ELKHART — When bass player Ricky Phillips joined Styx almost 11 years ago, he knew it was “the right fit.”
Phillips, who had previously recorded with The Babys and Bad English, teamed up with Styx in 2003 and never looked back. The classic rock outfit has been making music for more than four decades and will play at the Lerner Theatre on April 3 with Head East.
Styx’s hits include “Come Sail Away,” “Lady,” “The Grand Illusion” and “Too Much Time on my Hands,” among others. The band recorded four consecutive multi-platinum albums.
Here is an excerpt with Phillips’ interview with The Elkhart Truth:
Elkhart Truth: You call yourself “the new guy” in the band, but you have shared the stage with a lot of great artists during your career as a musician in The Babys and Bad English. How did you get hooked up with Styx?
Phillips: "I’ve known the guys since the ‘70s, and I got the call from Tommy Shaw asking if I wanted to go out on the road. I played shows with them when I was in The Babys. Tommy Shaw and I remained friends over the years. When he was in Damn Yankees, I was in Bad English. We’ve always wanted to work together, so this was a perfect opportunity.
To be honest, for me, the best part of this business is being in a band, not spending 12 hours a day in a recording studio or doing sessions for other people or writing music for other people. The best part of it is having your own band, and it’s a tough thing to do.
That’s why it’s always difficult for bands to stay together. It’s a marriage between four or five guys, and everybody’s got to be on the same page, or if not, know how to work with each other with respect. I think that’s one of the cool things about Styx."
Elkhart Truth: Can you talk a little about the band’s current lineup? It’s you, Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, Lawrence Gowan and Todd Sucherman.
Phillips: “There really has to be a chemistry among the players for it to work, and that’s the magic. You can’t force that, and the guys in Styx all love being in a band as well. We don’t want to stop. We’re going to rock til we drop, as Tommy Shaw says.”
Elkhart Truth: Styx already had a lot of success before you joined the band. How do you add your own personality to the music while staying true to the band’s sound?
Phillips: "Before you can make something your own, you've got to know exactly what it is all the way through, and then you can find places to make it your own, especially with an iconic band that has this great catalog.
We’ve always paid homage to the original recordings and tried to present all the songs every night the way you know them on the radio and learned to love them in your own home, but within that, it’s such a vast catalog that there’s plenty places to stretch and show your own musicianship. It’s not a karaoke situation, and that’s something I wouldn’t be interested in, if I was just copying somebody else’s parts."
Elkhart Truth: What’s the energy like at a Styx concert?
Phillips: "I think what fans find out is that they’re the fifth Beatle. In other words, they’re part of the band. We include the audience in our show.
We’re very active, and there’s a lot going on. We don’t even sing on the same microphones. We move around on the stage from time to time. It’s a very involved show. We’re not staring at our boots while we’re playing.
Our motto is 'let’s make tonight’s show better than last night’s show.’ That’s the way we do business.”
Elkhart Truth: Are you guys working on new music?
Phillips: “We always are. Usually in sound check, somebody will have an idea and we’ll work on it. We stockpile a ton of material, and one of these days, we’ll get off the road and into a studio.
From an artistic standpoint, the exercise of writing is important to all of us, but the nature of where we’re at in our careers, we’re a touring act. It used to be a recording industry, but it’s not like that anymore. It’s changed so much. So many record labels have died.
Now it’s all about the live performance, and if you have the luxury of having fans like we do that will allow us to be on the road for over 200 days a year, that is something that is premium in our lives and in our existence. Recording is not that important. It’s certainly something we love to do, but the live shows are where we make our bread and butter, but it’s also where our fans want us to be, where they’re happiest.”
Styx plays at 7:30 p.m. April 3 at the Lerner Theatre in downtown Elkhart. Tickets are available for $49.85 to $99.85 at thelerner.com, by phone at (574) 293-4469 and at the theater’s box office, 410 S. Main St.
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.