By Mike Morsch
Lawrence Gowan got a call from his manager one day in the early summer of 1997 asking him if he’d like to open for iconic progressive rock band Styx at the new Montreal Forum. A successful solo artist in Canada at that point, Mr. Gowan had to think about the offer.
”It was a bit of a weird thing because at that point, I hadn’t opened for anyone in 13 years,” he says. “I had headlined the old Montreal Forum in 1985, and I thought this might be my only chance to play the new Montreal Forum. So I considered it, and I thought, you know, I’d never seen Styx live. It was just the way that our touring schedules never matched up. I’d seen lots of bands that I’d fit into the little tour breaks I’d have every year, but I’d never seen Styx. So I thought, yeah, let’s do that.”
Mr. Gowan happened to be touring without his own backing band at that time, it was just him and his piano. His set that evening went really well — it “overshot the script” in his words — and as he came off the stage, he was met my Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw.
”Tommy shook my hand and he said, ‘You know, no one has ever had an encore that has opened for us. That was really great. We definitely should work together again,’” recalls Mr. Gowan.
As he settled into his seat that evening to watch Styx perform, a really odd thing happened. Not only did Mr. Gowan like the show, he said to the people he was with, “I’d never be in a band again, but if I was, I think I would fit into this one.”
”I’d never said that at a show,” Mr. Gowan says. “That had never popped into my head, let alone to have said it out loud. But there was something weird that happened.”
And two years later, that’s exactly what did happen. In early 1999, Mr. Gowan got a call from Styx co-founder James “J.Y.” Young, followed closely by another call, this one from Mr. Shaw. The band had a falling out with lead singer Dennis DeYoung and needed a piano player and lead singer.
The Styx guys had remembered Mr. Gowan’s performance at the Montreal Forum two years earlier, and Styx drummer Todd Sucherman had seen Mr. Gowan perform with the BBC National Orchestra at a 1998 memorial show for the late Princess Diana. And they were all impressed.
”I had kind of come to a point in my solo career where I thought maybe what I’ve got to do outside of Canada is join a band. I thought, maybe I ought to do that, but it sounded ludicrous to me. I was too long into the game and I’m an established solo artist. I’ll just go back and forth across Canada until I’m done,” Mr. Gowan says. “But it was a moment where I thought, nope, the universe is kind of tapping me on the shoulder and saying, ‘You could become part of this legendary band.’”
And Mr. Gowan has been the lead singer and keyboardist for Styx ever since.
Styx had been going strong for more than four decades now, and boasts such hits as “Lady,” “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away,” “Blue Collar Man, “Too Much Time on My Hands” and many more. The band has five consecutive albums certified multi-platinum to its credit as well as 16 Top 40 singles in the U.S., eight of which have charted in the Top 10.
Local fans will get a chance to see the group for a Sept. 22 show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
According to Mr. Gowan, the melodic and lyrical content of Styx songs has been malleable enough that they have surpassed the decade of their inception. It’s something he believes the band built into those songs from the era of the 1970s and 1980s that still resonates with people today.
”I think inarguably, rock music is the gigantic musical statement of the last half of the 20th Century,” Mr. Gowan says. “For some reason, rock has defied an expiration date. I attribute that to a number of things, chiefly the internet and the fact that the younger bands that are coming out, the ones that I really enjoy, are drawing so evidently and so obviously from earlier bands. And they’re taking great leaps in re-fashioning it and putting in lyrics that are relevant to today.”
That, Mr. Gowan believes, doesn’t detract from a younger generation’s enjoyment of a rock show performed now by Styx, even though that show is coming from a band that has been around for nearly half a century.
”It is astounding that we’re still able to do this at the level that we’re able to do it and deliver the kind of energy that we’re able to from the stage,” he says. “Whatever little issues we happen to be battling in our regular lives, it’s amazing how they disappear and are completely of no consequence whatsoever the moment we walk out in front of a few thousand people and see those smiles and people singing those songs. You really are immediately just 15 years old again doing what you were dreaming of doing at that age.
”I think I have a greater appreciation for it now and I know I’m in a band with guys who have the same feeling,” he said.
Styx will perform at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center St., Newark, Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $39.50 to $119.50; njpac.org; 1-888-466-5722.
By Mike Morsch