Dennis DeYoung has been out of Styx for 25 years. The band chose to replace him as they prepared to tour in support of 1999's Brave New World. The singer, as he shares, found himself unexpectedly ill and unable to go on the road immediately, and he felt helpless.

"I was begging for my life and for my job when this happened," he tells UCR now. "As sick as I was, I didn’t really feel I could fight back."

Both sides eventually carried on with their separate careers. But when Styx began performing "The Best of Times" earlier this year for the first time since 2007, DeYoung felt a fresh twinge of pain and wrote about it on his Facebook page. In the first part of a long conversation, the songwriter expands on his initial thoughts. He tells Ultimate Classic Rock Nights host Matt Wardlaw why he's upset -- and his feelings that all of this could have been avoided. 

Dennis, seeing your recent Facebook post was a bit of a surprise. You've been pretty quiet lately.
I had been kind out of the loop and I hadn’t posted much on my Facebook page. Because I’m not touring, I don’t have any albums. What am I going to do, annoy the public? I don’t need to do that. But I have friends in the music business who send me stuff. I happened to see via your website that Styx had begun to play “The Best of Times.” I didn’t know it, because it’s not my life’s work to follow that. I looked and I watched and I thought, “Oh, okay.” I had to [process] that and try to figure out, what reaction do I have to that? I wrote something on Facebook and you guys covered that and I thought it was okay.

But regarding “The Best of Times,” I try to do my very best to take the attitude of “live and let live.” There’s a couple of occurrences in the last, I guess, six or seven years, have forced me out of just being complacent about it all. For the last 25 years, J.Y. [Styx guitarist and vocalist James Young], mostly, but Tommy [Shaw] too, have been clear about their feelings about some of the songs I’d written. Most especially, the ballads. And of course, the lightning rod for all Styx fans is “Mr. Roboto.” I know it’s all untrue, everything that was said and has been said. It was a story they decided to tell back in 1999 when they replaced me when I was sick. Because the story they should have told was, “Well, we replaced the sick colleague, because we really wanted to go on the road and make some money and didn’t want to wait for him to get better.” That’s what really happened. But that’s not a good story to tell. So they began to tell this story that it was really about my ballads and the Kilroy Was Here project, which is a good story to tell, except that was 17 years earlier.

READ MORE: Why Dennis DeYoung Never Wanted 'Mr. Roboto' to Be a Styx Single

Watch Styx's Video For 'Mr. Roboto'

 

It had no bearing on the fact that we had huge comeback tours in 1996 and 1997, initiated by me. I got sick in the beginning of 1998, in January, and we started recording Brave New World later that year. It was during the recording of that album that the tour was contemplated. I said, “Yeah, I’m in. Just give me six more months to recover from this thing.” Matt, I can now say this, it’s like long COVID. I had something like that in 1998. The upper respiratory virus that I caught had weakened my immune system and made my eyes sensitive to light. The light sensitivity always made me feel fatigued and tired and I couldn’t really perform like I wanted to. I asked for those six months to recover. That’s what happened. They replaced me and then for a year and a half, they traveled the country and toured using the Styx name and they didn’t pay me any money at all for the use of the name. We had no deal worked out. Then, they went on VH1’s Behind the Music and said some rather pointed, what I felt were uncalled-for things about me and the music that we had created together. I’ve said this a million times to you: Those Styx albums, if you like them, had to do with the five guys who created the music.

READ MORE: Underrated Styx:The Most Overlooked Song From Each Album

Right.

The songwriters wrote songs, but the records that were made from those songs, that was really a collective group effort. I mean, we all contributed mightily to each other’s songs and to the success of the band. That’s what happened. Nobody was standing in there and saying, “This is how this goes.” All you need to do is look at how the songs were divided up on every album. It was almost the same. X amount to me, X amount to Tommy and X amount to J.Y. As I say on my Facebook page, “Mr. Roboto” was a creation by the band. I wrote the song, and you know, as Tommy pointed out -- he brought in the Vocoder to the band, not me. It was a positive. We were doing things and having fun doing it.

So I wrote that Facebook post to say, “Why did you do this?” Why did you say these things, all of these years, about music that you know full well that we created together? None of it could have been created in the same way. It could have never been as good without all of us sitting in those rooms. I just don’t understand why that needed to be done. It’s been hurtful to the whole idea of whatever Styx was and what they stood for, for all of their fans. So my Facebook page was my way of saying, okay, now 25 years later, you say nice things about “The Best of Times,” which I appreciate. And you play “Mr. Roboto” every night in the first encore spot to adoring fans. I just think that it was so unnecessary to do all of that.

Watch Styx's Video For 'The Best of Times'

 

Styx is such a big part of your legacy of work. So I can understand why it remains a sensitive topic for you.
The most hurtful part about all of this to me is what it did to easily one of the most loyal fanbases in classic rock history. To this day, people will be at odds with each other on social media arguing about this point, 25 years later. That’s just the worst part for me. Because the fact that a Styx fan would disparage any of us -- and they do, depending on their point of view -- is hurtful to me. That’s the last thing I wanted. I wanted them to all come together and enjoy what we created.

