Ahead of Tampa concert, Styx’s James 'JY' Young talks Hendrix, aerospace engineering and more

There's some lessons that just can't be taught.

click to enlarge Styx with James "JY" Young (second from right) plays MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Saturday, June 18 - RICK DIAMOND
Rick Diamond
Styx with James "JY" Young (second from right) plays MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Saturday, June 18
Some say that Styx is nothing without lead singer Dennis DeYoung, who was booted from the band the same way Jon Anderson was axed from Yes (TLDR: unceremoniously). Be that as it may, two key members of the group behind “Renegade” are still consistently on the road together.

One of the guys is co-founder James “JY” Young, whose songwriting has had little to no presence in recent years, mainly because he’s looking after the band’s finances, and his wife of 50 years, Susan Godsted.

“She had a stroke a number of years back,” Young told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay over the phone. “She's paralyzed. Not completely paralyzed on the right side, but she really has no use of a right leg or right arm.”

Now that Styx is back on the road for its “Live and Unzoomed” tour—which stops at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre this weekend—with support from REO Speedwagon and Loverboy, it’s unclear how much time JY will have with Susan in the next few months. But at the very least, he still feels perfectly at home alongside Tommy Shaw, and has said in recent years that he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

Believe it or not, Styx is not completely embarking on the nostalgia route that REO and Loverboy are taking this go-around. The group—which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year—released a new album entitled Crash of the Crown last year, penned almost entirely by longtime guitarist Tommy Shaw and recent addition to the band, Will Evankovich, who actually met the former years ago, just after Damn Yankees—featuring Shaw—split.

Get our interview with James “JY” Young below.
I want to start by asking, I know that you guys have toured with REO Speedwagon many times before, but have you ever toured with Loverboy?

Loverboy has definitely been on bills that we've done in the past, I guess the classic rock kind of thing that we're known, and that REO is known for. Loverboy kind of fits into that category, certainly in terms of how radio sees us, because all three of these bands would get played, at least on rock radio if we were fortunate enough, and Styx and REO both had some big top 40 airplay. Loverboy, I don't know if they ever had a big hit single, but they've done very well on rock radio.

I’d like to go back a little bit. You went to college for mechanical and aerospace engineering, if I'm not mistaken.

That is correct, sir.

Is that something you still find yourself thinking about a lot? Do you still indulge yourself in that?

Well, as a child, I was mesmerized about the idea of going into outer space, and I read a lot of science fiction. My dad had saved money for all of us to go to college, and I had the band going with my younger brother and some of our other guys. I wanted to quit college in the midst of it all, but he was just like “please get your degree.” I graduated in 1967 with an aerospace engineering degree, but there were really only two aerospace courses, because *laughs* they didn't know too much yet!

It all kind of came after that, other than that theory of jet propulsion and celestial mechanics, which is how the gravitational pull of one planet or one object floating around out there could affect the other one. I mean, certainly, we had sent satellites and stuff like that, but man didn't get to the moon until ’69, if my memory serves me well, which it doesn't always.

I was fascinated by it as a child. I started an astronomy club with a friend whose parents had enough money to buy him a telescope, and my parents had enough money to buy me a telescope. I saw the four moons of Jupiter from my backyard, faintly in this telescope, but nonetheless, I was fascinated by it all, and Star Trek didn't hurt. Star Wars certainly didn't hurt, either. But it was really a fallback, you know? I wanted to quit college a number of times, and my dad just said, “please just get your degree.” He didn’t have the privilege of going. “I saved for all my kids to go, please go get your damn degree.” So, I got my damn degree.


Awesome. So, let’s talk music. I really enjoyed the new record, Crash Of The Crown, if you still want to call it new. Where did [opening track] “The Fight Of Our Lives” come from? Was that COVID inspired?

I didn't write that song, that was a co-write between Tommy Shaw and his collaborator Will Evankovich, who has sort of become part of the band now. But I think it's a great song. In this modern day and age with COVID, there are so many scary things kind of dominating the news. It does kind of feel like this is the fight of our lives, and there are so many things going on in the world that we have no control over. And then, one given group of idiots could probably pollute the planet so nobody will ever be able to live here again. I don't know. So “The Fight Of Our Lives,” I think, is kind of a reflection of the spirit of the times.

You mentioned Will Evankovich. He just joined the band, and he's been acquainted with Styx since The Mission came out five years ago. How did your paths first cross?

His paths crossed with Tommy Shaw when Tommy left Styx for a while—or when Styx broke up, actually. He went with [Ted] Nugent and Jack Blades to do Damn Yankees, and then Nugent went off and did his own thing or they were getting tired of his politics. I can't remember which it was. But Shaw and Blades had started making records, and that was when Tommy met Will Evankovich, because he was a Bay Area guy, and Blades lived in the Bay Area at that point in time. Tommy was in between wives at that point in time, so they kind of hung out up there and then he will enjoyed writing together.

Tommy’s got beautiful recording studio in his basement in Nashville, and he then decided to sort of entice Will to come out there and be the engineer, and co-write with him and whatever. It kind of led to Will being part of the team.

