Styx co-founder reflects on 46 years with the band, and what lies ahead
By Gary Graff
July 23, 2018
Chuck Panozzo figures he’s got “the best job in the world. I get introduced by Tommy Shaw, go on stage and I get a standing ovation just for being there. How many people have jobs like that?” Panozzo has earned his status, however. A co-founder of Styx with his late twin brother, drummer John Panozzo. He played with the group full-time until 1991, when health issues — including HIV and cancer — forced him initially out of the lineup and then as a part-timer since 1995. Those and other struggles are chronicled in the bassist’s 2007 memoir The Grand Illusion — Love, Lies and my Life with Styx. But, as he notes, Panozzo’s presence is welcomed by fans and bandmates at any Styx show, and he remains an active part of the Styx braintrust, even playing on the group’s 2017 album, The Mission.
FBPO: How did you wind up playing bass?
Panozzo: My uncle was a musician and he told my mom he wanted to give us lessons. And John, my twin brother, was a perfect drummer ’cause all drummers are hyperkinetic like he was. I said, “What do we need two drummers for in the family?” so I took up rhythm guitar for awhile and then I went to school away and came back and said, “I’m the bass player,” and I just made myself the bass player. And it was a suggestion, too — “There aren’t many good bass players out there. Why don’t you try it?”
FBPO: Who were your influences?
Panozzo: I would say guys like John Entwistle were pretty up there, Chris Squire from Yes. I got to actually perform with both of them. But in the end you really have to find your own sense of style, and I think it comes just from playing your own kind of music. I’m really grateful to have John as a drummer and now Todd Sucherman is a great drummer. To go from one great drummer to another great drummer, for a bass player, it’s a great treat.
FBPO: What did it take to be the right bass player for Styx?
Panozzo: I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think I happen to be the perfect bass player for Styx. When you have three singer-songwriters, you have to perform the way they want their music to be performed. Dennis (DeYoung) had his style, Tommy had his style, JY (James Young) had his style, so you really have to come up with ideas that will meet the standard of their song.
FBPO: Playing with a brother, and a twin brother no less, had to make for an almost telepathic kind of rhythm section, too.
Panozzo: Well, yeah; I call it The Twin Thing. I refer to him as my first womb mate. When you’re a kid there’s no other world around you except the two of you. There’s always a little bit of a struggle to kind of separate but at the same time still be brothers and twins and have that special bond that’s just there, whether you want it to be or not. But you have to make sure you don’t break that borderline of professionalism and brotherhood. That can be tricky, but I think John was an incredible drummer who brought incredible gifts to the band. I call him the Platinum Drummer ’cause he’s the guy who played on all our gold and platinum albums.
FBPO: How do you see your role in Styx now?
Panozzo: I view myself as a co-founder. I do have health issues. I have to address that, but the band has always been good about it and when I’m feeling well I can be there and perform again. I think it adds to the continuity of Styx as a group, and when the fans see me come up on stage they see the three main guys are back together — which is not a knock on the other guys because I think even our newest guy has been around for 20 years. But it’s just one more to the early days when I’m there.
FBPO: It’s always a big moment when you come out at these shows. Can you feel the love from the crowd?
Panozzo: Y’know, it took a lot to understand that. When you have your (in-ear monitors) in, you can’t hear the audience the same way, but when I look out there and I see them, and you can just tell by the expression in the people’s faces and they’re standing and it’s very impressive. For me to get such a warm welcome, it’s a gigantic boost and it’s a thrilling experience.
FBPO: Could you have expected that Styx and its music to last the way it has?
Panozzo: Of course not; Nobody could. It’s a testimony to Styx as a unit and to our music that it still resonates from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s up to 2018. We have fans from almost every decade — young people, old people, people who look like us, people who don’t look quite like us. The thrill for me is also watching people’s expressions change. We give them permission to be young again, and it shows, physically, and to watch them ‘play’ the drums or sing the songs with such sincerity, it’s quite amazing.
FBPO: There are many who will say that without Dennis DeYoung it’s not the real Styx, but this lineup seems to be thriving. Your thought?
Panozzo: We’ve all come to peace with it, I think. Dennis is working. He’s doing what he wants to do. We’re working and doing what we want to do. I think to harbor any ill feelings is childish now. To do that would be missing all the wonderful things that are happening to Styx because of this new album, and the guys’ performances are so stellar. So to keep being angry for something that’s in the rearview mirror anymore, it’s not my style anymore.
FBPO: How is this version of Styx different from, say, 20 years ago or so?
Panozzo: I think there’s more of a purity to what we’re doing now. There’s no rancor among us. There’s no negativity, and every day we’re grateful we get to go out there. There’s a sense of being iconic, being part of people’s cultural consciousness. They walk up to you and say, ‘Do you remember 19-so-and-so?’ They tell you the exact time and date that they saw you perform. That’s really amazing to me. It’s hard to put into words, ’cause it’s an emotional feeling.
FBPO: Do you have a favorite song to play after all these years?
Panozzo: Well, some people like my part in “Lorelei,” some like my part in this song or that song. But there’s two songs I like. Obviously “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” where I have that little solo spot, but also “Come Sail Away’s” a great song ’cause there’s that line in there — “I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had.” And a lot of times if I know somebody who’s not well enough or feeling good or something’s happened I say, “I’m gonna dedicate that part of the song to you.” I think, “A gathering of angels appeared above my head/And sang these worlds of hope to me, and this is what they said” — I don’t know of that’s profound to other people but it’s kind of magical to mean, and when you hear the entire audience sing that song with you, that’s a huge impact.
FBPO: What do you predict for Styx in the future?
Panozzo: All I know for sure is we’re going to continue. Right now we’re in the middle of a gigantic tour and they’re doing three songs from the new album, which has been very well accepted, so next year we’ll probably do, like, the entire album and maybe another one of our albums to make it a complete show. I’m sure we’ll make some new music as well.
FBPO: Are you planning to stay in it for the long haul yourself?
Panozzo: Oh yeah. Being in a rock band for 46 years, it’s like being married to six guys and their wives. The good thing is we all work well together. The guys still rehearse and warm up their voices. There’s a lot of creative things that happen backstage that we didn’t have before, and also a high level of respect for each other. So I think I’m gonna be married to Styx, in sickness and health, forever. We’ve become family. We’ve buried our parents, our brothers and sisters, and we’re there for each other. That’s very important.”
Nice meeting you at the roof top bar at the Doubletree in Tallahassee. Good luck on your anniversary tour. If you come to Buffalo let me know. My children will be in agh! Jean O’Connell