. Styx was a pioneer in that sound, but it isn't replicated all that much in the decades since. The 80s brought more keyboards, less guitar, and sparser vocals. The nineties brought grunge with more guitar, less keyboard, and even sparser vocals. Styx is undoubtedly remembered and some of their vocal arrangements and compositions probably inspire newer prog-ish bands, but it is hard to single out any specific influence.
1983 brought DeYoung's most ambitious concept project, 'Kilroy Was Here'. His concept was to create a musical that would be performed intact complete with members of the band in costume and performing dialogue. The show was not as successful as their previous tours and was very expensive and difficult to produce live. It also brought the tensions between DeYoung, Young, and Shaw to a head. Shaw went solo after the Kilroy tour. They re-united in 1995 to record 'Lady' for a greatest hits compilation but when a tour was put together, John Panozzo's alcohol problems made it impossible for him to join and eventually took his life. In 1999, they produced their first studio album in a decade in 'Brave New World' but it failed to chart. The personality conflicts re-emerged and the band split once again. There continues to be a Styx and the current version includes James Young and Tommy Shaw as well as Chuck Panozzo. While many fans hold out hope of re-uniting DeYoung with the others, Shaw and Young make it sound very unlikely though DeYoung has expressed willingness.
My Personal Take
I tend to view Styx as a rock band and as a prog band. I love them as a rock band but find their most progressive work pompous and silly and a lot of that is the personality of Dennis DeYoung which I find annoying and pretentious. When Lady emerged as a radio hit in 1975, I got to see Styx live as part of a triple-header sandwiched between Bob Seger and Bachman Turner Overdrive. They performed Lady live without a piano which was just dreadful. Their sound mix and dynamics sucked and they had the misfortune of coming onstage right after Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band which is one of the most powerful live shows in rock and roll.
That said, I did like their studio work and consider Equinox and The Grand Illusion to be classics.