When you talk to Dennis DeYoung, you might get his solicited opinion on Chicago pizza (thin crust with fennel sausage at Vito & Nick’s), hear his billion-dollar idea for a tattoo removal business or learn about Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily Rose, singing “Babe” in a new movie with her dad (DeYoung has the clip posted on his Facebook page).
One of the most recognizable voices of the ‘70s as a founding member of Styx, DeYoung is still revered among classic rock fans for creating enduring hits such as “Don’t Let it End,” “The Best of Times” and Eric Cartman’s favorite song, “Come Sail Away.”
While DeYoung was replaced in Styx in 1999 after a bitter split, he and his five-piece band (as well as backup singer wife Suzanne) have been faithfully recreating the music of Styx for several years.
The gregarious lifelong Chicago Southsider called earlier this week from Boca Raton, Fla., to chat about his Saturday concert opening for Boston at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, his secret to vocal longevity and why he still enjoys playing the hits.
Q: You’re playing several shows with Boston. Are you friendly with the guys?
A: We played with them last year, one show, in Phoenix and it went splendidly. It sold out and… we understand that in life you must have a clear example of the totem pole. I understand the pecking order and it was beautiful. Tom Scholz is the original guy (in Boston) and we’re around the same age, but our bands are about the same much younger age. I’m in a support role, I get it.
Q: You’ve been with this band now for several years except for your new drummer, correct?
A: Yes, Michael Morales joined us about three months ago. The other guys have been with me about six years. After I got replaced in Styx, I set out on a solo career – not by choice – and I started doing just the Styx songs I wrote. In 2010, my son Matt showed me this video and said, “Hey Dad, check this out. And there was this guy doing “Man in Wilderness,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” all of the (Styx) Tommy Shaw songs. He played lead guitar and he was a rock star and he really did those songs well. I jumped in, I hired him (August Zadra) and decided to put a band together that, if you closed your eyes, you would think you were listening to those Styx concerts. I’ve accomplished it.
Q: Your voice sounds remarkably supple. How do you keep it in shape?
A: I wear thong underwear three sizes too small (laughs). I’ve really respected it. I didn’t do drugs or drink, I didn’t smoke. I really took care knowing these things are finite and you have to respect it. And of course there’s also dumb luck.
A: Do you still enjoy singing those songs or is it more of an obligation?
A: Anyone in showbiz rock ‘n’ roll who says they’re so tired of playing their hit songs, I want to smack them. I think it’s an act. Because, look, you work your tail off to get people to validate you. I always say, when I play the first few notes and people scream…if you’re tired of that, you should try retail. What else are you looking for? Every artist wants to feel like they’re still valid in a contemporary way. But you can’t be so arrogant not to think that people who have thrown down their hard-earned money don’t want to see and hear the things they want. I’m going to be 70, and if you would have told me when I was 25 that I would be 70 and people would be paying me to come and sing in Atlanta – and not even with the band I worked so hard for and created – my first thought would have been – I’m gonna be 70 (laughs)?
Q: You haven’t had a new solo studio album in many years. Do you still work on new music or have you decided that sporadic touring is the way to go?
A: The company that did my DVD gave me an offer to do a record, but here’s the deal: The last solo album I did was in 2007 and it was called “One Hundred Years From Now” and I don’t do better than that. But to go through the work – and it has nothing to do with money – but if you could just get the respect of your peers and the affirmation of strangers, that would be enough to drive us. But I might do it anyway. If I knew 35,000 people would have their lives enhanced then that would be enough. I want to do it and I want to know that it will matter in some way.
Q: Even though we’ll probably never see another Styx tour, do you think there would ever be a one-off or special gathering?
A: It baffles me why Tommy, J.Y. and I don’t get together and it has nothing to do with me. I think the fans would love to see these three old farts together. It would give me great joy to do one last tour and remind people of that thing that they really like. But having said that, if it’s not to be, this band that I put together is really worth seeing. We’ve been doing these Boston shows and they’ve been absolutely terrific – and that’s the audience I need to be in front of.
With Dennis DeYoung. 7:30 p.m. Saturday. $19.50-$99.50. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.