Tommy Shaw: A Lifetime Of Performing.
Tommy talks in depth about the recent Shaw/Blades record, life on the road with Styx, the ever popular Damn Yankees question...and more.
Andrew from Melodicrock.
How are you?
Hey, thanks for calling.
That's all right. This is a pleasant surprise. I didn't expect an unscheduled interview to fall into my lap.
Well yeah, it just came to me today and I said the same thing, let's do it.
You'll pardon me winging an interview rather than having any prepared questions.
Well, I don't have any prepared answers either. (laughter)
I'm glad to hear it.
So where do I catch you today? You've got a day off and you thought you'd like nothing better to do than sit down and do more interviews?
Well, we're getting ready to do a big construction project here at our house. We started out with a big Bobcat
digging up the yard and digging up trees and making a complete muddy mess out of the front yard and the back yard. So I'm just getting ready to hose off and take a bath and get that all off of me. So you're talking to a dirty yard guy right now. (laughter)
the other side of rock 'n roll obviously, the escape.
Yeah, this is the dirty job. That's the good job, the one they call playing. I play for a living.
Well you haven't done a bad job of it have you?
(laughs) No, still foolin' 'em after all these years. (laughter)
How many years is it now in the business, 25?
I started getting paid when I was, and I guess you're a professional when you start accepting pay for what you do, so I was eleven when I started and that would make it 42 almost 43 years.
Wow, few people could boast such a career.
I've really had a good one. Who knew? Nothing was planned. I was doing what I loved to do. I did commit myself to going out there and standing at the corner of opportunity and hard work and a lot of good things came along.
I'm just about through reading Chuck Panozzo's book which was homage perhaps later on but something I picked out of it was in reference to you. It was that everyone was so attracted to you looks and that in the early days you fit a certain niche that the fanbase was looking for. You were very marketable I'm trying to say I guess.
Yeah, it's funny, the reasons that I wound up getting that gig. Honestly, I didn't even take my guitar out of the case at the audition. Really? (laughter) No, one thing that cinched it for me is I guess I looked the part that they were looking for but also I could hit that high note in Lady. And I've been singing it ever since.(laughter) But hey, it got me the gig and so far I've managed to do it without it killing me.
Well that's no easy task. Looks will obviously only get you so far in any game, especially this game.
They do fade. (laughter)
Not talking of yourself of course.
I'm not saying any more.
When do you think your musical credibility really took hold and people started respecting you for that?
Well as soon as I joined the band, I mean I would have been Ok just as the guy singing the high note in Lady and with blond hair and looking the part, but I immediately went into being a songwriter in the band. By the time we got through with touring with the Equinox album which had just been released when I joined the band we were already writing songs together and I brought a lot of bits and pieces from my life and the music I'd written up to that point into the Crystal Ball album. Then I got the title track on the first album that I did with them, so it was a testimony to how open minded they were and how open they were to having me really become a vital member of the band right away.
Absolutely, and few bands in history, not only rock bands but any form of musical history, can boast the success that you guys kind of rolled through in the next ten years.
Yeah, there was this moment in time when people were into listening to the entire albums by a band and radio was a part of the equation. They would keep the lights open for your new record to come out and when they'd get it they'd play the entire thing front and back. So there was this relationship you had with the fans everywhere.
They knew your entire record and before video so the only way for them to experience you was to come see you live. We played live and we just dedicated ourselves to going out and building a fanbase one night at a time. And that's really what sustains us today, the fact that we did that. People still come who came way back then and now their kids come and some of their kids are coming.
It's seems that the only people making a decent living or money off this gig at the moment are that bands that are really back into the hard work of touring.
Right, and for us it's just what we've always done. So we didn't have to reinvent ourselves for that and there's something to be said for the experience that a band like us has.
Yeah, like Steve Perry joining Journey and the chemistry sort of blossoming there. That's exactly what happened with Styx wasn't it?
It really was and you just never know about chemistry. You could put a bunch of wonderful, talented, experience people together in a room and have them all come out scratching there heads and not come out with anything. But then you can put people from different parts of the country or the world together sometimes and magic happens.
From the time you first started and now the industry's been turned on its head. It's a subject I've raised in the last few interviews I've done just because nobody really knows where it's going I guess. Do you despair at the fact that the art of making an album seems, as far as youth at least, to have been forgotten?