So , your signature model, if I'm not mistaken, is a PRS S2 Starla…

You're talking about guitars?

Yes.

You know, I'm not a guitar geek. I saw Hendrix play five times when he was alive, and I'm a firm believer in Stratocasters. I have modified my Stratocaster with some some new devices that have come along that I'm sure Hendrix would have loved to have had at his disposal. It kinda allows me to be Hendrix at low volume. You don't have to be cranking it up, and it electronically creates his feedback loop into these fantastic little feedbacky things that I liked.

I saw Clapton play in Cream, I saw The Who with the original lineup a number of times…because I'm 72 and a half years old! I was heavily influenced by that era. I was in college at the time, ’63 to ’67. I mean, the guitar technologies, I left up to others. Some of the cool guitar stuff technology-wise that I did, there was a guy that I went to college with who wired up some sustaining circuits so I could play.

“Foxy Lady” was my trademark way back then, and it's hard to get that first feedback note, but he created a device, and changed components in there almost daily for me. So I got it exactly the way I wanted it. The technology background has helped because I know people I can make a phone call to.

Hendrix is hard to imitate.

He's, I’d say impossible to truly imitate. I pay homage to him every night, is the way I look at it. And, *laughs* this is not something I usually talk about, but I saw him at this festival that was like, two weeks before Woodstock. I was 19, and a bunch of buddies and I got a driveaway car from Chicago, and somebody had known this girl, who let us crash at her house, and all of a sudden, there was a festival going on, and Hendrix was gonna be there and a few others big names…where was I going with this story? But with Hendrix, I was picky. I only took LSD once. Needless to say, Hendrix has had a long lasting impression on me.


Something I wanted to bring up after we talked about “The Fight Of Our Lives” and you not having written it. Your songwriting in recent years doesn't seem to have a massive presence on the newer Styx records. Do you still write at all, or do you leave that to the others?

When I'm off stage and away from the band, I know Tommy is going to be writing and Lawrence is going to be writing. I think everybody else writes. I don't know if Todd writes much, but I’m sure he writes some stuff. But Tommy’s kind of the alpha dog in terms of leading the charge and writing songs, and Lawrence is right in there with them. And I think Ricky has helped out a bit in that way, because he's a writer as well. I just have not. I'll throw an idea here and an idea there, and they may take it and make it into songs that I get some credit for.

But honestly, it’s my devotion to my better half, who’s been with me through thick and thin going back to the start of Styx, which was February 22, 1972, when we signed the first recording contract. My wife and I had been dating at that point in time, and we moved in together before we were married, which freaked my very conservative parents out, and ultimately, we got married later that year.

Then, the first Styx record came out, I had a legitimate job and things started going our way. But the pandemic just kind of really set her for a loop, and I just felt like I needed to be at her side. I kind of thought that maybe, my career was over. But the good news is that with the band, I'm sort of…my grandfather had a construction company, and so I would always deal with the lawyers and the accountants, because I had the knowledge after being in a family that had their own business.

So you got to know what you need. You need insurance, you need to file tax returns, you need to file government forms, you need to do this and that. I've always been the defacto co-leader of the band, just on the creative side, I've sort of fallen off. But Tommy brought Lawrence into the band, he’s a great writer himself, and a great player. And Tommy and Will are just sitting there together in Nashville. So those guys are busy writing all the time.

What advice do you have to offer to young and up and coming musicians?

Well…there's a whole lot of dumb luck that goes into this thing, but you make your own dumb luck by just being patient and persistent. Just have that persistence to keep going, if this is really what you love and what you want to do. But I also recommend having something to fall back on, because the percentage of people that succeed in what we do is not great. I would say it’s extremely low to have lasted 50 years as a band, still putting out new music.

That's kind of a big time exception to any kind of rule, I would think. There are a lot of artists that have sort of faded into obscurity from that era, and never to return, or dead with a drug overdose or just couldn't sustain their personal lives without changing careers to make a buck. So I don't know. I think music is such a wonderful thing to have in your life, so don't ever give up on having music in your life, but to think it's easy to get where we've gotten? It's a daily struggle.

And it helps to be a sort of obsessive compulsive neurotic as we all were in our own way about writing and creating music, and getting out there in front of as many people as we can. We didn't care if we had to drive 500 miles to open up for a band that was gonna be where we couldn't draw flies, but they'd let us open the show. We would gladly take $500 to go wherever it was, and get in front of a big audience, because we weren’t drawing them on our own. That was a way that at least people would get to see what we were. So, patience, persistence, talent, luck and you need capital. If you’re not making any money, it’s not a career.

Right on. Thanks again for this, sir. I hope the rest of the tour goes well.

So far, advanced ticket sales are staggeringly great, so *knocks on wood* I don’t think this is real, but you can hear me knocking on here. I mean, it's kind of amazing. 50 years since we signed a recording contract and…we’re still here!

Congratulations on that, by the way.

Our pleasure.

Alright, thanks so much.

Thanks for talking to me.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity*

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay, even as the live music industry continues to get back on its feet.
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