Dennis DeYoung played accordian, doesn't like fan mail

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112429916621037.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘Chicago native and former Styx member Dennis DeYoung takes the Waterfront stage Saturday, Sept. 3.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112429929721037.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘"I’m the guy from the south side of the city of Chicago who played accordion and did the best he could to write a few songs," Dennis DeYoung said.’);

For better than 30 years, Dennis DeYoung has made music that generations of people have grown to love. His songs, primarily written during his time in former band Styx, have been featured in TV shows and commercials as well as used by other artists as far-reaching as rapper Ja Rule and magicians Siegfried and Roy. In recent years, DeYoung has showcased his talents on the solo level, highlighted by plenty of touring and a two-CD live album featuring the Chicago Children’s Choir and a 40-piece orchestra.

He is an experienced interviewer who knows how to avoid questions just as well as he knows how to answer them. In the time he spent chatting with The Rock River Times, he asked perhaps as many questions as he answered, revealing not only a rock star who knows the tricks of the trade, but one who takes an active interest in who he’s talking to. His sense of humor was evident from the moment the conversation began, and seemed to be a genuinely important part of his personality. Only weeks from his upcoming performance at this year’s On The Waterfront Festival, he checked in via telephone from his Chicago-area home.

The Rock River Times (TRRT): The reason that I’m talking to you today is because in just a few weeks, on Labor Day weekend, you’re going to be playing a show here in Rockford at the On The Waterfront Festival. You’re a Chicago guy. What impressions or memories do you have of Rockford, if any?

Dennis DeYoung (DD): Plenty. We’ve come many times to Rockford. It’s one of those gigs that’s great because we can generally go sleep on our own beds after the show. We can drive home. That’s a good thing. And occasionally, we go and drink from the Rock River just to see if we can survive it.

TRRT: When you come through here, though, you’re going to be playing the music of your former band.

DD: Yeah, I was going to do a tribute to Boston, but at the last minute I decided not to.

TRRT: I think you made a good call…

DD: We’ll be playing all the music I wrote, all the songs I wrote and sang with the band. I have my band, who’s been with me for almost five years now, a great rock band. And we’re coming up there to rock the Rock River rock festival…

TRRT: That’s a lot of rock…

DD: There’s a lot of rocks in that, I’ll tell you right now—we just need a roll!

TRRT: What were the best and the worst parts of being part of Styx?

DD: (long pause) I mostly have very fond memories, insofar as that we created a body of work collectively that, at middle age, I can look back at and be proud of. I think, when I look back, I can say that we had some nice songs. So most of my memories are fond. As far as the worst thing about being in Styx, I guess it would be the worst thing with any group of people: that there’s always going to be disagreements. There’s always going to be times where you wished everybody thought the same way—but they don’t—and that’s human nature. That being said, I find it difficult to make much of the fact that there are negatives—because there always are in anything that you do. If you think there aren’t going to be negatives, then you’ve come to the wrong planet.

TRRT: Now you’ve had a few years to be removed completely from Styx—

DD: I wish that were the case.

TRRT: How do you mean?

DD: I’m never removed from them. Am I, really?

TRRT: I suppose you’re not, or I wouldn’t be asking.

DD: No, I’m never removed from them, but I’m not with—and when we say Styx, what we really mean is Tommy (Shaw) and JY (James Young). (Styx is) just a name.

TRRT: Do you have animosity over that?

DD: Let me just say this: I didn’t choose not to be in the band. And I think I had a lot to do with the success of the band. So I worked very hard to make that a brand name—and it is still for many people. Dennis DeYoung is a wonderful name, it happens to be mine, but it’s not a brand name in the same way. I’ve had an incredible resurgence in a solo career that I never pursued up until two years ago. Truthfully, I had never really pursued a solo career. I had made some records, but I never toured. I never really went at it the same way that I went at it with Styx. So I’ve had remarkable success (over) the last two years for a middle aged white guy to be starting a rock band. I had to be very thankful for the opportunities that I have had.

TRRT: At this point, as an individual, what do you feel your legacy has been? How do you feel you’re regarded?

DD: By whom?

TRRT: Anybody—you pick.

DD: I think that, by in large—and I always try buy in large in case I put on extra weight—I think that people have a great deal of love and reverence—and I don’t say that in some kind of pompous, stupid way—for the music that was created. They really are incredibly attached to some of these songs. I have to feel that I’m pretty lucky to have that happen to me.

TRRT: One thing that I really liked about your Web site is the section called “Letters from Dennis,” which is almost like a diary. You share thoughts and information through that. Why is it important to keep that connection with the fans?

DD: My wife makes me do that (laughing). I’m reluctant to do that stuff. You know, Jon, I never used to read fan mail.

TRRT: Really?

DD: I did in the beginning a little bit, but I thought in some ways it’s best that I don’t know what people are thinking.

TRRT: Why?

DD: People will line up at meet and greets and come back and tell me wonderful stories. And sometimes I’ll have people look at me in a way that I certainly can’t live up to. They see me as someone that I’m not. I’m a guy who played accordion when he was a kid and wrote some songs that people like. That’s it. I’m not really smarter than the next guy… I just recently read the (Bob) Dylan book. Have you read it?

TRRT: No, not yet

DD: You ought to read it. I always looked at what I did as singing for my supper. Dylan said he was no savior for the hipster set; he was just a guy writing songs. A guy from f—ing Minnesota. And I’m the guy from the south side of the city of Chicago who played accordion and did the best he could to write a few songs. And I sang for my supper. I said, “Hey, this is the greatest job in the world—but it is a job.” I’m going to go out there and perform and sing and write. I never had an idea when I started that songwriting could be as lucrative as it can be. I just did it because I wanted to be a songwriter like the guys in the Beatles. But I do sing for my supper, that’s what I do. And you know what? There ain’t nothing wrong with that.

TRRT: At the On The Waterfront Festival this year over Labor Day weekend, when fans come out to see your show, what can they expect?

DD: Well, they can expect a middle aged white guy singing high and just as good as he ever did, with a great rock band singing all those songs they love. And, in addition to that, because it’s Rockford, I will be naked from the ankles down.

Dennis DeYoung takes to the Great Lawn Stage at this year’s On The Waterfront Festival, performing songs made famous during his time with Styx. Opening act John Waite takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. for the Saturday, Sept. 3 show. Reserved seats are $29.50 in advance ($36.50 at the gate) and are available at the MetroCentre box office. For more information, log on to or

From the August 17-23, 2005, issue

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