Dennis DeYoung talks unlikely hits and robot masks

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times on Feb. 22, 2012.

In the early 1960s, Dennis DeYoung was just a 14-year-old with an accordion and a mission: to make a few bucks with his friends performing at weddings around his Chicago neighborhood of Roseland. A TV show changed all that.

“It was the Beatles on Ed Sullivan,” Dennis told me during a phone interview that went a lot longer than the planned hour. “If you talk to any baby boomer guys in rock bands, I would believe 80 percent would tell the same story. It was an epiphany.”

DeYoung retired his accordion for a set of keyboards and co-founded a band that would go on to achieve platinum sales success and fill stadiums with fans from the late ’70s through mid ’80s: Styx.

A battle over music direction coupled with health problems led to DeYoung’s dismissal from the band in 1999. But he still performs the music of Styx for fans around the world, while his old bandmates continue on with a new lead singer.

I spoke with the singer – long a hero of mine – a few weeks before he was scheduled to perform with the Florida Orchestra in Clearwater, Fla. Dennis was touring the nation, performing the hits he wrote with his own hand-picked band and local orchestras.

“The music lends itself to orchestration,” DeYoung says. “This is no condemnation of Chuck Berry, who I greatly admire. But Chuck Berry’s music will not translate as well to orchestration because of its very three-chord rock ‘n’ roll nature. It is the music of the artists that are more pretentious, pompous or closer to the kind of big dramatic stylings that orchestras are good with.”

“I wanted to make the rock band the focus; the orchestra is the sixth member,” he said. “I went one step further in incorporating actual pieces of classical music, trying to weave them within the confines and structures of the hit records that we had — which only pointed out clearly how absolutely c—– my songs were compared to Mozart.”

Here are some more highlights from our conversation:

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