When Tommy Shaw joined Styx’s lineup as one of the rock group’s lead vocalists, this came after they lost their guitarist, John Curulewski. He and founder Dennis DeYoung shared a role that witnessed Styx score some of their greatest hits. Many of their songs peaked as top ten hits, mainly during the 1970s and the early 1980s. Shaw was instrumental in many of those songs becoming all-time classic fan favorites.
Styx, Chapter One
Born on September 11, 1953, in Montgomery, Alabama, Tommy Shaw moved to Chicago, Illinois after graduating high school. Before Styx, he played with The Smoke Ring and MSFunk before returning to his hometown. Not long after returning home, he received a call to audition for Styx as the group’s new guitarist. They were desperately searching for John Curulewski’s replacement as the band’s guitarist. Just before Styx embarked on its tour to remote 1975’s Equinox, Shaw joined the lineup. He was the new guitarist and shared the role of lead vocalist with Dennis DeYoung.
1976’s Crystal Ball would be the first studio album to feature Tommy Shaw in the lineup. It wasn’t as commercially successful as Styx hoped, but it produced at least Shaw’s first hit as one of the group’s lead singers. Two modest hits came from the album, “Crystal Ball” and “Mademoiselle.” However, the big breakthrough came in 1977 when Styx recorded and released its seventh studio album, The Grand Illusion. This was the first of four Styx recordings to become certified platinum thrice by the Recording Industry Association of America. 1978’s Pieces of Eight would be the second, then 1979’s Cornerstone, and then 1981’s Paradise Theatre.
Styx, Chapter Two
As successful as Cornerstone was, the tension within the ranks of Styx began to rise. The edgier rock performances from the band didn’t quite match Dennis DeYoung’s preference for pop music. Tommy Shaw and fellow Styx guitarist James Young wanted to continue with the progressive hard rock material that made Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, and Cornerstone so successful. Styx’s Chuck and John Panozzo agreed with Shaw and Young. As fellow founders of Styx, the twin brothers found themselves at odds. These two grew up with DeYoung as his next-door neighbor and founded Styx with him in 1972. However, it wasn’t until after Shaw joined the band did they reach a new height of success they hadn’t experienced before.
DeYoung’s love for ballads rubbed Shaw’s preference for faster-paced music to the point where it seemed a parting of ways was imminent. This happened briefly in 1980 when DeYoung was removed from Styx’s lineup. Upon his return, however, tensions began to rise again when DeYoung was determined to steer Styx down a road that favored pop music instead of progressive hard rock. When 1981’s Paradise Theatre was released, it became the fourth album from Styx that would become certified platinum by the RIAA three times. However, Shaw had far less input in its creative process as DeYoung turned it into a theatrical recording based on his Chicago roots. Oddly enough, this would be the same album that featured Shaw singing his only top-ten hit with Styx as their lead vocalist with “Too Much Time on My Hands.”
After Paradise Theatre, it was 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. If Styx fans weren’t aware how bad things were getting between Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw at the time, it came through loud and clear with most of the songs performed on the same album that produced the hit single, “Mr. Roboto.” Among the old-school fans of Styx, the synth-heavy pop style from Kilroy Was Here felt like a betrayal. As much as the album alienated that audience, it won over a new wave of fans that have never given Styx the time of day until now. However, this wasn’t enough to save Styx from experiencing the inevitable.
Once again, DeYoung had complete control over creating the musical direction of Styx and its recordings. Feeling more left out than ever, Shaw had enough and decided to move on. Starting in 1984, he embarked on a solo project that began with his debut album, Girls with Guns. He also teamed up with other groups before reuniting with Styx in 1995. Even though he was back in the lineup again, Shaw was also committed to his career as a solo artist.
During this time, “Lady” was rerecorded for the 1995 release of Styx’s Greatest Hits. After this, it was Return to Paradise. “Dear John” was a song that paid tribute to John Panozzo after he passed away due to liver-related medical issues in July 1996. The success of the 1996 reunion tour and the 1997 release of Return to Paradise was enough reason for everybody in the Styx lineup at that time to keep the momentum going.
Styx, Chapter Three
Going into 1999, Styx released Brave New World as an album that didn’t quite meet the group’s expectations as a commercial success. Perhaps part of the problem was the conflicts that became too hot to handle in 1984 once again surfaced, especially between Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw. Again, creative differences served as the culprit, as DeYoung preferred pop music over hard rock. Just like in the 1980s, James Young agreed with Shaw, as did the rest of the Styx lineup. When Brave New World was released, much of DeYoung’s vocal and keyboard contributions were left out regarding some of the songs Shaw and Young recorded together.