Well, what are you gonna do, you know? The only constant is change. If you're not prepared to roll with the changes, as a good friend of mine once wrote, (laughter) then you're dead because things do change. The weather changes, people's tastes change. Your own tastes change and if you get stuck in one thing then that's exactly where you are. You're stuck and everybody moves on. I will say I was encouraged yesterday when I was at the gym and I heard this local station playing the new Maroon 5. They played the whole record, every single song back to back. My trainer was saying that they also did that with somebody else's record that just came out and this seemed like a brave new invention. If you think about it, to get to hear one song after another like that, it's like, I like that record. I might buy that record.
So often, probably out of the last decade, an album has a continual lifespan because the label will release a new single and people hear three, four then five tracks then different people discover it at a different point don't they?
Yeah and then when you bring the album home you kind of know it already. You know that you like it rather than buying an album because you heard one track and you've got to sit there and decide for yourself, 'do I like this record, is this record cool. Is it produced well but not good or is it good songs that aren't produced well.'
In listening to music, there shouldn't be work involved. That's the nice part about having radio as part of the equation, they help introduce new music so by the time you get the record it's like, 'yeah I know this song', then they're open to the rest of it. So there's always hope. Things do come around again. Just like I hear there's not so many people sounding like, you know, like Matchbox 20's lead vocalist anymore. There're guys with high vocals and guys playing guitar solos in songs.
(laughter) Yeah, the wheel continues to turn.
That's one thing I've really got frustrated in the last ten years and that's the lack of really good vocalists.
A lot of that is record labels' fault. I would hear young bands or I would go play on a record that somebody's doing, just in the early stages of it, and it would sound really good and raw. Then by the time producers got through with it there's that same (imitates the sound of latter day vocalists) and I'm like what happened?
Well it's just that they wanted it to sound more commercial and everything become derivative. You're taking a risk by not going with the flow.
Hopefully the more derivative things sound, the more people will fight for a change.
Yeah, and when things do become derivative that usually precipitates change.
I want to talk about Shaw/Blades obviously because that's fantastic, but in the greater picture of where things are at the moment, where does Styx stand as far as new material and what to do next, so to speak?
Well because of the state of the music industry there's no hurry for a new Styx album, but we're already talking about how and where. We're into discussions like that but really there's no time between now and the end of the year. We're booked so heavily this year, it's been such a great year of live performing that we won't be able to really look at it until next year sometime. With Shaw/Blades now on the map and it's something that I want to continue doing
.I'm a busy man.
Absolutely, well let's talk Shaw/Blades. Your partnership with Jack is really one of the more unique partnerships in rock 'n roll. It has to be.
Well you know, he's one of my best friends and we've only become better friends over the years. We've gone through a lot of things together and we're like brothers. So we kind of know what the other one's thinking and when it comes to writing and recording music and getting things done we really have such an easy relationship.
There's just no struggle. That's such a relief at this stage of my life to have something like that in my life that I can do. It's 99% and some just pure fun and enjoyment. It's not a huge act so there's not the kind of budget that we had with Styx and Night Ranger so we're just kind of roughing it a bit out there.
But you know, it doesn't matter because at the end of the day we get to do a Shaw/Blades show. And we're all hanging out together on the same bus and it's really worth fighting for.
I was talking to Jack yesterday and he's just got so much enthusiasm for everything generally, but especially Shaw/Blades.
Well we finally found a little niche because it's just about impossible to have things line up the way they did when we did Damn Yankees. All of us just happened to be at a point where we didn't have anything on the calendar. There was nothing to cancel, nothing to work around, we had opened up on our own a piece of open space in front of us.
I was going to say you're sort of involved in two bands that both have unfinished business. I say that about Styx because there's always the possibility of Dennis DeYoung returned I suppose. Just to touch on that quickly, of course I want to talk about Damn Yankees, but do you feel a sense that there's unfinished business as long as Dennis is out there still breathing?
Well, you know, you never say never to anything, but it seems so unlikely. For one thing Lawrence Gowan is such a vital member of the band.
I love Lawrence. I've been a fan of his since the '80s actually.
So for us to go back and become the band we were in 1996, the thing that would cause that to happen hasn't happened yet and I don't know what that is because that was not the happy band that this is. It was happier than it had been, but it was tough and it was hard to do. This is so much fun and so good and so easy. You see that it's easy because we can play a hundred and some shows a year without breaking up. In the old days it was just such a struggle to get the think to work that by the end of 40 shows we were thinking we'd better take a break. It's a shame because, well you know what it sounded like. That was the glory days of Styx and that's where it all came together but sometimes people just grow apart and there just ain't no growing them back together.
