Dennis DeYoung

Q&A: Dennis DeYoung, Styx Co-Founder

We talked with Styx co-founder Dennis DeYoung prior to his Saturday, July 8 Summerfest performance.

It’s been nearly twenty years since Dennis DeYoung performed with Styx. But that band’s lasting influence hasn’t left him. He’s performed under the banner “Dennis DeYoung: The Music of Styx,” playing hits from Styx as well as material from his solo career. We caught up with the singer to ask him how he feels about playing Summerfest’s 50th anniversary and why he still enjoys playing Styx songs, even as a solo artist.

How do you feel about coming back to play during Summerfest’s 50th anniversary?

Well, I get to drive up I-94. So there will be plenty of opportunities to get porn and cheese. That’s good, right?  So I get to come up there and see all my friends up there in Milwaukee and try to avoid any ones I owe money to.

What is your history playing Summerfest?

I’ve played it maybe three or four times. So it’s great. The fact that I would even be considered as Dennis DeYoung, the solo artist, to come up to play the big stages up in Milwaukee, that’s a pretty big deal for me.

How has the festival changed or stayed the same over the last twenty years, from your perspective?

It miraculously seems to be getting bigger. I would say the quality and amount of acts that come there in the summertime, it was literally a who’s who of who’s been popular over the last thirty, forty years. So that’s a real festival by the lake there. And it’s not diminishing. Some of these fests, they come and go. But that’s a long time to sustain something like that.

You’re originally from Chicago. What’s your favorite non-performance thing to do in Milwaukee or Wisconsin?

When I’m in Milwaukee, I say I’m from your southern suburb. I think I’ve played in the state of Wisconsin more than any other state in the United States. The people of Wisconsin have always had a very fond place in their hearts for music that Styx made. Wisconsin is a state that’s been extremely kind to me. And here’s the most important factor: I’m also a Bears fan. Can you image how much they like me? [laughs]

I posted an editorial on my Facebook page a couple years ago. We all know Aaron Rodgers is a robot. He’s a cyborg, at least. He’s not real. So stop trying to fool us. You got it? Come on, Milwaukee people. I saw that he had a spade of interceptions the year before. They ran towards the sideline and I’m sure I saw a screwdriver go into his head. I’m just saying. Because they knew one of his wires was busted.

Why is playing the music of Styx so important to you all these years later?

When you start as a young punk and when something you do when you’re 25 has a lasting ability – over 40 years – and people come to see it and are willing to pay for it, I think that’s the greatest compliment in life. Places I play, wherever I go people come up to me. And they will thank me for coming to their town, as if I was doing charity work with the little sisters of the poor. They tell me how much my music has affected their lives in a good way. And I think, ‘Wow, this was a good career choice.’ How many people get to be my age and have that happen to them? Damn few. Music I was involved in writing and creating has had that effect on people through all this time. I gotta say, ‘Hey this could be worse.’

What can people expect from the show?

What I’ve done is a greatest hits Styx show. We’ll be playing the hits because the audience wants it. They demand it. It’s an opportunity for them to relive the happiest and most important times in their lives, when they were young and all things were possible. And our music was part of it, which is a great thing. I know how that feels, because that’s how I felt about the Beatles. So being able to provide that is in no small part important to people’s lives. It allows them the ability to escape from the sped-up crazy times we live in and reflect on a time that seemed more innocent.

What Styx song resonates with you the most to you these days?

When I go, [sings loudly and with purpose] ‘Lady, when you’re with me I’m smiling’ and people scream. That seems like mission accomplished to me. So every time I play the beginning of a song, people light up in their faces and it feels like it was yesterday. That’s an awfully special feeling. So to me, to go through the songs and say which is the most special to me, I’m happy that people like one of them, let alone 12 or 15 of them. That’s an accomplishment. And one I sometimes take too lightly.



Joshua Miller covers music and culture for Milwaukee Magazine. He also writes for various other outlets in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago. You can follow him at @JoshuaMMillerWI.