Saturday, 5 August 2017

Chuck Panozzo (Styx)

Today's subject formed a band with his twin brother and their neighbor while they were practically children. The band became one of the biggest acts in the US charts from the mid 70s till the early 80s. It took our guy a long time to come out, but he finally did, in 2001.

Charles Salvatore "Chuck" Panozzo was born September 20, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois. I'd rather use his own words, from a 2015 interview, as he eloquently sets the scene of how things were: "Let’s talk on the HIV first. Let me just dispel the rumour. No one makes you gay, you are born gay. That’s how it works. When I realized I was different, well I come from a Roman Catholic family and of course you don’t dare say anything about that. I grew up in the blue collar part of Chicago, the south side and it was about sustaining yourself from pay cheque to pay cheque. No one talked about being gay, that’s just how things were. My father died at a young age and I never had that opportunity to talk to him. When I finally was able to tell my Mother, I was her caregiver at the time, for her it was that someone had to have done this to me. My other dilemma was being in the band. My concern was that if I were to say too much it would affect not only my career but the other band members. That was a heavy dilemma."

"I was diagnosed before medications; I’m termed a long-time survivor. One of my most memorable moments is from years ago back in Chicago. I had met this young man who was living with his disease. We didn’t know it was HIV, all we knew was that our friends were dying like crazy. This one man in particular, I could not comprehend that he could die so quickly, and so young. So I went to a health clinic and gave them a cheque for $5000 and said ‘this is for that disease that is happening now.’ They asked me to put my name on the donation and I said no, this is anonymous. I walked away from it thinking, ‘you don’t do it for notoriety but who knows, someday you may benefit from this research.’ Which to me is everything. I had kind of resigned myself to the fact that eventually I would get HIV. We all knew each other, we were all kind of in the same pool."

"So, in 1991 when I was diagnosed with HIV I didn’t go jump off a bridge, it was way to soon for that, although my brain kind of did. I thought, I can’t wait for the bell curve. I knew some drug would be developed that will give us hope. AZT was doing nothing – it was a harsh drug. It gave some people time and it gave people no time. At the time (of being diagnosed) I was feeling healthy enough, and I was also dealing with a lot of personal issues. I thought, I have a tour to do so I’ll just go do it."

"I’ve also had cancer twice, I’m in remission now. The first round of AIDS drugs made me sick for about two years. At that point in my head, I said ‘you can either go in a corner and feel sorry for yourself or your can stay strong’. Around my kitchen I put drawings and names of people who had beaten the disease and told myself, ‘if they could do it, you can do it too’."

"Once I started to feel better I outed myself in front of a thousand people for a human rights campaign. To be honest with you, I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into. To be in front of a thousand people, with my family and friends there, and say that I had lived my life as a gay man."

"For the first 10 years in Styx I was pretty happy. As we started to become very successful I became very unhappy because I could not be myself. When I came to that realization, or actually after getting HIV, I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore. I thought ‘if you survive this and you do not change there is something wrong with you.’ That was the deal breaker for me. Its funny that you have to experience a serious illness to appreciate the fact that you are getting in your own way."

Chuck and his twin brother, the late Styx drummer John Panozzo, started taking music lessons together at a very young age. “At the age of seven our uncle Tony (my mother’s brother) told our Mom that he wanted to give us both music lessons,” Chuck Panozzo said in a recent interview.

“So every Saturday my brother and I would go to my uncle’s for lessons - he was a professional drummer, an instrument that suited John perfectly but for me, not so much. Therefore, it wasn’t long before I realized that I really wasn’t suited to be a drummer but a rhythm guitar player, so my brother and I had a perfect marriage of drums and rhythm guitar and we would be asked at the school where I took lessons if we’d be the rhythm section for their accordion school... we were both confident and said yes.”

In the summer of 1961 Chuck and John formed a band they called Tradewinds, in the basement of their parent's house with their neighbor, singer and accordion player Dennis DeYoung... and with the encouragement of family and friends, they rehearsed that entire summer and got ready to play out. The twins were twelve at the time and DeYoung was fourteen. “Our first professional performance was in January of 1962 and we each received $5,” Chuck stated.

“Soon thereafter, we were on to performing at local parties and high schools but in the interim, I went into the Catholic Seminary and lost a year of music, but gained a level of maturity that most 14-year-old boys hadn’t a clue of. I finally realized I was in a rich boy’s boarding school - or as I refer to it now – a “priest puppy mill.” (laughs)

“What does a 14-year-old know about poverty, chastity and obedience - so I found my spirituality walking through the woods and it was a mutual agreement that I just wasn’t an “asset to the abbey!” (laughs) Upon my return home, I took up the bass and the deal was done - John and I were the official rhythm players in what was soon to be Styx.”