I understand. You have picked out a good man in Lawrence haven't you?
Man I'll tell you. The guy's got such positive energy and so much talent and he's such a great bandmate. It's a new Styx and we've played more gigs since we've been together than the other version of Styx had played in the previous 20 years.
Quite a few because we've played so much, because it's easy to just assume we're going out again next year instead of wondering if it's ever gonna happen again. At some point before we're all dead maybe we'll figure out a way to do something but, you know, not at the peril of this Styx.
So Damn Yankees is unfinished business as well for other reasons.
Yeah, just because we've all been blessed with success and work and continued fan support in our day jobs. (laughter) We kiddingly call Night Ranger, Styx and Being Ted Nugent our day jobs. Not to mention Michael Cartellone and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Since then everybody's been successful and our wishes came true that we were busy and successful. So it just makes it hard for us all to put everything that we're now doing on hold for two or three years. I think we could probably do a Damn Yankees project as a three month project with a really condensed tour and a DVD and maybe a new studio album. I think we could do that, but we have to just keep looking ahead to figure out when the right time to do that is.
You're all busy. It's a shame the Damn Yankees 3 album didn't work out so I'm glad you think there should be another.
The other Damn Yankees records, we were all there and it was all a Damn Yankees project from the beginning.
We tried to do that one long distance phoning the parts in and it was a great sounding record. I'm just not sure who it sounded like.
Yeah, I have heard a few songs and it certainly didn't sound like Damn Yankees. No, uh uh, well, the producer, he and I didn't hit it off from the very first hour. That's a good sign. There was this one song we did called Yes I Can that Jack and I had written. It was a very personal song and I went in to sing my part and got to the chorus and there were different words in the chorus. And this producer said 'I didn't like that, I changed it' and I was like 'Who are you, what's your name?'. Who are you, you rewrote the chorus to my song?
That's how it started and that's pretty much how it went. It was just not good. He would stay in there and have whoever happened to be in the room producing the record for him while he was off doing something else. He had done successful records before so John Kalodner had confidence in him, but for some reason he just wasn't showing up for work on the Damn Yankees record. Even if he had been there I think it was just not meant to be anyway. John and the record company were magnanimous and smart enough to keep it under wraps.
I hope you do record another album and I know Jack would love to do a Night Ranger/Styx sort of Damn Yankees tour.
That's been talked about too.
Yeah every time I do a formal interview with him and raise the subject he goes 'yeah, we're gonna do it, we're gonna do it.
(laughter) That would be a hell of a day of music.
Wouldn't it just. Great stuff. Something I wanted to ask you about Tommy in relation to Shaw/Blades. I listened to the Rockline radio interview you did and I've seen some other TV spots you did and whatever. You and Jack just play off of each other. You've talked about being brothers and long time friends but you two just take the absolute piss out of each other at every opportunity.
(laughter) I know it. If people didn't know us they would think these guys hate each other. (laughter)
It's just insane to listen to. I mean even on stage you're constantly at each other aren't you?
Yeah, it's more of he's in my shit than anything.
I was watching some old Damn Yankees interview clips and they were at you in that as well.
Yep, it never stops.
Why are you the fall guy?
Well we like to laugh and we get a lot of laughs out of behaving like that.
I look forward to the live DVD. How is that coming along?
I don't know. I can't remember that gig. It was a key club. We video taped that. I think somebody's got it and somebody's starting to work on it a little bit. We'll have to get in there and organize it and clean it up, edit it and see what we think.
I hope that comes out in this year at least.
Yeah eventually, if it's not that then we'll do it again, but maybe November or December.
There seems to be a real interest out there for you guys.
Maybe a lot of people have gotten to the point in their busy lives where they may not want to go fight their way through a parking lot and find their seat and be beat up by a live rock show like what we do with the rest of our bands. There's a small percentage, but enough of them, that can keep us busy with the kind of places Shaw/Blades plays. It's a lot more intimate, interactive and personal. It's easier on the ears, easier on the body, and easy to come to these places. You just step right out and there's the car in the parking lot and you've been singing your ass off all night and you got to hear music from Shaw/Blades, from Night Ranger, from Styx and Damn Yankees, from Jack Blades solo album, from my solo album and from all the people that we covered. So it's quite a night of music.
I was talking to Jack and he's was saying it hard to whittle it down from a four hour show.
