The jig is up, the news is out! Styx headlines M3 Rock Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Styx at the M3 Rock Festival (Part 1)

The annual M3 Rock Festival returns to the Merriweather Post Pavilion this weekend in Columbia, Maryland.

Legendary classic-rock band Styx headlines Saturday’s lineup with Extreme, Winger, Slaughter, Lita Ford and Quiet Riot, while local band Kix headlines Sunday’s bill with Warrant, Great White, Firehouse and L.A. Guns.

“These are always fun,” Styx keyboardist and vocalist Lawrence Gowan told WTOP. “It’s a fun atmosphere both backstage and definitely in the audience. A lot of people who are aficionados of the other bands on the bill, this may be their first time seeing Styx and it’s a pretty epic adventure. It’s a great way to initiate those who are maybe on the fringes or have never had the opportunity to see the band before to finally see what a Styx show entails.”

When the original Styx lineup formed in Chicago for its self-titled debut album in 1972, Gowan was just a 16-year-old growing up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ontario, listening to the band as a fan like the rest of us.

“Styx was the first band doing progressive-rock influences that was not British, they were American, so that’s what set them apart,” Gowan said. “Chuck Panozzo and his twin brother John were the rhythm section of drums and bass and [vocalist] Dennis DeYoung formed with guitarist John Curulewski. They got tons of gigs, mostly playing covers, but when James Young joined in 1971, suddenly they started playing more original material.”

Their sophomore album “Styx II” (1973) broke through with their first radio hit, the power ballad “Lady.”

“It’s got a piano intro that is beautiful, so I get to kick off the song in that way, but I love the way that it segues from a piano ballad into a real rock piece of music,” Gowan said. “It’s got that classic Styx trajectory to a song, which starts kind of ballad-like then suddenly transforms into a rock beast. It’s one of the only rock songs I know that uses a bolero style beat as the song reaches its climax, so it’s tons of fun, great harmonies throughout.”

Soon, Tommy Shaw replaced Curulewski for the band’s hottest period. Their seventh album “The Grand Illusion” (1977) featured “Fooling Yourself” and “Come Sail Away,” an epic story that transcends its nautical setup: “I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise, we climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies.”

“It’s an invitation to a great adventure and people just want to jump aboard,” Gowan said. “It’s got that progressive rock shape to it, which again starts as a piano ballad but opens up and turns into a rock song, then goes through a whole instrumental section that carries the listener into another realm … suddenly we realize that it may not be a sea-going vessel but actually something carrying us through the galaxy and beyond. I love the scope of the song.”

Their next album “Pieces of Eight” (1978) featured “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” which grabs listeners immediately with its unique organ instrument and holds them to the end with the lyric, “Give me a job, give me security, give me a chance to survive, I’m just a poor soul in the unemployment line, my God, I’m hardly alive.”

“‘Blue Collar Man’ starts off with a classic Hammond B3 Organ, very heavily distorted,” Gowan said. “Tommy Shaw said he got the idea for that rhythm when he was on a motorboat and the motor kept cutting out. He liked the rhythm of that and he kept that in mind. The real charm of ‘Blue Collar Man’ is that it’s such a relatable lyric, everyone can relate to that, the nobility of work is something that everyone has in there somewhere.”

Their next album “Cornerstone” (1979) boasted the hit ballad “Babe” and arguably their most iconic anthem “Renegade,” featuring the outlaw chorus, “The jig is up, the news is out, they’ve finally found me, the renegade, who had it made, retrieved for a bounty. Never more to go astray, this’ll be the end today, of the wanted man.”

“‘Renegade’ is my favorite Styx song to play,” Gowan said. “It’s usually toward the end of the night … it’s an anthem for a lot of people, that feeling of rebellion that you’re on the run, you’re gonna get away, you’re gonna make it. NFL teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers use it every fourth quarter, it’s been used in so many cultural references. The show ‘Ozark,’ that was the song that kicked off the whole final season. Adam Sandler has used it several times.”

Their tenth album ““Paradise Theatre” (1981) delivered “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time On My Hands.”

“Tommy sings [‘Too Much Time’] and it’s got a great synth bassline that’s very hooky,” Gowan said. “I asked him about the writing of that song and he said basically he made it up in his head on the way to the studio. He had a couple-hour drive from Michigan to Chicago, but he had that bassline in his head. It was the last song added onto the album, so it was an 11th-hour addition … he thought, ‘I guess I had too much time on my hands all along!'”

They continued to evolve in the 1980s with their 11th studio album “Kilroy Was Here” (1983), featuring hits like “Don’t Let It End,” “High Time” and of course “Mr. Roboto,” capturing the rise of futuristic technology.

“It’s funny, it was considered back then by a number of people as kind of a kitschy song, a very different song for the band to do, but now it’s withstood the test of time,” Gowan said. “It was a very prescient song that really predicted a lot of what our lives have been over the past 40 years where technology pervades everything. It’s a fun song to sing, I sing that one … it was their first foray into techno music, so it’s very sequenced and synthesized.”

In 1984, DeYoung bailed as lead singer before later coming back and then leaving the group once again. Gowan joined on with Styx in 1999 as a keyboardist and vocalist just in time for the album “Cyclorama” (2003).

“I’m in my 25th year in my tenure with Styx, so I’ve been with the band for half its existence,” Gowan said. “There have only been 10 members since the beginning. For a band that’s been around half a century, that’s remarkable … over the past 25 years we’ve continued to be in the Top 50 grossing acts of the year for ticket sales. The faithful keep coming back and wanting more. Last summer’s tour was the biggest-selling tour that we’ve ever done.”

What will it take for Styx to be inducted into the damned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

“I have a feeling that it will happen sometime,” Gowan said. “They well deserve it and I would be really happy for everyone if that were to happen, but honestly we’re so busy that we don’t have much time to think about it!”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Styx at the M3 Rock Festival (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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