The irony that Lawrence Gowan is now a spokesperson for legendary Chicago classic rock band Styx is not lost on the affable Scottish-born singer who original carved out a name for himself in Canada, recording six solo albums in the mid-eighties and early nineties up until the “Best of Gowan” album in 1998.
Set to execute a number of phone interviews to promote Styx’s future concert dates in Canadian and U.S casinos and soft-seat theatres, Gowan points out that there is an entire generation of Styx fans who only equate Gowan’s position as co-lead vocalist of Styx and who aren’t familiar with the history of the group or the role Denis DeYoung played as the band’s original co-lead vocalist, keyboardist and chief song writer.
“It’s hard to believe but it’s been over 15 years since I joined the band (as a replacement for Denis (DeYoung)” marvelled Gowan, back in Toronto to prepare for a series of Styx dates that would include an appearance at Casino Windsor on December 27th. “Tommy Shaw (band guitarist/vocalist) was showing me some old Styx pictures from when I first joined the band (in 1999). We look like kids in those pictures, it’s hard to comprehend I have been in this band so long.”
“The strange thing is that there is a whole new audience for Styx that have only discovered the band over the past decade or so,” Gowan continued. “They only know about our current lineup, the original Styx with all their hit records, was before their time – and they certainly didn’t know about my previous career in Canada!
Not that Mr Gowan is complaining mind you. With an exhausting schedule, which by his estimation has encompassed 110 dates in 2013, the demand for Styx dates is stronger than ever. “We start off the year and end the year in the Fall and Winter doing casinos and soft seaters and during the summer there is always a classic rock package for the summer festival and outdoor stadium concerts. In the past few years we’ve gone out with Def Leppard and Foreigner, Boston, REO Speedwagon and 38 Special, Yes and in the U.K with Deep Purple and another a five-date U.K tour with Foreigner and Journey. We are scheduled to do another major tour this summer with Foreigner and (former Eagles’ guitarist) Don Felder.”
Gowan, who along with guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, guitarist/vocalist JY Young, bassist Ricky Phillips and drummer Todd Sucherman ( with occasional guest appearances by original bassist Chuck Panozzo) may be riding the crest of a classic rock nostalgia wave but he points out that the band’s appeal is wide reaching. “It’s nostalgia for you and I but for a lot of people, who are just becoming familiar with Styx, it’s not nostalgia at all,” explained Gowan. “I think with the spirit and the energy we put out every night, we are still very relevant and our audience recognizes that.”
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Of course, putting a set list together each night can be a nightmare, especially when you have a catalogue of songs going back to 1975. “There’s not a night that goes by that one person will say `Hey, you didn’t play that song,’ noted Gowan. “We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to putting together a set list. There are people who have only picked up on the band in the past 10 years or so and who think `”Cyclorama” (recorded in 2003) is the best album we’ve ever done and I often get requests all the time to play “One With Everything” but where can we possibly fit that into our set list? Sometimes we can stick a new song on to the list to freshen things up, but the question then becomes, what song do we leave out?”
Gowan allows that with four songwriters in the band; Shaw, Young, Phillips and himself, the band has accumulated a vast quantity of new material but the never-ending problem is finding the time to fit a studio session into their frenetic schedule.
“Yes I know it’s hard to get new material on radio and that record sales are nothing like what they used to be, but, to my mind, song writing is the life blood of any true artist, it’s just something we do,” explained Gowan. “It’s just finding that six-month gap in our schedule to commit to recording a new album. Now all of this could change in the next six months or so but finding the time off to record a new album is a challenge. We do try out new material in our sound checks and I am sure, at some point we will record something new.” The band’s last studio effort being their 2005, covers “Big Bang Theory” release.
Styx have been occupied, re-recording their past legacy with two `Greatest Hits’ releases; “Regeneration Volume One (2010) and Volume Two (2011) featuring the current lineup and they have tackled that set list problem by releasing a live DVD of concert performances, “One With Everything” which featured Styx with a youth orchestra in Cleveland and a live concert in Memphis which featured “The Grand Illusion” ( released in 1977) and “Pieces Of Eight” (originally released in 1978) played in their entirety.
On top of this, Gowan’s solo releases have also enjoyed rejuvenation with his 1985 “Strange Animal” release and his follow up 1987 “Great Dirty World” also being re-mixed and re-released with the obligatory bonus tracks.
“Around about 2009, I started to become aware of songs like “Criminal Mind” and “Strange Animal” were receiving heavy airplay on classic rock radio formats and I was getting requests for interviews about my past career,” explained Gowan. “For about 10 years, I had done nothing about my solo career because I was so wrapped up in working with Styx. But my own personal work is a very important part of my life so this exposure gave me the incentive, when I had the time, to start performing solo again on selective dates.
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Of course, performing `A Criminal Mind’ every night in the Styx set list helped expose his solo catalogue to a new audience and to this day he is finding out that much of the audience at his solo performances are Styx fans who previously didn’t know he had a previous solo career.
“Late last year, (October 13th 2013 to be precise) I recorded a live performance at the Glen Gould Theatre in Toronto for the McDermott House Foundation and It was great to see that half the audience were Styx fans,” allowed Gowan. “Same when I played dates at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. It’s great to re-connect with my old Gowan fans but it’s also great to know I have a new generation of fans also.”
