SFGN Exclusive: Chuck Panozzo–The Heart & Soul of Styx

Chuck Panozzo

Arguably one of the greatest rock bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s, Styx has left an indelible mark in music history. The band achieved superstar status with hits including “Babe”, “Lady” and “The Best of Times”.

 

I had the honor to catch up with founder and bassist, Chuck Panozzo before Styx performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Music City USA. “This particular tour will focus on two of our greatest albums,” Panozzo states. The band played The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight in their entirety later that evening to a near sold-out crowd in Nashville. “We’ve never done this before in the entire history of the band, so it has really been interesting. The crowd has been very receptive.”

Although some of the bands largest hits aren’t included in the set list, the show features standouts and crowd favorites “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”, “Renegade” and show closer, “Too Much Time on My Hands”.

Panozzo just played Memphis two nights prior and was gearing up for tonight’s show before flying to Atlanta to meet the band. “We are trying to bring people back in time,” says Panozzo, who performs on a part-time basis with the band due to health reasons. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1991 and opts to sit out on about 20% of the band’s performances.

“I still remember the first guy who I knew that contracted HIV,” Panozzo recalls. “There was a point in my life where I just looked and felt terrible.” His friends pleaded with Panozzo to seek help, both medical and psychological. Days would pass where the once energetic rock star would barely eat, yet alone leave his house. “I said to myself, ‘how can I live this way’? It took me a while, but I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.”

For the next eight years, Panozzo would not perform with the band he co-founded with his brother John in the 60’s. Panozzo’s time away from the band wasn’t the only blow they would encounter. In 1996, during his hiatus with Styx, he and the band suffered another loss, the passing of his brother and drummer John Panozzo. The band dedicated their 1996 Return to Paradise tour to John. A few years later, Shaw penned the song “Dear John” as an ultimate tribute to him.

Felling the itch to tour again, Panozzo called up the band and asked them to perform. “I decided to pull an Elvis and make my comeback show in Vegas.” In 1999, Styx was set to play two nights at the Las Vegas Hilton. “The band told me to sit out the first night and watch the performance. And then if I felt in good health, they wanted me to join on the second show.”

The following evening, some fans caught a glimpse of Panozzo waiting in the wings and started chanting his name. “Before I played a single note, the entire crowd was chanting ‘Chuck’…’Chuck’. It was one of the most emotional times in the history of Styx.” The outpouring of support from the fans as well as long time band members Tommy Shaw, James ‘J.Y.’ Young, was overwhelming.

“Tommy said to me ‘I thought I’d never see you alive again’. He’s been the most supportive of anyone.” On tour, Shaw will routinely ask Panozzo if he needs assistance with anything. “He’s only 5’6”, but has a huge heart,” Panozzo laughs.

Two hours into our interview, Styx’s road manager George called out to the band to get ready for the show. I stand and watch Tommy, J.Y., Ricky, Larry, Todd and Chuck take the stage for the opening number. From start to finish, the band drives home a hard rocking performance. Many people forget that despite their commercial success, at its core, Styx is still a rock band.

Now that the tour is drawing to a close,Panozzo talks about plans for next year. “Styx has a long history of touring with other major acts,” remembering tours with Bad Company, Boston and REO Speedwagon. In 2011, the band will embark on a European tour with Journey and Foreigner. “There was a time when we were all competing for the spotlight, but now, all of our egos are gone and we enjoy each other’s company.”

In his 40-plus year history with Styx, Panozzo has played two Super Bowls, toured the world and sold over 50 million albums. His autobiography "The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life with Styx" was released in 2007. The introspective look into his life tells about his struggle to come to terms with himself, life on the road with Styx and being raised in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood. “I wanted to inspire others, gay or straight, to live a proud, truthful life.”

For more on Chuck Panozzo and Styx, please visit StyxWorld.com.

 


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