MY HERO: STYXIn the third grade, I was asked to write an essay about my hero. No further explanation given--just whomever I considered to be my hero.
I'm sure that I, like the rest of my classmates, probably contemplated the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln--who was, after all, buried in our hometown, had practiced law there and had pretty much every institution in the area named after him, before he got all hoity-toity and became president and ended the Civil War and all that--but it wasn't him I chose.
Nor was it my mother or father, both of whom probably should have been chosen, in retrospect.
I always thought Harriet Tubman and dinosaurs were pretty cool, too, but I wouldn't necessarily call them my heroes. Plus, all the above were way too obvious.
Nope, the person I chose as the subject of my hero essay was one Tommy Shaw--singer and guitarist for the rock band Styx.
I mean, I always liked his more-rockin' songs over egomaniac Dennis DeYoung's power ballads (nothing against ya, Denny--when they had that power, they were, like, really powerful), but Tommy had the long blond hair to match his disconcerting overbite, an aggressive, yet still unaware-of-punk-rock kinda voice, and he could wail on guitar. Dennis? He played the keys and sang like a girl (really effectively, I might add). I mean, sure, we've got Tool now, but who else was playing MOR arena-prog back then? Above all though, here's what sealed the deal: I read in some rag that my boy Tommy was hired to join Styx a couple days before they were headed out on tour. Their original guitarist (whose name I've never bothered to memorize, whereas I'm devoting a lot of column inches to Tommy right now--sucker!) had just quit; Tommy somehow got hired, and he had only those couple days to learn all the songs that Styx played live. And he did it. And my third-grade mind couldn't even begin to comprehend that. And so, he was my hero.
I remember listening to my Styx albums--The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight were my faves, though my 8-track copy of the latter always pissed me off because it changed tracks and cut "Renegade" in half right before the point where it starts kicking ass--and thinking, there's no way anyone could listen to Styx and not love them as much as I do right now. A few years later, I understood my friends' trepidation.
I'm not even talking about when the band itself started to totally lame out with Paradise Theater and Kilroy Was Here. I knew those sucked the instant I first heard them. What I'm saying is that I finally realized how horrible Styx really was, that I had truly loved music that was truly awful, and that I couldn't even tolerate listening to those albums I used to love. It was a bizarre realization, because most of the music I've loved throughout my life, I still love, whether it's actually good stuff or just mere nostalgia. But this time, nostalgia failed me, and it was the first time that any music I ever loved sounded horrible to me.
But that was years ago--about 15 or 20 years, to be vague. And now, I can't seem to get enough Styx. Love 'em! Songs like "Loreli" and "Come Sail Away" and "Fooling Yourself" spell out the blueprint for the soft verse/overblown chorus that bands like Nirvana and Pixies take credit for today. Black Francis wishes he was Tommy Shaw.
Update: Dennis DeYoung is no longer in Styx. He quit a while back, and last I heard, he was starring in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, which is probably where he belongs. That was probably a decade ago, though, and I just can't bring myself to Google him.
Then there's the sad story of the Panozzo brothers. Drummer John died in 1996, and his brother Chuck, the band's bassist, contracted AIDS and, around the same time, proudly came out of the closet (man, talk about bittersweet), then later was hit with prostate cancer. He's reportedly doing pretty darn well these days, and from what I can figure out, he just might be pounding the skins at this week's performance.
And we can be sure that our former hero, Tommy Shaw, along with original member James "JY" Young, will be cranking out the Styx classics at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at Desert Diamond Casino, 1100 W. Pima Mine Road. Advance tickets are available for $30 at the casino's box office, or by calling 393-2799 or 866-DDC-WINS. For more information, dial the latter number or log onto www.desertdiamondcasino.com.
COMPETING COLLABORATORSOne of the coolest things I've seen on TV in the last year or two was a segment of a concert that celebrated Willie Nelson's 70th birthday. Ray Charles (R.I.P.), Willie and Leon Russell took turns on verses of Leon's "A Song for You." It's a just plain gorgeous song to begin with, but the combination of each distinguished voice coming in and out, and the look on Willie's face while Ray was singing (the paragon of simultaneous bliss and sadness, completely unforced), made it something I'll truly never forget. During Ray's verse, tears ran down my cheeks, and I'm still not exactly sure why. (It doesn't really matter, anyway.)
May God look over Ray Charles with a watchful eye. We'll never see the likes of him again.
We will, however, see the other two of that triumvirate visit town this week. But here's the weird thing: though they've been friends and collaborators for decades, they're playing at different venues--Willie's at the TCC Music Hall, while Leon takes over the relatively cozy confines of Plush--on the very same night. Decisions, decisions, people.