Adding even more fuel to the fire was an illness that sidelined DeYoung from being able to tour with his bandmates. Instead of agreeing to DeYoung’s request to put their concert tour on hold so he could recover, Styx moved on without him. Not only did they go on tour without DeYoung, they permanently replaced him with Lawrence Gowan. In response to this decision, DeYoung filed a lawsuit against his former bandmates over the usage rights of Styx as a band name. By the time the matter was settled, the existing members of Styx could keep the name while DeYoung was still permitted to perform his Styx-related material as a solo artist.
1999 also marked the year Styx’s third founder, Chuck Panozzo, met with medical complications of his own. That same year, he was replaced by Glen Burtnik, who had been with Styx previously. Whenever Panozzo was unable to perform in concert, Burtnik would fill in. Upon entering the twenty-first century, the new lineup of Styx featured Chuck Panozzo, Tommy Shaw, and James Young, along with Lawrence Gowan and Todd Sucherman. As for Glen Burtnik, he remained in the lineup until 2003 and was replaced by Ricky Phillips.
From 1975 until 1983, Tommy Shaw’s involvement with Styx brought forth six studio albums. During this time, Styx was at its peak as a top-notch rock band. Four albums became triple platinum with the RIAA, 1976’s Crystal Ball was certified gold, and 1983’s Kilroy Was Here was certified single platinum. After Shaw left the lineup, Styx released only one studio album, Edge of the Century. Although it was certified gold, the sharp decline of Styx’s popularity was evident.
When Shaw returned to the lineup, five more studio albums were produced, starting with 1999’s Brave New World. This became Dennis DeYoung’s final album as a member of Styx. After that, 2003’s Cyclorama, 2005’s Big Bang Theory, 2017’s The Mission, and 2021’s Crash of the Crown were albums that featured Lawrence Gowan in the role DeYoung once upon a time had. Not since 2003’s “Waiting for Our Time” has Styx experienced a hit on any of the major music charts, but this doesn’t mean this group’s star quality as an elite rock band has diminished.
Top 10 Tommy Shaw Styx Songs
#10 – Sing for the Day
From the album Pieces of Eight, “Sing for the Day” peaked at number forty-one on the US Billboard Hot 100. This ballad was written and sung by Tommy Shaw while he was still with Styx’s lineup. His role as the group’s songwriter was increasing at this time, as well as his influence as a performer. In Canada, this song peaked as high as number twenty-seven. It also charted as high as number eighteen in the Netherlands. It was during this time that Shaw’s popularity, as well as Styx’s, rose to new heights. The “Hannah” featured in the song was Shaw’s way of paying homage to the fans. This would also become his daughter’s name when she was born in 1987, eight years after “Sing for the Day” was released as a single.
#9 – Waiting for Our Time
On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, “Waiting for Our Time” was a 2003 hit that put Styx back on the map as a chart-hitting rock group. Now, without Dennis DeYoung in the lineup, Tommy Shaw and his bandmates moved forward in a musical direction they preferred all along. This also came when grunge music had grown in popularity, presenting a new challenge to an aging group of rock stars who were determined to prove they still had it in them to produce hit-quality singles. Among the hardcore Styx fans, they certainly did, even without DeYoung in the lineup. When addressing the old-school Styx fans who preferred Shaw’s style over DeYoung’s, this was the same Styx they fell in love with back in the late 1970s.
#8 – Crystal Ball
Sung by Tommy Shaw, “Crystal Ball” fell just shy of appearing on the US Billboard Hot 100 when it was released as a single in 1977. The popularity of this song spiked after its 1979 live version was included in the 1980 movie soundtrack to Roadie. This was the title track from Crystal Ball, which featured Shaw as the newcomer who replaced John Curulewski as Styx’s new guitarist. Dennis DeYoung shared this role with him after learning he could belt out hit-quality tunes of his own as a lead vocalist.
#7 – Snowblind
“Snowblind” was a song Tommy Shaw and James Young sang as a duo performance as part of Styx’s lineup. Featured on the 1981 album Paradise Theatre, this was a dramatic song that focused on the realities of cocaine addiction. Just like the classic mood swings that go with this narcotic, the song shifted from Young’s slower-paced vocals to Shaw’s more aggressive lyrical input. This became a number twenty-two hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart when it was released as a single.
