The key to any band's longevity is the ability to maintain a core sound while changing to lure new generations of fans. The Rolling Stones are the quintessential example, having survived 50 years on gritty rock 'n' roll licks that receive fresh infusions of timely sound forms (from country to disco) to keep the band in popular focus.
Other long-running bands find the challenge of remaining vital enough to avoid the county fair circuit a bit more daunting. After changing a few members over the years or taking a long hiatus, the task can seem insurmountable. Styx is one band that has managed to stay relevant despite those obstacles — by updating its sound on new albums but also by reworking and re-recording the classic hits that made the band one of the biggest acts of the '70s and '80s.
The inspiration began with singer/pianist Lawrence Gowan, now entering his 15th year in Styx, having replaced founder and primary vocalist Dennis DeYoung.
"I had been in the band for 12 years at that point, and there was a new generation of Styx fans who had only seen this band," Gowan says during a phone interview from Memphis. "At least 50 percent of the audience is under 30 years of age and weren't around when these classic albums were first recorded."
It was a bold move, but the Regeneration Vol. 1 EP proved successful. Classic songs such as "The Grand Illusion," "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)," "Lorelei," "Come Sail Away," and others featured a more aggressive stance, with different solos and new hard-hitting arrangements. Older fans enjoyed the Styx of old flexing its muscles, while younger fans could compare "their" Styx to their parents' version.
"To give [fans] the context of what the band has become and evolved into, and to venerate the past, we thought we better give them studio versions of a good number of these songs," Gowan says. "We did it to see how the songs hold up against the past, but also how the band's evolved . . . The line of distinction is blurred between the entire history of the band — the original band and what we're doing now."
It already was a risky move bringing Gowan onboard in 1999. Infighting was again destroying the band, which had quit briefly in the mid-1980s, and though Gowan was a multi-platinum-selling, award-winning musician, he also was slotted to replace Styx's iconic voice. Gowan wisely decided against emulating DeYoung, instead putting his own signature touches on DeYoung's familiar vocal and keyboard sections.
"I have to stipulate it was never put in terms of me replacing anyone in the band," Gowan says. "They found themselves as a four-piece and needed someone to join the band. They made what I think was a very wise decision not to seek a replacement that was a sound-alike person just to extend the life of the band. I don't sound like Dennis; I don't play the keyboards like Dennis.
"I understand [fans] were used to seeing another person up front in this band for a couple of decades, and now there's this other person," he says. "I understand that, but now there are still thousands of people on their feet cheering at the end of every night."
In the case of Styx, the willingness to move forward, albeit in a slightly different direction, has paid off as the original progressive spirit of the band has survived intact.
"I look at it that Styx is now the culmination of everyone who's ever been in the band," Gowan says. "That shows you just how strong Styx is."