Are you gonna go with the underrated guitarist who wrote "Crazy," "Funny How Time Slips Away" and a couple dozen other entries into the canon that is American music (though let it be known that Willie underwent surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome this summer; let's hope he's as nice and mean to Trigger as he ever was), or are you gonna go with the former session musician (in addition to recording with Dylan, Clapton and the Stones, he arranged Ike and Tina's "River Deep, Mountain High," fer Chrissake), who eventually revealed himself as a guy who had way too much soul for a white dude via his songwriting, mastery of any instrument you can name and gruff, soulful vocal delivery?
They're both just about as classy and awesome (in the true sense of the word) as can be, and here's hoping for a walk-on from a "very special guest" at whichever I attend.
Willie Nelson performs at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., Wednesday, Sept. 29. Hot Club of Cowtown opens at 7 p.m. Tickets are $55 and $42.50, and may be purchased at the TCC box office, all Ticketmaster locations, www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 321-1000. For more information, call 791-4101.
Leon Russell performs at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., Wednesday, Sept. 29. Doors open at 8 p.m. for an opening set from Libby Kirkpatrick. Advance tix are available for $18 at the venue or www.virtuous.com; they'll be $21 the day of the show. Call 798-1298 with questions.
ON THE BANDWAGONMan, am I sorry now that I babbled incessantly about Styx, because there's so much stuff I prolly shoulda told you about instead. Here's my attempt at pithiness.
Though it's touted as a solo album, former Molly Nancy McCallion is joined by names too numerous to mention here on her self-titled release (Taller Dog), a decidedly more country affair than Molly's holdovers might be used to. Don't be scared; it's possibly the best album of her career.
She'll celebrate with a CD release party at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at St. Michael & All Angels Church, 602 N. Wilmot Road. Darcie Deaville opens. Advance tickets are available for $10 at Antigone Books, CD City, Enchanted Earthworks and the venue's office. For further details, call 886-7292 or log onto www.rhythmandroots.com.
Not to take anything away from them, because they do it well, but L.A.'s Moving Units sound just like every other band doing that dance-punk-with-no-danger thing these days. If you're not sick of this stuff yet, you'll love these guys. They're at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., Sunday, Sept. 26, for an all-ages show that starts at 8:30 p.m. with Kill Me Tomorrow and Chinese Stars. Cover is 8 buckaroos. 884-0874 is the number to call if you're confused.
Also at Solar Culture this week are Raleigh, N.C., trio The Rosebuds, whose debut album, Make Out, was released almost a year ago on Merge Records; at 15 years old still one of the finest indies out there. The album is pure effortless guitar-pop, amateurish in the sort of way that's charming, not annoying (quite a feat these days), and all the "bop-bop-bop"s certainly don't hurt, either. Hey, I like the Hoodoo Gurus as much as anyone.
The Rosebuds perform an all-ages show at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., Wednesday, Sept. 29. Things get cookin' at 9 p.m. with opening sets from Galactic Federation of Love and The Sweat. Cover is $6. That number again is 884-0874.
Remember that bug-eyed dude who used to play guitar in the Red Switch? He knows how to shred, right? Well, his name is Andrew Skikne, and his current San Francisco-based band, Roma 79, will be opening for Chango Malo on Friday, Sept. 24, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. First on the bill at 9 p.m. is Batter the Drag. Cover is $4. Dial 622-8848 for more 411.
While we'd love to share details of the first Big AZ Music Festival (BAMfest, fer short), set to take place at numerous venues on Saturday, Sept. 25, up and down Fourth Avenue and stretching at least as far north as Club Congress, the truth is that we haven't been provided with any details on the matter. Just thought we'd let you know it was happening.
I shudder to think how long ago it actually was, but there was a time when every bar in Tucson--no matter whether it was a pool hall, a punk dive, or a frat hang--used to have the song "Una Mas Cerveza" by Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs on its jukebox. For about a five-year spell, you couldn't help but hear it anywhere you went. And I suppose it's no accident that their most recognizable of songs kicks off the just-released 21-track retrospective, Still Smokin' After 20 Years: Lure 'em in with the hit drinking song, then ease 'em into the more thoughtful (and yes, better) Doug Sahm/Bruce Springsteen-influenced stuff ("Clown" is our current favorite, with the bittersweet "You Don't Know" half a length behind). This trio deserves so much better than to be remembered for a novelty drinking song. Rockabilly Tex-Mex swing and so much more. Explore 'em, willya?
They'll perform Thursday, Sept. 30, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Call 622-3535 for bonus info.