By Lynn Van Matre (Pop Music Critic),|
When he talks about his years with Styx, James "J.Y." Young speaks of himself as a "team player."
Styx fans know the tall, blond guitarist and singer as the man who lent the hard-rock edge to the band's sound, but Young was never as visible as Dennis DeYoung, the band's front man and principal songwriter, or Tommy Shaw, the group's flashy, short, blond guitarist.
But when DeYoung announced plans for a solo album, Shaw followed suit and Styx fell into limbo. Young then decided it was time to step into the spotlight himself.
"Being sort of obsessive-compulsive, I didn't want to sit around and do nothing," he explains. Besides, he admits, "I suppose all of us always had thoughts and aspirations of doing solo work."
Young's solo debut - entitled "City Slicker" because "the idea was to reocrd an album of street-level, urban rock and roll" - has just been released. Featuring songs by Young and others, it was produced by one of today's hottest musical properties: Jan "Miami Vice Theme" Hammer, who also plays synthesizers, keyboards and drums throughout.
According to Young, who coproduced the album, getting Hammer to participate wasn't all that tough.
"I had always admired him, and I sought him out before he had all the success with 'Miami Vice,'" says the singer-guitarist, who began his solo project in February 1984, and finished it late the same year. "When I got in touch with Jan, he was trying to live down his jazz fusion reputation and get more into rock.
"His perception of Styx was like your average consumer's: He was more aware of Dennis' ballads than the obscure, hard-edge tracks that I provided. But he came to see the band live at the Meadowlands in New Jersey and the crowd just happened to be going mental for me that night, so it was perfect."
Unfortunately, when the album was finished, Young discovered that few reocrd companies happened to be "going mental" about the idea of releasing a solo album for yet another member of Styx.
"Major labels have lost a lot of money on solo projects, so I can see where they would be cautious," he says. "As for A&M [Styx's label], they were releasing solo albums by Dennis and Tommy already, so I felt that wasn't the place for me. I needed a label that would be excited about me, for what I was doing now, and not because I was a member of Styx. It was a little difficult to get people to see it that way.
"I guess I expected that reaction, in a way. The success we had with Styx went beyond my wildest expectations. I used to try to analyze what was so great about the group, and I never could completely come to grips with it. I guess I always knew that it was Dennis and Tommy who were in a sense carrying the group, but I suppose that I felt that there was a built-in audience out there for what I did, too.
"So at first, the fact that I didn't have hundreds of record labels bowing down at my feet wanting to put out my solo album was disconcerting," Young admits. "But I've always had this philosphy of pragmatic pesimism, where you prepare for the worst so that no matter what happens you're ready to take the next step."
Eventually, Young went the independent route, forming his own label, Absolute Records, which is distributed by Jem Passport. "This way I don't have to compromise with anyone," he says. "If nobody likes the album, at least I pleased Jan Hammer and a lot of people who were my friends from the days before I got into Styx, and I pleased myself.
"This music reflects my roots - growing up on the South Side of Chicago, the whole blues base thing, transmitted into the technology of the '70s and '80s and the mentality of the white, middle-class kid. I feel very strongly about what I've done on this record, and if it doesn't have any impact, well, I'll make another one."
Though "City Slicker" goes heavy on the muscular hard rock that Young loves ("I'm not inot real melodic pop," he notes), album cuts include the Hammer-penned, brooding, European-style ballad, "Waiting," and another song, "Something to Remember You By," that is reminiscent of Styx.
"The Styx connection could be a positive thing or a negative thing, I don't really know," muses Young, who feels that the band alienated some of its core audience in 1983 with its last hit singel, "Mr. Roboto." The song, a technopop change of pace for Styx, made it into the Top 10, "but a lot of fans didn't like the fact that it was gimmicky and a bit technoid."
"For instance, Dan Hampton of the Chicago Bears came up to me someplace and told me, 'You know, I didn't really like that Mr. Roboto stuff.'" Young laughs, "I wasn't going to argue with him.
"Overall, though, I think the Styx connection will be a positive one. I know that a lot of people still would like to see the band get back together."
Young, who began renting a home in Los Angeles a year or so ago but still calls Chicago home, hangs out on a regular basis with Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo and his drummer brother, John. The Panozzos, he reports, "are pretty much enjoying the fruits of our years of success."
He has little contact with DeYoung or Shaw. "Dennis and Tommy are off doing their own things," he says. "And we need the space between us." Still, he sees a Styx reunion somewhere down the line.
"We sold more than 20 million albums, and nothing is forever, but I don't feel that the group is finished," he says. "Everybody needs breathing room now, but I feel that we will be back together. I don't think it's a question of if; it's more a question of when."
Meanwhile, Young has plenty to keep him busy. There's a possibility of a tour, though right now the odds are against it. "I wanted Jan to go on the road with me," he says." But now that he's involved with 'Miami Vice' he's locked away in the recording studio until the middle of April, and then he wants to take a break for a while. I guess that I'll just see how the album does and then decide about touring. It might be more prudent to wait until I've released a second album."
Young, who already has written two-thirds of the songs for his second album, also is interested in breaking into films. He recently optioned the script to a play called "Dealing," written by two members of Chicago's Organic Theater, and hopes to turn it into a movie.
"I feel that I can handle all the artistic and business elements of making a film," says Young, who describes "Dealing" as "sort of a modern-day tragedy about an average kid who goes to work on one of the major stock or commodity exchanges and sees the fast money and drugs flowing and gets caught up in it."
He's also mulling offers to do the musical scores for a couple of lower-budget movies, "whenever the people involved can get their financing together." And he wouldn't mind doing a little acting.
"Rock artists all have that desperate need for attention," he says, "and celluloid seems so permanent. I don't see myself as an actor with great range, but I could play certain roles. I'm just looking for a minute or two on screen, not long enough to make a fool of myself."