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Interview with Dennis DeYoung

Dennis DeYoung

The Truth Behind The 'Grand Illusion'

By Rob McKenzie

The legendary Dennis DeYoung (formerly from Styx) has just released his final studio recording entitled '26 East: Vol 2'. It is a superb offering of songs which is so triumphant it transcends the sadness of this event.

Rocktopia took the opportunity to have a chat with Dennis from his Chicago-area home to celebrate the album and to explore highlights of his career.

Dennis DeYoung Rocktopia Interview

Regarding my first memories of Styx, I remember listening with a friend to your tales of fantasy and really liking 'The Grove Of Eglantine'

When I hear these stories, it is outstanding to think that I was reaching people like you in such a meaningful way; what a lucky guy I am to have this job! Styx 2 was my coming out party as a writer and singer; 'Lady' was on it but the album failed miserably – I was crushed! On the next two albums, I pretended to be someone else (maybe an English minstrel!). When the Beatles started, they sounded American; they emulated what they thought was exotic and faraway – so 'Grove Of Eglantine' was an expression of a young man trying to be someone other than who he was. Having said that, I am happy you like it.

How did the album come about?

I've known Jim [Peterik] a long time and he talked me into making these records and to say goodbye to the fans. People have said such nice things to me, but the people who wrote about music never treated us [Styx] fairly. We had the bad luck in 1977 to be in the midst of punk music. Is it sour grapes? – a little, but I don't care. People have written about my music [the current album] that I have waited fifty years to hear. It is astounding and life affirming; inside we are all the same, we want to be loved, we want to be respected and approved of, don't we?

One of the best songs on the album is 'The Last Guitar Hero' but before we discuss that, who were your keyboard heroes?

The first keyboard player I got into was Jimmy Smith [American jazz musician], then Jon Lord – you can hear Jon's influence in 'Blue Collar Man'; the biggest influence was Keith Emerson. As an accordion player, I never took a piano lesson, most of my style of playing was based on the accordion style of playing with trills.

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Why did you choose Tom Morello to play on this song about the music streaming world now?

Tom Morello is the last guy we know who did something different, no-one was doing Tom Morello before Tom; four seconds into the solo, you know who he was. [The song is about] the dangers of technology taking over Rock 'n' Roll - the transfer of wealth from the creators.

A number of songs on the album are clearly about your wife.

She has been with me every step of the way. The best thing is to write about what you know and to express a true feeling about someone I have been with all these years.

The song 'Hello, Goodbye' about The Beetles is an instant classic.

I did my best to pay tribute to the four lads that are responsible for my existence. I mix all the music myself and when I finish I give up saying I can't do anymore. When I finished [this song], I ran around screaming "I did it!". What makes it work is the joy in my heart – the lyrics are from fan's point of view. In 1964, I was watching the Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and in that moment I knew what I wanted to do if I could.

The song 'The Isle Of Misanthrope' is a stark commentary on the world.

In the last year, we have seen the very best and very worst of humanity on social media. Have these people always been this hateful? The overarching theme is "do people realise that all empires built must some time burn?" – people have sunglasses on in the video which represent blindfolds.

Your final song on the album 'Grand Finale' ties together key themes you have written about in your career. Please can you explain the meaning of the Grand Illusion?

I'm the kid with accordion, that's who I think of myself as. I wrote the Grand Illusion lyric as a young man, probing who we were and what we did, and came to the conclusion that we were creating an illusion for an the audience to sell them our records, tee-shirts and concert tickets. Which is all fair, because it is giving you something that brings you joy in a world where it is in short supply. We are all the same and want the same thing – the golden rule is to do on to others as you would have done to you.

The last thing I say on my final album is deep inside we are all the same. I sang in 1977 -don't believe in me as a Rock Star, I am a grand illusion. I am you – I am a kid with an accordion Beetle-dreaming. I am up here in the big light, listen to me, buy my record – I am an illusion. Basically we are all humans, we want the same thing.

Your recent home recording of 'Best Of Times' really hit a chord during the depth of the pandemic.

I stuck the iPad™ on the piano and thought nothing about it – I recorded the song and then phoned my buddy who created a YouTube channel. When it [the 1.3 million hits] happened, I couldn't believe it. I then read the comments - and somehow people equated what I wrote to something so personal to them. These songs belong to the people - this is the Grand Illusion, people have taken what I have created, made it their own and given me an incredible lifestyle – can you believe it?

Dennis DeYoung- 26 East Vol 2

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