Lawrence Gowan remembers his moment of truth lasted about 3 minutes.
As he stood on the stage in Branson, Mo., in 1999 after just joining Styx following a successful solo career in his native Canada, Gowan took in a deep breath in preparation for singing one of the group’s signature hits, “Grand Illusion”.
“That was the moment when I thought, ‘Oh shit, they are going to hear Styx with a different voice doing this song for the first tine ever,’” he recalls. “I guess I’m going to find out in three minutes whether this is even remotely permissible. Three minutes later there was a great roar from the crowd, and I had confidence that they had made the right decision.”
That was 15 years ago when it would have been easy to write the Chicago-based band off after lead singer and songwriter Dennis DeYoung was bounced. DeYoung’s more theatrical direction for the band clashed with the rock edge of guitarist Tommy Shaw, and something had to give.
Gowan’s presence put Styx back on track, and the band that formed in the 1970s continues to remain relevant to the tune of more than 100 dates a year.
Gowan recently spoke to Palm Springs Life about maintaining that kind of pace prior to their show Jan. 25 at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula.
What habits have you developed to keep yourself physically and vocally up to the challenge?
“For me, a typical day, if I slept on the bus last night, which I happen to really enjoy, I sleep better on a tour bus than everywhere else. That’s No. 1 because then your voice is going to work because you got enough sleep. The next thing is. I’m a vegetarian. I spent much of the afternoon going over some new musical ideas, going for a walk. I take in some of the local cities so I don’t sound completely under the loop when I get on stage. That can help a number of ways in helping the show a lot.”
How did you master sleeping on a tour bus?
“Prior to joining Styx, I had a long solo career, and traveling in Canada, there is usually a 12-to 14-hour drive traveling between the major cities. I learned how to align the rhythm of my sleep with the sway of a tour bus. Once you acquire it, it’s a hard habit to break.”
How much did you know about Styx prior to performing with them?
“I had never seen the band live, but to be unaware of Styx would be like living on another planet. They completely saturated the airwaves in Canada. I was very familiar with their material. Of the progressive rock bands, they were the first one to have major success that was not from the U.S. I admired that. When I got a chance to play with the band in 1997, I was looking forward to it. I was very entertained by the band. I made a comment to them that I said I felt I could fit into this band. That’s an odd comment to make, and a couple of years later, that’s exactly what happened.”
Looking back, was it a good decision to join them?
“I really can’t say that there has been anything negative to it other than going through long stretches without performing solo, but it’s not like I’ve had a chance to miss it much because we’re playing more than 100 shows a year. In 2010, I had been in the band 11 years, I decided even with the few weeks we have off, I decided to go back to performing solo and that’s been about 4 years now. And that’s been the best of both worlds.”
Did you ever feel like you had to replace Dennis DeYoung?
“I personally don’t believe anyone can replace anyone in a band. I kind of cringe at that thought. In the case of Styx, never has it been brought up that I should try to sound like or do an impression of him. I’ve tried to deliver the songs as sincerely and honestly as I can, and connect with the lyrics that are meaningful. The music is that strong and the band is that strong.”
What continues to draw fans to Styx? Is it the same fan base?
“That’s the biggest change over these last 15 years. When we first started, we were playing almost exclusively to people who had been with the band all along. However, about eight years ago, I started to notice, there were suddenly small clumps of the audience that were made up of 18-19-20 year-olds, but we figured they must have been younger brothers and sisters of our fans. But no, that was not what was going on. They are loving their classic rock. As each successive year went by, they are making up nearly half the audience now – it’s been that way the last five years.”
Is the band working on new material?
“We haven’t stopped creating new material, but we’re not taking the six or seven months off to go into the studio to do it, so now the thinking is maybe we set aside a week and record one song rather than a whole bunch.”