Styx has been writing songs for decades. While it's not unusual to sometimes realize part of a composition sounds like an existing song, singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw was still concerned.

That's one thing that he shared with UCR during a recent conversation as the band was getting ready for their upcoming summer tour with Foreigner that begins June 11 in Grand Rapids.

It's been a busy year already for the group. They've been out doing headlining shows, while also breaking in a new bass player, Terry Gowan, who stepped in after longtime bassist Ricky Phillips announced his departure.

During an appearance on Ultimate Classic Rock Nights, Shaw discussed the lineup change with host Matt Wardlaw and what fans can expect at the upcoming shows.

The bass player slot in Styx is important. There's the harmonies to consider in addition to covering the bass parts. It's not like some bands where the bass sometimes seems less important. There's a lot to consider.
Yeah -- and there’s the Chuck Panozzo years and he has a very specific style of bass. It was not flashy, but just very boom on the downbeats. You know what key the song is and you know what instrument. Terence, he loves that. He loves Chuck’s style. He mixes his own style with that. It’s so nice to be able to carry on what we’ve always loved about Styx. You know, Chuck still comes out. J.Y. [guitarist James Young] is out with us. It’s a little bigger band, by a couple of people, than it was when I joined. But our music really lends itself to being full range [with complex] parts. We’re not really a jam band….we can jam, but it’s more fun to write and compose instrumental and vocal arrangements. When it comes to the instrumental parts, we’re a little prog-ish. You know, we’ll throw in an odd time signature, but we always try and make it so it’s not making people go, “Whaaaaat? I can’t take that!”

READ MORE: The Birth of Styx

Our time signatures, we really try to level the top of it off so that you don’t even know something might be in 7 and 3/4 time or 5 or whatever. That’s one thing I had to learn when I joined the band. Because the kind of music I was playing down in Alabama was more blues and just rock and roll based. That’s one thing about Will [Evankovich], Todd [Sucherman] and Lawrence [Gowan]. Those guys are more sophisticated about the music they were listening to -- and still listen to. It’s great to spread your wings a little bit and get educated and comfortable -- and then write in those keys or time signatures. The main thing we want to do is just make it seem seamless for people. I don’t want them to know that they’re in 7/8. I want it to just flow. It’s not that hard to do, you just have to make sure you do it.

Listen to Styx's 'Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)'

What was the most complicated thing for you to get a handle on when you joined Styx?
The first one, I can’t even remember who came up with it, but it was in “Fooling Yourself.” [Shaw demonstrates the part on acoustic guitar]. It was the instrumental part -- that’s the keyboard solo and it is a very nice way to introduce people who are just used to the normal time signatures, they don’t even realize that they’re doing 7/8. That’s the best way to do it, to not make everybody go, “How do I count that?”

READ MORE: The Most Overlooked Song From Each Styx Album

That's an interesting one. There's other Styx songs I would have thought of first that seem more complicated. But there is an art to putting it out there in a way that doesn't feel complicated. As the listener, we don't want to feel like we have to do math problems to keep up.
You don’t want to be staring at your feet going, “Where does it start?” [Laughs] I didn’t realize you could do that. I learned an awful lot about music from the guys who did go to music school and can write like that. We never want to get too crazy with it. Not like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. I mean, I love Frank Zappa and I love the family, but some of that stuff, man, I don’t know where one is. I haven’t heard one! But you know, some people are just wired like that. It’s kind of a jazz gene. I’m all for it. Todd is a great timekeeper like that. He can play a different time signature in every bar and eat a sandwich at the same time.

When did you first realize the brotherly connection the Panozzo brothers had?
I saw it up close the first day. It was like, we’re going to show up at the Panozzos’ house. We’re going to get in two cars and head off to Kentucky or somewhere. It’s going to be my first road gig with them. I got in the back seat with Chuck. It was Jim Vose, who was the tour manager and then John Panozzo in the front, I believe. We got about a block and I guess something had been brewing before I got there. All of the sudden, feet are coming into the back seat. Fists are flying. I was like, “What have I gotten myself into here!” [Laughs] There’s two brothers fighting like cats and dogs. And then it was over and they were laughing. That’s how they were.

How did you see that connection musically?
John was like a hockey player. You know, he was just very high energy. In some ways, it was rudimentary, a kind of square style. But he could do all of these other things. He played orchestral instruments in his drum kit. He’d have a big set of bells and glockenspiels. Lots and lots of toms. His drum kit grew and grew. But he was an animal. He was hard to contain. I noticed when I first joined the band, we’d start out and before you know it, it was like, “Whoa, it’s speeding up!” We’d start at one tempo and by the time we got to the end, it would be like, [Shaw imitates a hard rock scream] there would be sparks coming off the cymbals.

That's a drummer thing!
Yes! Todd Sucherman is just the opposite. He’s a human metronome. He’ll stop rehearsals going, “Does everybody know that they’re pushing on this first part? Just lay back!” So we’ve learned that, you know.

What can fans expect from the upcoming tour?
We’ll have some deep cuts. We’re always working on a deep cut. There’s so many great [Styx songs]. We’re an AOR, album-oriented rock band. So we would have long songs, minor-key songs, big solos, songs with dramatic stuff going on. “Man in the Wilderness” and things like that. But we also have songs -- you know, we’re a rock band that goes off in different directions like “Boat on the River” is a mandolin song. Even “Renegade,” I wrote the basic parts of it on piano. I’m not a piano player, but in my living room, I had a reel-to-reel four-channel tape recorder. I’d been listening to Tales of Mystery and Imagination by the Alan Parsons Project. [Shaw imitates instrumental section] I had to learn that with my ham-fisted guitar hands. But I finally got it and I recorded it on one track. Then, I used the other tracks for three vocal parts. I wrote the words quickly and then recorded it like that. I listened back to it and it was like, “I think this is good!” I played it for the band and then they started coming up with the arrangements of it. “Let’s speed it up. Let’s not make it this dirge thing that you’re playing. Let’s rock it up and then let’s put some high Styx vocals in the big parts.” I told Alan Parsons that. “I feel like I need to confess to you that I kind of ripped off ‘Renegade’ from one of your songs.” He said, “Paul McCartney says I ripped it off from him.” [Shaw plays an instrumental section from "Band on the Run."]

You know, if you're going to steal something, "Band on the Run" isn't a bad source.
Yeah, it's like stealing from a dope dealer.

Listen to Styx's 'Renegade'

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