Dennis DeYoung and James Young wrote this song, while the lyrics technically belonged to Shaw. At the time, he was uncredited as one of the songwriters behind what became a major fan favorite among Styx fans. “Snowblind” was a controversial song when it first came out as activists felt there was the influence of Satanism that went into the lyrics. This ended up having the song condemned by a series of radio stations wanting no part of the drama. At this time, tensions were mounting between DeYoung and Shaw, ultimately leading to the two going their separate ways.
#6 – Dear John
“Dear John” was a song Tommy Shaw wrote in memory of his friend and fellow Styx bandmate, John Panozzo. When Shaw returned to Styx’s lineup in 1995, Panozzo was already dealing with liver issues that were brought on due to his excessive drinking habit. Even though Shaw left Styx in 1984, he and Panozzo were still close enough to regard each other as friends. This heartfelt song was Shaw’s way of paying homage to a man he respected as a person and an artist. As a song, this became a cult favorite among Styx fans. This piano ballad gem was featured in the 1997 release of Return to Paradise and has remained a staple of Styx’s concert performances.
#5 – Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
“Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” became a number twenty-nine hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 after it was released as a single in 1978. This was the second single released from the album, The Grand Illusion. Written and sung by Tommy Shaw, his contribution as a member of Styx met with the start of the rock group’s most fabulous run as a band that would see four consecutive studio albums become RIAA’s triple platinum sellers. This was a follow-up single after “Come Sail Away” became such a big hit on the radio stations across the American and Canadian nations.
The inspiration behind “Fooling Yourself” first came to Shaw after observing the angry young man’s behavior in Styx’s founding member, Dennis DeYoung. It was apparent to Shaw that DeYoung didn’t handle disappointment, nor did he like being challenged. While Shaw further developed the song, he found this had more to do with him as a young man still carving a path for himself in a world he was still trying to get a handle on.
#4 – Mademoiselle
Influenced by Queen’s style of music, “Mademoiselle” was the first single released from Styx’s album Crystal Ball. As a new member of the lineup, guitarist and lead singer Tommy Shaw performed this song, which peaked as high as number thirty-six on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number twenty-five on the Canadian RPM Singles chart. Before joining Styx, “Mademoiselle” was a song Shaw penned while he was with MS Funk. At the time, it was called “Bitter Suite.” Shaw’s style with MS Funk served as his contribution to Styx and how it developed as a rock band throughout the remainder of the 1970s. This was a song that had Shaw fondly remember a romantic encounter with a woman, singing about her in what many fans agree was one of his best performances as a singer and songwriter.
#3 – Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
The hit singles with Tommy Shaw as Styx’s lead singer continued into 1978 and its next triple-platinum-certified album, Pieces of Eight. On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” became a number twenty-one hit. It was even more popular in Canada at number nine. Penned and performed by Shaw, the pattern of his success as a songwriter was instrumental in the group’s continued success while he was still in the lineup. This song joined the list of Styx’s greatest hits of all time.
“Blue Collar Man” came to him after learning one of his friends was laid off from his job as a railroad worker. After hearing a failed boat engine trying to start, this sparked a guitar riff idea that fueled the direction of a song that became a favorite among a fan base that could relate to Shaw’s lyrical story. It was energetic, powerful, and somewhat anthemic.
#2 – Renegade
On the US Billboard Hot 100, Tommy Shaw’s dramatic hit, “Renegade,” became a number sixteen hit. In Canada, it peaked as high as number ten. Released from the 1978 album Pieces of Eight, Styx began exploring heavier rock musical performances. Up until now, it was primarily ballads and easy-listening favorites. “Renegade” became one of Styx’s staple favorites and Shaw’s as a solo artist. This was the song about an outlaw who was facing execution by a legal system that agreed this was the appropriate price to pay for the crimes he committed. This rebellious classic became a cult favorite among the fans, especially those with issues of their own where lawmakers’ views were concerned.
#1 – Too Much Time on My Hands
“Too Much Time on My Hands” became Tommy Shaw’s most significant hit while he sang as Styx’s lead singer. Released in 1981, it became a number nine hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was the first and only time he realized a top-ten hit while part of Styx’s lineup. Sung was a frustrated man who had more free time than he liked, in many ways that’s probably how Shaw felt at the time. That, combined with the perspective of an unemployed man, made this a potent performance from Shaw that had him at his best. The recording of this single and Paradise Theatre came at a time when the creative differences between himself and fellow bandmate Dennis DeYoung were reaching the boiling point. As one of the heaviest hard rock songs from Styx’s repertoire, “Too Much Time on My Hands” became a major cult classic, with the band’s most loyal fans screaming for more.
Updated February 23, 2024