The band's manager, Charlie Brusco, said recently that he and Tommy and J.Y. haven't spoken to you in 25 years. Have you tried to reach out?
I did it through back channels. I’ve been doing this for, I think, the last seven or eight years. I was trying to get one last tour. I don’t want to go back into the band. I wanted one last tour for the fans. Charlie Brusco, I did read some of the things and I did listen to that, but [it’s not true]. He said that I said the band would never be able to be successful without me. I never said anything like that. When they decided to give me an ultimatum about showing up for the first day of rehearsal for a tour, when they knew I was sick, I called up J.Y. and Tommy and begged them not to do that. The caricature of me as some sort of bullying tyrant is absolutely crazy. As I said, all you need to do is look at how the albums [were credited]. Everyone is represented as songwriters. It’s beyond silly. But they made that story up. I never said anything like that.

I was begging for my life and for my job when this happened. As sick as I was, I didn't really feel I could fight back. A sticking point with the guys is that I ended up suing them. But like I said, it was [after] almost a year and a half of touring. We hadn’t ever come to an agreement about what I should receive for my ownership of the name. But when I saw the Behind the Music thing, that was the thing. That was just like, “Oh my God.” It was devastating to me, to think that these guys that I had worked with so closely and made so many people happy -- and their selves, the joy of what we created. For that to be turned into a display [like that], I defy anyone to see anywhere where I’ve ever given an interview where I said anything bad about anybody else’s music in this band. I’ve said things about my own songs that I didn’t like. But I’ve never said one bad word about Tommy’s music or J.Y.’s music. It’s simple for me, because I don’t feel that way. I love what we created together. I love some things more than others.

But I could never look and say, “Oh, that song, why is that on there?” Because I know the schedule we were on, we made albums [nearly every year] and toured. What we were creating from a songwriting perspective, was the best that we could in the time allotted. It wasn’t like somebody was flaking. We were giving the best we could to what we did. The songs that were brought in were the songs that were recorded. There was only one song in all of that time that was brought in that was turned down. One song. It was turned down by the band, which caused J.Y. to go back and reevaluate a song he’d written called “Shame Me Down,” for The Grand Illusion. He went back and wrote “Miss America.” Now, that was a good outcome. My love for this band and still, for those guys, I just find it difficult to reconcile why any of us would be villains in the minds of fans.

Listen to Styx Perform 'Miss America'

READ MORE: How 'Lady' Belatedly Saved Styx

You've gone through back channels, but you picked up the phone to call me. Do you still have a way, similarly, to reach Tommy and J.Y.?
I probably could, yes. I’ve never done that. And neither have they. Because they’ve made it quite clear that they’re happy without me. When people publicly say the same things over and over again for 25 years, you might be well-advised to pay attention to it. I just thought, the promoters, it’s a small business. We all know each other’s business. The money that was available -- which is something that’s very important to them -- for a reunion tour, we are probably the last band who has not done that. There’s been a lot of bands where they don’t like each other and they do get together. It’s not for the money. I don’t need money, Matt.

[It's about] the [chance to say] farewell to those fans that gave me a life that fulfilled the dream. We can say thank you. This is what we did, here’s the three guys -- you know, for the most part, it’s Moe, Larry and Curly, here we are. We appreciate what you did. I could just disappear. That was my intention. No, unequivocally, I’ve never reached out personally to call any of them. But we have business managers and publishers where we have communicated through third parties. As far as any farewell tour -- for me, not the band -- they can go on as long as they want to. I’m not interested in harming them or stopping them. In fact, I’m thrilled that they’re playing “The Best of Times” and “Mr. Roboto,” because it makes total sense for the fans. Because they want to hear it. But my point, I guess, was for 25 years, they’ve always wanted to hear those songs. That’s it. They want to hear those songs.

Okay, so if a Styx farewell tour with you is off the table, what do you still want from the guys?
I don't want anything from the guys. I really don't.

Would you like to restore the friendship that was once there?
Of course. I never wanted it to go the way it did. I was sick. This is the fact that just keeps getting overlooked. I was sick. I wasn't doing anything else. I didn't do anything. You can look. I didn't do anything because I was too ill. And then, in January of 2000, as predicted, I played a solo show in Chicago. It was exactly when I said I'd be able to perform [with Styx]. Did I want to play solo? I never wanted to do that. I never wanted to do a solo album. I only did it because Tommy quit the band in '83. I only made [Desert Moon] because he quit. For no other reason. Our plans were, J.Y. and I, for [his] support of the Kilroy project -- he supported it and he had a ball being Dr. Righteous. He only asked one thing of me. He wanted to do a stadium tour in 1984.

I said, "Absolutely." We'll do a live album from Kilroy and we'll go out and play a stadium tour in '84 and then Tommy quit. J.Y. and the Panozzos, they still wanted to [carry on with Styx]. They wanted me to replace Tommy and go out in '84 and do that stadium tour. I couldn't understand how they thought that would work. Tommy was too valuable to the band to stick someone else in his place. I know there were some very hard feelings that for five years, I would not replace Tommy in the band. J.Y. would call me periodically, wanting me to replace Tommy. I just wouldn't. Because I believed that Styx was Tommy Shaw, Dennis DeYoung, James Young and the Panozzos. I based it all on my love for the Beatles. When they broke up, I hated it and I didn't buy their solo albums. The first album I bought was [Paul McCartney and Wings'] Band on the Run. But, you know, when a band that has a fanbase that is that dedicated, when you pull back the curtain and you see the wizard, you can't unsee it. What was done [with Styx] was unnecessary. What gets me is when I see "The Best of Times" now being lauded by Tommy and the same thing with "Mr. Roboto," I think, well, why [has there been] all of the negativity? Who does that serve? Who does that help? That's my opinion.

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Gallery Credit: Matthew Wilkening, except as noted below.

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