When it comes to the music of Styx, Dennis DeYoung wrote much of the book, so to speak.
A founding member and former vocalist and keyboardist for the multiplatinum progressive rockers from Chicago, DeYoung has penned and sung on such Styx hits as "Lady", "Come Sail Away", "Babe" and "Mr. Roboto".
DeYoung has performed his Styx songs during his solo career as well, including a stop at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe on Valentine's Day last year.
DeYoung is on the road once again with his The Music of Styx show, which makes a return stop at The Peak on Friday, May 7, but this time, there's a twist.
Thanks to a revamped band, DeYoung is now presenting what he considers to be the full Styx experience, including some of the songs of his ex-band mates.
That's something DeYoung hasn't been able to do since Styx parted ways with him in 1999 when an illness left him unable to tour at that time. The band, led by guitarists Tommy Shaw and James "J.Y." Young, continues to perform under the Styx banner.
While the current tour is in its beginning stages, the 63 year-old DeYoung has been gratified by the reaction so far.
"It's really different," said DeYoung in a phone interview. "Let me quantify that. It's still me. I have a new band. We have August Zadra, who will be singing "Too Much Time on My Hands", "Renegade", "Blue Collar Man" and "Fooling Yourself", and I'm playing more keyboards. We also have Craig Carter from Nashville, a wonderful bass player and singer.
"It's a very different looking band, with a different attitude, which has been invigorating for me."
DeYoung's current ensemble also includes guitarist Jimmy Leahey, John Blasucci on keyboards and drummer Tom Sharpe.
According to DeYoung, his original plan was to find a replacement for his previous bassist, Hank Horton, who left to perform in the orchestra pit for the production of 101 Dalmations: The Musical, for which DeYoung wrote the songs.
While Carter eventually signed on to play bass, DeYoung's son Matt pointed his father toward Zadra.
"I can honestly say I didn't see this coming," related DeYoung. "The only reason I made the change was because Hank left. I had to look at the band I was playing with, and that's when my son found August. I wasn't even intending to do this."
With Zadra on board to tackle the Tommy Shaw songs, DeYoung is able to present all of Styx's biggest hits, which he feels is what the fans really want, short of a full-fledged reunion.
"I am absolutely convinced that what I am doing right now is what the fans want to see," insists DeYoung. "I think there has been a pent-up demand for this show that I'm doing, because neither the other guys nor myself have been doing what I'm doing right now.
"If you were a Styx fan, the setlist pretty much covers it. It's like a greatest hits plus. And that's not accidental. I believe it would be the kind of setlist that would be fundamentally what Styx would be playing if I were still in the band. The response from the audience to this show has been remarkable to me. It's almost like I hear a gigantic exhaling and sigh of relief when they hear all these songs lined up."
DeYoung promises to offer full versions of the Styx classics.
"I'd like to go on record by saying I hate medleys," he stated. "I hate them, I loathe them. If the song is worth doing, then you should do it. It's as if someone put a big piece of pizza down in front of you and tells you that you can have the sausage and mushroom off it but you can't have the rest of it. It doesn't appeal to me, and I don't understand why people do it.
"It's my opinion the reason people fell in love with these songs in the first place and are still willing to pay money to see you do them nearly 40 years later is because you got it right the first time, so you should probably go out and give them that."
DeYoung admits his band is still evolving. "We're just learning it," he said. "We only have 10 shows under our belt, and three of them were acoustic shows where we had to essentially reformulate everything. We are still finding ourselves a bit, but it's been great fun."
DeYoung said he hopes to eventually fit in songs from his latest album, One Hundred Years From Now, as well as delving deeper into the Styx repertoire, but for now he is focusing on the hits.
"I'd love to play "Castle Walls" again and that may sneak back in," he suggested. "You might even hear 'Crystal Ball' as we progress into this thing, because I think the key is to play the big bombs. I think there are about 14 of those. If you don't play those, there's going to be disappointment.
"After that you have leeway with about four songs, and you can pull things in and out from the Styx catalog or draw a song from my solo career. The only song from my own that I'm playing on this tour is "Desert Moon", which a lot of people think is a Styx song anyway."
With DeYoung and Styx both out on the road, is there room for two different versions?
"I think it would be better if there was only one entity doing it," remarked DeYoung. "There is the burnout factor. How can you miss me if I don't go away? There is that, but it is what it is, and there's nothing I can do to change it.
"I would never have done this without someone like August. You can't just plug anyone into these situations and have it feel authentic."
For DeYoung, the business is even more of a grand illusion than when he wrote the title track to that Styx album.
"Absolutely. No doubt about it," he commented. "It's even more pronounced now then when I wrote about it in 1977. The amount of entertainment and the ways we look to distract ourselves in this culture have grown exponentially since then.
"If you think of the Internet alone and how celebrity has become constant fodder for our culture, it's more prominent than when I wrote about it. When you thing about the Internet and the opinions that are prevalent from anyone, the discussion becomes noise. There is so much noise. You talk about an illusion?
"I would tell the fans what I told them from the very beginning: I don't know much more than you do, so don't believe that I do," he added.
Tickets for Dennis DeYoung at Penn's Peak on Friday, May 7 are $42 for premium reserved seating and $37 for regular reserved seating. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are available online from www.ticketmaster.com, at Ticketmaster outlets, the Penn's Peak box office and Roadies Restaurant. Call (866) 605-PEAK for more information.