Ironically, attaining a U.S following never occurred when Larry Gowan (as he was then known) launched his solo career in 1982. Originally the keyboardist for local band Rheingold, Gowan’s self-titled debut sank without a trace and he headed back to Britain to rethink his next move. He was encouraged by a phone call from top English producer David Tickle who offered to produced Gowan’s next album at former Beatle drummer Ringo Starr’s home ( which was also previously owned by John Lennon who recorded “Imagine” at the same location), and with help from top session men, drummer Jerry Marotta and bassist Tony Levin recorded his “Strange Animal” follow-up.
The icing on the cake for this record were the videos for `Strange Animal’ and `A Criminal Mind’ shot by master videographer Rob Quarterly, two ground-breaking videos that appeared just as video channels like MTV and Canada’s MuchMusic began to dominate music promotion.
Yet despite registering a solid home following with “Strange Animal” and subsequent releases “Great Dirty World” (1987) ,“Lost Brotherhood” (1990) and 1993’s “Lawrence Gowan…But You Can Call Me Larry” release, Gowan continued to chalk up gold records domestically but suffered from no exposure in the U.S.
Even though he was managed by SRO (Rush, Max Webster), Gowan’s solo records were never released in the States and his solo career began to stall. Strangely, it was a one-off live record he released in French which eventually led Gowan to joining Styx. Titled “Gowan Au Quebec” (released I 1997), the record was well received in the Francophone market with one song, `Pour Un Instant’, a cover of a Harmonium song receiving strong radio exposure in Quebec.
[quote]It’s hard to believe but it’s been over 15 years since I originally replaced Denis (DeYoung) in the band[/quote]
“To capitalize on this exposure, I was booked to play the St Laurent Theatre in Montreal on the same night that Styx was playing The Molson Centre,” reflected Gowan. “I get a phone call from Donald K. Donald (Styx concert promoter) offering me the alternative of an opening spot on the Styx gig. My management thought it would be demeaning for me to open for someone else but I, being a hockey buff, thought well, I’ve played the old Montreal Forum so this would be a chance to play the new Molson Centre.
So Gowan hits the stage as the opening act, he had always been popular in Quebec and with his new record, gaining strong Francophone exposure; he brought the house down, and was called back for THREE encores! – forcing Styx’s set to get pushed back.
“Tommy Shaw and (former bassist) Chuck Panozzo are watching me from the side of the stage, and I’m thinking `I bet they are going to be really pissed!,” laughed Gowan. “But Tommy was very complementary. He said `That has never happened to us before – ever!. We are going to work together again in the future!”’
Gowan then headed over to England for two years, busking his way around the pubs and hooking up on a U.K tour with the Stranglers before being invited to perform an original song `Healing Waters’ with the BBC Orchestra ‘at the Memorial Concert for Princess Diana along with Duran Duran and Sir Cliff Richard. Coincidentaly, also on stage that night was Styx’s drummer Todd Sucherman. Returning back to his band, that was in turmoil facing a decision to tour their new “Brave New World” album without vocalist/keyboardist Denis De Young, Sucherman turned in a glowing report about that guy who registered the three encores in Montreal.
A phone call to Gowan ensued, he flew to Los Angeles for an audition and after a run-through of his `A Criminal Mind’ and their `Crystal Ball’, he was hired on the spot for the tour. “Originally, it was discussed that was supposed to be a fill-in for just 35 dates but things went so well, they kept me on,” informed Gowan. “Both JY and Tommy have said, this is just how they envisioned the band to be live. It was like we had been rejuvenated.”
Gowan is quick to point out that a decision had been to find a replacement for De Young before he was recruited and that the former lead vocalist had been in and out of the band ever since their ambitious “Paradise Theater” and “Kilroy Was Here” albums had drawn a creative wedge between DeYoung, Shaw and JY Young.
“When I joined, I heard quite often, that I somhow had gotten Denis DeYoung fired,” but that wasn’t the case at all,, anyone who has seen the VH-1 special, Behind The Music, knows exactly what happened” reflected Gowan. “There was a lot of upheaval within the band in the past beforemy entering the scene. Tommy had joined Damn Yankees, Dennis, JY and Tommy had all recorded solo records and then after reforming in 1996, they fell back into disharmony. Their final decision arose when Denis came down with a mysterious virus and asked them to postpone a tour – which they didn’t want to do”
Gowan has a lot of respect for all the past and present Styx members including, Shaw, Young, DeYoung and twin brothers John and Chuck Panozzo (as well as original guitarist John Curlewski and also Glen Burtnik) who rattled off an amazing catalogue of platinum selling albums and singles from their 1975 ground-breaking “Equinox” album through to their rock opera exploits of Paradise Theater (1981) and Kilroy Was Here (1983).
“The original band was obviously very successful, but now I am helping to carry the future banner for the band – we represent a new era and we have been accepted by our audience,” he explained. “It’s like I recently saw the Rolling Stones in concert and at one point, Mick Taylor got on stage to jam with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. And to think, they had taken over from Brian Jones. I guess it’s the same with us in that our band has just naturally evolved.
Although Styx face another exhausting tour schedule in 2014, including a series of benefit concerts, Rock To The Rescue (in partnership with REO Speedwagon) Gowan is also determined to keep his solo career alive and is using what spare time he has at his disposal to finish off a new recording.
With so much activity on both fronts, how does Gowan keep his personal life intact? “Yes, it’s a challenge,” he laughs, reacting to the ideal that he has to keep re-introducing himself to his wife. “Fortunately, she loves to travel and likes going out on tour with me – but only to the cool spots! Which to us Canadians means hot”
You can contact Lawrence at www.gowan.org.