It is. It's like if we do two hours then it's like well we need to let these people go home. We look at it and we try to come up with a song list. A two hours we've still got five or six songs left. We're like, we've gotta find a way to do this in less time.
It's a luxury not too many latter day artists can share.
Absolutely, this is something we just stumbled on and there's a fanbase out there for this. When we first started booking these dates ticket sales were a little slow in places. Then we got out and promoted it a little bit. We got on Howard Stern then the next thing you know places are selling out and owners are saying 'Can you stay and play tomorrow night too?'.
So it just took off. Then I got sick. We all got what I call kennel cough. Everybody on the bus got this same cold and I got it worse. So I lost my voice and we had to cancel a few shows. Actually were going back and playing two of them this week. I hated walking away from it.
I bet. It must have been very frustrating. But everything's back to normal?
On the covers album, I'm not a big fan of covers albums, but this one just works so wonderfully well.
It really does and that's how it came to be. Because when we did that song Nature's Way on Jack's solo album that sounded so good and it was so easy. It was a song that we loved. Then I did a demo when I got home of For What it's Worth and I
Am a Rock and played it for Jack and I sang the harmonies like Jack and I would sing them and he was like, so, we gotta do those. Then he called me up and he was playing Your Move on the radio and he said we've gotta try this, and I said you're out of you're mind. Then I hung up the phone and picked up my guitar and I was like, yeah, I can sing it. Then I came up with the little acoustic intro and outro.
The same with Lucky Man, I thought Jack was just out of his mind to even attempt that. But we just went at it straight ahead and I always figured we'd get maybe Gowan or somebody to play the solo on it but the day came and there was nobody there but me. So I dug out this old pedal and that's how that came to be. (laughter)
It seems that you've left some songs alone and you've tweaked and sort of updated a few others where needed. It just seems to be like you guys really knew what was needed where it was needed.
That's the thing that Jack and I have working together. We just seem to let the next right thing happen. There's no struggle with it because it's just obvious that this is the right thing to do. He's got a good way of telling me 'don't do that'. Every artist that I've ever worked with has things they're really good at but every once in a while they'll do something that just ain't right and somebody needs to tell 'em. You'll hear of some artists that no one's tellin' em'. The lucky ones have someone around to say don't, don't do that. Do that other thing. You sound great at that.
Not too many people are breaking new ground with a covers album but this seems to be doing that as well.
It's unbelievable. We were fully prepared to have to just right checks for the whole thing. We just did it because we loved it. Then it started selling records and it charted in it's third week and the thing made money. I mean it's still selling.
And so it should. Does that put pressure on you to do the same thing next time or will you do and original Shaw/Blades record?
We haven't decided. It might be fun to do a volume II just because it's so easy and it's a lot of fun. And I love hearing us sing these kind of songs.
I must admit that it did impress me. I think Jack showed you the review.
Yeah, you guys have been incredible.
My pleasure Tommy. It's easy when you're presented with great music.
That meant a lot. I meant to tell you that. Jack's constantly showing me these things. I'm just in such a habit of not reading reviews because I'm in Styx dammit and we don't get good reviews. (laughter) So to read all of that, that's been really sweet.
I've enjoyed covering it and I'd like to say Jack's a sweetheart too so it's great to hear great music coming from good people.
He's a good guy.
Tommy, I'll close on one other thing, that's Chuck's book. What has been the reaction in the Styx world to that? It's an amazing read.
I got to read one of the galleys months ago. He let me read it before anybody else. Well, my wife read it first and she was just so blown away by it that I was like 'well hurry up, I want to read it'. We had no idea what it was going to be like. I've known Chuck since 1975. But there was stuff in there that I'd never really considered. I'd never thought about what his life was like when I went away from the Damn Yankees. And that's in there. But his, the only word I can think of is magnanimous, attitude towards life and everyone around him, he didn't really seem vindictive or blame anybody for anything. He just told the story and he wasn't hard on anybody other than himself.
I know. The man has just an amazing courage, I think.
We call him the iron man. If anybody thinks this gay guy's a sissy, I got news for ya. He should have been gone a couple of times but he just keeps coming back stronger than ever. To see him in this band now, especially with this book, even before the book too, but now with the book he has something that's totally his own. He's not just the guy playing the songs written by somebody else being in a support position. He's really stepped up and he's his own man. He realizes that his mission has been helping people and he deserves to feel good about it. And he does.
Good, good, and will he play many dates with you this tour?
