An Interview with Styx bassist Ricky Phillips

Styx dominated the airwaves in the 70’s and 80’s with well-known hits such as, “Lady”, “Come Sail Away”, “Show Me The Way” and their only number one song, “Babe”.  The band did however have four consecutive multi-platinum albums and have a revolutionary sound comprised of a powerful guitars, theatrical performances and pioneering the prog-rock sound.  We were fortunate enough to interview Styx bassist and former Bad English founder, Ricky Phillips.

The Glens Falls Civic Center is going to be host of three amazing acts on April 24th.  The “Midwest Rock ‘n Roll Express” tour featuring REO Speedwagon and Styx will be coming to the foothills of the Adirondacks to share their progressive rock stylings.

REO Speedwagon will be sharing the headlining role of the tour with Styx.  REO Speedwagon has sold over 40 million records, including number one singles, “Keep On Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling”.  Another incestuous connection is REO Speedwagon’s lead guitarist Dave Amato used to play with Nugent before joining the band in time for their 1990 release The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken.  That album featured the bands last top 100 hit “Lock Is a Rock”.  Since then they have had success as a live act playing virtually non-stop around the world, the last few years with Styx.

Ted Nugent has been getting more press for his stance on guns and support of the NRA than he has for his music lately.  Don’t forget that the Motor City Madman was all rock ‘n roll before he got political.  In the 70’s, Nugent provided us with hits like, “Strangehold”, “Wango Tango”, “Great White Buffalo” and of course, “Cat Scratch Fever”.  How does Nugent fit in with the tour?  He played with Styx’s Tommy Shaw in the super group Damn Yankees.

Did you know Ted Nugent evaded being drafted in the 1970s by covering himself in his own feces and not showering for a few weeks? It’s true – read here from the man himself!

When asked what we could expect at the show in Glens Falls, he said we should be prepared to be amazed.  Their goal is “to make tonight’s show better than last night’s show.  We even put together a brand new set that we are debuting on this leg of the tour.  We’ve put thousands and thousands into it and we aren’t even sure if fans will notice it the difference, but the stage performance that we put off is so important to the show.”

Ricky actually played on Ted’s Little Miss Dangerous album, “One day I came home and Ted had left a message that he needed me to play a song for a movie that ended up on the album. So, I went down and I also set Dave Amato and Ted up together.  Now Dave is with REO. Most of the guys that are still out there have done some recording or played for everyone else at some point. A lot of the guys who are still the survivors are still carrying the torch and we are all still friends.”

The Styx line-up hasn’t changed in 10 years, and there is a lot of rumors about grief and animosity with Dennis DeYoung.  Ricky played it off saying that “The band has been focused on growing the band over the past 10 years and getting better and better and not dwelling on the past.  Dennis is incredibly talented and if people are a Dennis DeYoung fan, I encourage them to go see him.”  Styx has a lot of modern pop culture success as well, including being in Big Daddy and South Park.  “It is something to see that the fans know all the lyrics to the songs.  Styx has a unique sound and if you hear a Styx song on the radio, you can tell it’s a Styx song with the harmonies. I think that in the 70’s and 80’s there was a lot of cookie cutter format, and Styx always had their own sound.  It’s very impressive. When I was in The Babies and first came across Styx it was obvious that their sound was really unique.”  Three generations of fans will be at the show, and all three will know the lyrics, whether they are a Guitar Hero player, a South Park fan or remember them growing up 30 years ago.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has also eluded Styx, as well as many of the progressive rock bands from that era.  You have to imagine that Styx will be inducted at some point.  Ricky’s perspective is that “When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame started is always had more of a New York connection.  The British rock bands that started it all were being overlooked and it killed me.  So, I haven’t taken it too seriously.  It would obviously be a great honor to be recognized by the fans.  But whoever controls or makes that call, it’s up to them.  I’ve actually never even have this discussion with the other guys in the band.  Our focus is so much on the fans and making our music better and better every night.”

Progressive rock is back on the rise, just look at any festival line-up and you will see modern prog rockers.  Styx was influential in starting that sound.  You can hear their influences on newer bands. “It’s great to hear, there is a new band that sounds like a mix between Styx and Zeppelin and you can tell what albums influenced them.  It’s nice to be part of the influencer.  I was influenced first of all by the Beatles and the song writing and arrangement.  Thank god that was my first initial impact as a kid.  There was a strong sense of song structure and melodies.  Paul McCartney’s bass solos were a huge part of me picking up bass.  I have played guitar to this day, but there is something about bass that has spoke to me.  It’s a real challenge to be a good bass player and it’s a challenge that I will always be striving for.  Listen to Paul McCartney and you can tell the percussion aspects of bass.  It’s seemingly invisible but bass can control the tempo and swing in a song.”

Be sure to get out to the Glens Falls Civic Center  on April 24th and catch these three great bands and celebrate over 30 years of music.

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