Dennis DeYoung is still afloat
By Naughty Mickie
Photos Courtesy of www.styxnet.com

Dennis DeYoungI was genuinely intrigued when I heard of former Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung's latest project. He has been touring with his band, plus a full orchestra and the Chicago Children's Choir and performing Styx tunes.

"It's great," DeYoung says of working with the children. "We just take them in the back and we put cigarette burns on their arms and they cooperate fully."

After a pause, he gets serious, "No, it's terrific. I have a really cultural relationship with the Chicago Children's Choir right there in city and Josephine Lee, their director. I did some things with them early on and then when this opportunity came up, I brought them out. They're just so good. We did this with resident choirs in a lot of cities, the kids are just terrific… they're really great singers. They're so terrific. For most of them to be with a band on stage at a rock concert, they can't believe it."

OK, that's now, but where did his love of music start?

"When I was seven years old I played accordion," DeYoung tells me. "That was my main instrument until I was 18 or 19 years old. Then I switched over to electric organ, then Hammond B-3 and then piano. But I was originally an accordion player."

"But when did you start singing?" I ask.

"A week ago Thursday," laughs DeYoung. "When I first started playing we were kind of a wedding band, the three original members, the Panozzo brothers and myself, and I sang at weddings, that kind of stuff. I guess I sang all along, since I was about 15, 16 years old. I sang in college. I have a degree in music, so I sang in the SATB Choir in college at Chicago State University."

He had the voice, but he still had dues to pay.

"I met my wife when we were in high school, we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary this year," bubbles DeYoung. "The first jobs I had were your typical stock boy in a supermarket and I worked for UPS for a couple of years on the loading docks. Then I was a school teacher, I taught junior high for three years-- big bodies and small minds."

DeYoung enjoys music and sports during his free time.

Dennis DeYoung"I used to be quite an avid golfer, I've given it up recently. I used to play baseball. You're talking to a guy who's in his fifties now," DeYoung reminds me. "I read a lot, but I guess for hobbies, I love going to the theater, musicals primarily. I don't really have anything else -- my butterfly collection. No, just kidding. I follow baseball and the Chicago Bears quite closely."

He's also a White Sox fan.

His wife and family are also involved in DeYoung's career, as well as their own endeavors.

"My son, Matthew, is my lighting director. He designs the lights for the show and runs them and he plays drums in his own band, the band's called Mama Green," DeYoung shares, "And my daughter, CarrieAnn, is in PR. She's done everything. She does my PR, but she's done actors and for singers and for musicals, she publicizes whatever you need."

DeYoung's career has spanned quite a chunk of musical history, so what does he think of today's scene?

"I think there's a lot of good music being made. I hear some good songs. I don't follow individual artists the way I did 20 years ago. Most of the music they make today is made for a younger generation, so I don't really follow it in the same way. But I hear music I like all the time," says DeYoung.

Then he tells me about his latest release, a double live album with a supporting tour. The effort's first single, "Hello God" hit the airwaves last month.

"It's the music that I wrote and sang with Styx and I bring my rock band with me and a couple of guest vocalists and then we have a 35 to 38 piece orchestra on stage with us," DeYoung explains. "It's a show that's been on public television. (PBS's "Sound Stage"). I wrote a complete musical based on Victor Hugo's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.' We do three songs in the show and we have guest vocalists."

Dennis DeYoungHe plans to write another musical and has been speaking with people interested in doing a production similar to the Billy Joel and Abba shows which are based around the artists' songs, this time is would be Styx. He's also still working on "The Hunchback" and trying to get it on Broadway. In the meantime, he will continue touring throughout the United States.

"As long as people will come and see me, I'll come to town near you," DeYoung states.

He appears to be bursting with music, so I have to ask him how he writes.

"I have this magic piano and I go and sit at it periodically and I bang on it. Because I know there's some really good songs in that piano, all I have to do it bang long enough and hard enough and they fall out. But I never know how long I have to bang before one will fall out unfortunately," DeYoung says. "Songwriting is a craft. It's work, sitting, doing, thinking; rewriting. I've heard people who have divine inspiration, but mine I'm afraid has been divine perspiration. I think people who suddenly hear whole songs in their head, I think they're possessed."

As we prepare to part, I seek some advice from him for aspiring musicians.

"Stay out of the business, it's crowded enough. Stay out, stay out, I have enough competition. There's only one piece of advice that ever work-- don't give up. There's no substitute for hard work." DeYoung pauses and smirks, "Except for maybe your father owning a record company."

Find out when Dennis DeYoung is coming your way at www.dennisdeyoung.com

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