He's played them all so far. He'll probably miss a few because the book is starting to get some momentum and he's booked a lot of book signings and personal appearances and stuff like that. We're encouraging him to go for it. As soon as I read that book my wife and I both told him this is a mainstream book and you need to go mainstream with it. It's not just a gay community thing.
Absolutely not, I'd recommend anybody to read it.
Yeah, it's a very uplifting story. I'm very proud of him. The other night in South Bend we had this great show at the performing arts center there. And now I'm introducing him, saying we have a guy in the band who's written his memoirs. When I introduced him as that the people were holding up his book in the audience. It's so beautiful because we came so close to losing that guy.
One of my longest buddies in this business I suppose, I've known him since I started the website, he's right beside you in Ricky Phillips.
He's another good guy. I've known Ricky since he was in the Babys and we played together and I was the one who really pushed to get him into the band. He's just such a great guy and a great player, and we still have to just laugh that we're finally in a band together. (laughter)
Yeah, because we would always run into each other and go see Marco Mendoza and his band. Have you ever seen Marco do his three piece thing?
No, I haven't really. I've only seen him with Soul Sirkus and Neal Schon.
Aw shoot, it you ever get the opportunity to see Marco doing Marco Mendoza forget everything else that he's done.
He's pretty amazing isn't he?
When you see him doing his thing you will have seen something otherworldly. I mean it. I've never seen anything like it and that's how I think of Marco. Whenever I see him doing something else, no matter how big of a band he's in, I'm like, well that's nice, but
He's an individual isn't he?
He's a sweetheart and just so talented. When he's playing in his band it's like three guys up there playing there asses off and singing.
That's great Tommy. Anything you'd like to add or throw in there?
Well, Jack and I and our manager and agent are starting to look at November or December for another Shaw/Blades tour. So were looking forward to that. I'm going to be busy with Styx playing shows with Def Leppard and Foreigner this summer. We haven't started that yet and there's 70 or maybe 80 shows.
Where do you start in the bill there? Have you got that worked out yet?
With Foreigner we're gonna flip flop. Then at some point Foreigner's gonna go off and do other things then it'll be just Def Leppard and Styx. And I think there's a couple of shows with Def Leppard, Styx and REO. I think there'll be about 15 shows where it's just the two of us.
It sounds like a fun summer.
It's gonna be a lot of fun, especially getting to work with other great guitarists. You always wind up checking each other out and you see somebody doing something you like you say now how'd they do that. (laughter)
I saw Foreigner last year here in Australia and they're on fire.
Man, they are on a mission aren't they? Absolutely with Jeff Pilson and Jason Bonham they've got a great lineup. And Kelly of course is an old friend and a great singer. I know, and Ricky I think helped hook him up with those guys. I mean talk about taking some of the hardest songs to sing ever and just ripping on them.
Oh, amazing, yeah I wouldn't want to be doing that.
I'll see him back stage and he'll be smoking a cigarette and I'm like, how are you doing that and not having a stroke up there on stage. (laughter)
He's a small guy isn't he?
He's a little guy but with a huge voice. It's just great to hear all those songs. That's one of the best song lists in rock.
It's right up there with Styx isn't it?
It's just one song after another and they're just playing the shit out of 'em. It's beautiful and that's what I'm looking for is night after night hearing all that music in one night.
Well that's why these bills are working isn't it, because fans really get bang for their buck?
Look at it if you're a young fan and you've just heard this music from your parents or you're just discovering it on you own, and it's still out there that you can go see live. And by three bands that are really playing at their peaks again.
They're showing some of the modern bands how it's done really.
Well there's a lot to be said for experience. We made our mistakes in front of smaller audiences and by the time we got to the big audiences we really had it down. These days a band is really lucky if they get to do that. A lot of times they're just thrown out in front of a big audience while they're still green and you don't get too many chances for a second impression.
I've seen a couple of the newer bands and there's just no stage presence.
Well you know now you make records with protocols and you can really make a perfect record out of an imperfect performance. Then you've got to go live and there you are on television and they're thinking why doesn't this sound good. (laughter)
You can't hide it out there can you?
What happened? The record sounds great and that's me, why don't I sound good now. There's a lot to be said for starting out and playing small clubs and falling on your face in front of 50 people.
Alright, great talking to you anyway.
Well same here Andrew. Congratulations on your site man. You've really jumped to the front with that.
It shows and thanks again for you support. It's really meant a lot.
Alright then, thanks for calling.