Lawrence Gowan of Styx – What A Great Storyteller
Styx will be playing at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Thursday night to a sold-out crowd! They kicked off their tour in St. Augustine in June and are out on the road to the delight of their longtime fans. The band will be celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Styx in February next year and have released a brand-new studio album called “Crash of the Crown”. Canadian born Lawrence Gowan, who shares lead vocals with Tommy Shaw and James Young and is also the keyboardist, has been with the band for 22 years this year. He attended The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, has won Juno awards and had success both with bands and a solo career back in the day in Canada. Tommy Shaw saw him perform and asked him to join Styx in 1999. He was generous to give us some time from his busy schedule to interview him for The Suncoast Post.
SP: I wanted to first ask you about the tragic passing of Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, which is on the minds of musicians and fans everywhere. Did you ever meet Dusty or work with ZZ Top?
LG: Yes, we played an award show with them about 15 years ago and that was the only chance I ever had to meet Dusty and the band briefly. It was really cool to do a show together. I know that Tommy Shaw knows those guys. It was sad news that we heard just before our show in Connecticut. It is a sad moment when you lose someone of that stature in the music world. We are all still thinking about it.
SP: In doing research, I know you are big Beatles fan. Have you watched “McCartney 3 2 1” yet?
LG: Yes, I am a big Beatles fan. I have seen only the 1st episode. I want to stretch it out, don’t want to burn through it too fast. I am drinking it in slowly. It’s excellent that Rick Rubin is in it, not sure how that came together but he is obviously a fan and you can see how much the music affected his life. It’s a nice conversation for sure.
SP: You should check out, “Penny Lane, Beatles Museum” in Dunedin, if you have time, there is a great collection there of Beatles memorabilia.
LG: Back in 1984 before I was with Styx, I recorded my second solo album at Ringo’s home,” Tittenhurst Park”, which John Lennon owned originally and sold to Ringo. John recorded the “Imagine” album there. Ringo was living there at time and would come in the studio every couple of days and give us some encouraging comments. If you have ever seen the cover of the “Hey Jude” album with John in the black hat in front of the doorway, behind the door in that room was all of Ringo’s Beatle memorabilia and collection of stuff! From his grey collarless suits to Sgt. Pepper outfits and he handed me one of his original drumheads that I took a picture with. A couple of John’s Rickenbacker guitars were in there and all the gear John used to record the “Imagine” album. So I like to think I got the ultimate Beatles tour!
SP: What was Styx’s influence on you since they were around in the 70’s?
LG: They were the first band outside of the U.K. that I noticed was an American band was doing progressive rock. Using progressive rock elements like Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Genesis who were successful in it in the U.K. & then Styx was the first band to be successful in doing it in the U.S. So that’s when I first noticed Styx and was impressed with them ever since. That’s more or less the style of music I try to put forward as much as possible when we record new material like “Crash of the Crown”.
SP: Speaking of “Crash of the Crown”, it is so “Styx” but there is a “Queen” influence in there too.
LG: Oh yea, no doubt. One of the things that Styx used to do back in the70’s is that I could hear those influences of other bands of that era. On this album particularly we decided that if it fits the song, let’s not be afraid to show the fact that we are influenced by Pink Floyd or Genesis or Queen or any bands of that era who made a strong classic rock statement. We are definitely affected by that music and it still ends up sounding like Styx anyway. Take for example last section of “Crash of the Crown”, I absolutely wanted something that felt like the bravado Freddie Mercury would bring to the conclusion of a song that would be so uplifting. Doing it in a style that is me but like he would do, but of course nobody sounds like Freddie Mercury. Back to our Beatles convo, Paul singing “Oh Darlin” is channeling Little Richard and a little bit of Fats Domino. Singers do that, they morph into the style of their favorite vocalists, if it fits into what they are doing. We have no qualms about doing that.
SP: You have a sold-out show at Ruth Eckerd on Thursday, at last check there were 3 seats left!
LG: Really everything we have done since coming back in June has been absolutely at capacity. It shows how hungry people are for live music and how they are embracing it with all four limbs. People have really shown and been vocal about how they are missing music in their lives, it goes so beyond entertainment, it enriches their time on earth. It is a great thing to witness from the stage, I gotta tell you!
SP: I have to ask you about one of my favorite singers who happens to be a Canadian. I was curious if you were influenced by or have worked with the Burton Cummings?
LG: Vicky, I can’t believe you have asked me that question! Me too! You are the first person to ask me this. Burton Cummings was such an influence on me growing up in Toronto and the very first concert I went to was The Guess Who. When he started singing, I wondered how is it possible he could sound even better than those records because he is just one of the greatest voices ever! I have never had the chance to tell this story in an interview. The following year after that Guess Who concert, there was a comedy duo Burton was friends with called McLean & McLean and they were playing at this legendary club in Toronto called the El Mocambo. I was only 15 years old and too young to get in, so I put on a hat and my next door neighbor who was a rock fan snuck me in the club. When Burton headed to the cigarette machine after their set, I followed him. I sided up next to him and said, “Hi Burton, I am a big Guess Who fan”, like a nervous teenager and he didn’t look at me at first and then I asked him, “Burton, how do you become a great singer?” He said, “Gee, I don’t know, sing a lot I guess”. That became my mantra all through high school, I just kept singing all the time. (laughs) In the 90’s, I opened some solo shows with him in Canada and that was a huge highlight of my life!
SP: What is it like working with Tommy Shaw?
LG: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t call it working (laughs). It’s a joy, he is such a phenomenal performer to begin with, there has never been a show even when he has had terrible laryngitis, which has happened like twice in 22 years, that he still puts everything into his performance. He is his own harshest critic. It’s great every night to see what he puts forth to an audience and to see the spirit he exudes on stage is fantastic. Then to get to write beside him, especially on these last two albums, we’ve co-written several of the songs including “Crash of the Crowns”. That’s another side of seeing how talented he is and what a pure musician he is, which is what he is. The better part is that he has a great sense of humor, he laughs at my jokes (laughing). He is ageless and timeless. He exudes that because that is who he is.
SP: You have three sold-out nights at the Venetian in Las Vegas in September. Is there a difference in how you do the show in a theatre than traveling the road?
LG: Yes, quite often when we do a theatre show, we vary the set every night. We usually do an intermission that gives the audience the full gambit of Styx. There is an awful lot of songs to choose from and those are some of our favorite shows because we can delve into the catalog. We originally just were doing the two shows & they sold-out in hours so we added a third show. We have pretty much played most of the venues along the Strip. Our first gig in Vegas was at the Hilton that is off strip, in the Elvis room. The town is run by rock music. Music runs Vegas now. Thank you, this was my pleasure and a fun conversation, see you next week.
For everything Styx, check out the Styx World website.
Vicky Sullivan Photos