With a lineup including Styx, Foreigner and former Eagle Don Felder, the “Soundtrack of the Summer Tour” is the most appropriately named tour on the road right now. Top 40 hits will fill the set lists on Thursday, May 29 when the three acts perform at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. Recently, we caught up with Styx keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan by phone as the band prepared for another busy summer on the road.
Brent Thompson: Lawrence, thanks for your time today. This may be an odd opening comment, but I remember seeing your band mate – and Alabama native – Tommy Shaw last year at a George Jones tribute concert. Even though he is perceived as a Rock artist, he did an incredible job playing traditional Country music that night. It reminded me that talented people can succeed outside of their comfort zone more than we realize.
Lawrence Gowan: That’s an excellent observation – you’re absolutely right. When Tommy was doing that piece at the George Jones show, I knew he would be underestimated by a lot of the Country establishment thinking, “Who’s this Rock star coming to do this music?” But he’s from Montgomery, Alabama and he grew up on that music. That’s part of the music that basically formed his musical character, so it was coming from an authentic place. I love that he was put in the underdog role and went out there and annihilated the thing.
BT: Where is your home base these days?
LG: I grew up in Toronto and that’s where I live. I was born in Glasgow, Scotland and my family moved to Canada when I was a little kid. When I joined Styx, there was talk about whether I’d move to Los Angeles or Chicago – where the band was split between. But there was an avalanche of gigs around the world and we realized we didn’t have to live in the same city.
BT: I know you’re thought of as the “new guy” in Styx even though you’ve been in the band for 15 years. It reminds me of Ron Wood’s status as the “new guy” in the Stones as he enters his 40th year with them. How do you make your mark when you join such an established band as Styx?
LG: That’s really a decision that needs to be made by the band prior to anyone new coming in. I think that your Ron Wood analogy is great – I do see a certain connection in a weird way. [The Stones] auditioned other guitar players that could play exactly like Mick Taylor or play exactly like Brian Jones. Keith Richards said that Ron Wood came in and made the whole thing laughable because he played like Ron Wood and it made the songs sound better. So, when [Styx members] Tommy, J.Y. and Chuck decided they had to make that change, they said, “You don’t sound like our past, but you have that same spirit so give it the most honest and sincere rendition on your own.” That made me feel like I wanted to jump in with both feet.
BT: How do songs stay fresh to you after you’ve performed them for 15 years?
LG: This is a curious band in a lot of ways. I’ve met guys along the path that have megahit songs that they can’t imagine having to sing one more time. I always feel sorry for those guys – I’m talking about big artists. In Styx, that mentality has never existed. Every time I get to sing “The Grand Illusion” it means something different than it did yesterday or a year ago. It’s a great opportunity to try and get it right again and make it ring authentically. What a great moment it is to play it 110 to 120 times a year.
Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $25.25 – $81.55 and can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com