In 1965, the band changed their moniker to TW-4 when another band called The Trade Winds had broken through nationally and by 1966, the Panozzo brothers and DeYoung were attending Chicago State College and doing small gigs at local high schools and college parties. Within a couple years, TW-4 had built a following and added college friend and guitarist John Curulewski to the band. “I was in the college choir, John C. and Dennis were music students and we soon realized we needed a fifth member,” Chuck said. Enter James “JY” Young.

“JY was aware of TW-4 like many of the local bands in our area... he was a hippie from the Woodstock generation and played his guitar like his mentor, Jimi Hendrix. As odd as it seemed, it was the perfect counterpoint to what eventually would become Styx.”

Chuck had graduated from college and was now teaching high school art classes when the band was discovered while playing a show in a Western Springs, Illinois church, which was also JY's home town. When TW-4 signed a deal with Wooden Nickel Records, the guys decided to again, change the band name and chose Styx – according to DeYoung – because it was the only name that none of them hated.

“So, in 1972 we signed our first record deal and it was the American Dream! There I was, teaching high school and at the same time, my band was signing a record deal. With the Wooden Nickel deal - like many band's first record contract - it did become our training ground to bigger and better things, but the lack-luster PR and lack of tour dollars we received, motivated the group to work hard, write and be the best at what we wanted to be... a great touring band!”

Styx would record four albums under Wooden Nickel from 1972-1974 and although these albums feature an inspiring mix of classic and progressive-rock styles, they were not able to gain much traction on a national level, although the song Best Thing from their self-titled debut album cracked the Billboard singles chart (peaked at #82) for six weeks.

Then in the spring of 1975, the DeYoung penned power-ballad Lady finally started getting radio airplay (two years after its release) on the Chicago rock station WLS and then on a national level. The song suddenly rose to #6 on the singles chart, which also pushed the album, titled Styx II, to gold record status (500,000 units sold).

Their third album, The Serpent Is Rising (1973) was considered by the band to be their worst recording. It was also their second-lowest charting album. It did however contain some interesting tracks, like the Young composition Witch Wolf:

With their last album for Wooden Nickel, Man of Miracles (1974), the band seem to have made concerted strides toward becoming increasingly palatable to the mainstream rock crowd. One such example is the pumped up anthemic Rock & Roll Feeling:

They certainly haven't lost their penchant for diversity however, as DeYoung's haunting and poignant Golden Lark, or the melodically and texturally rich power ballad A Song for Suzanne indicate:

The success of Lady led to Styx signing a better deal with A & M Records and in 1975 released Equinox, which was better received than the previous Wooden Nickel releases. The single Lorelei reached #27 on the singles chart and the epic Suite Madame Blue would also get major airplay on FM-rock AOR stations.

This is Lorelei:

... And this is Suite Madame Blue:

However, just as momentum was building for Styx, John Curulewski abruptly decided to leave the band in late 1975 as they readied to go on tour, due to his desire to spend time with his family.

How in the world Styx could find the “last-minute replacement” in guitarist, Tommy Shaw, remains one of the luckiest finds in rock music. “Everyone is fascinated with Tommy Shaw - and why not! Tommy had performed locally at clubs in Chicago and had returned to Alabama - to get a call from our then tour manager, Jim Vose, to come and meet the band. Like JY, Tommy's style was so unlike the typical Styx sound, that it was really the boost we needed after John's departure. Now we had three great singer/songwriters, each one different but with the same goal - to be the best,” in Chuck's words.

In 1976, Styx released Crystal Ball and started re-building momentum, as the Tommy Shaw penned Mademoiselle climbed to #36 and the title track become another AOR rock-radio hit.

Here's Mademoiselle:

Here's Crystal Ball:

However, it would be the release of The Grand Illusion in the summer of 1977, which would finally propel Styx to rock stardom. The album reached #6 on the Billboard album chart and eventually sold over three million copies worldwide. “The Grand Illusion was a total team effort - from the cover, to the musical content inside and by then, we had a real record company in A & M Records,” Chuck declared. “We were at the height of our career's and Dennis, Tommy and JY were at their song writing peak.”

Come Sail Away peaked at #8 in the US and #9 in Canada:

Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man) made it to #20 in Canada and #29 in the US:

Over the next five years, Styx would become one of the most popular rock bands and concert draws in the world, releasing four more multi-platinum selling albums – 1978's Pieces of Eight, 1979's Cornerstone, 1980's Paradise Theatre and 1983's Kilroy Was Here - all of which produced 10 Top 40 singles and combined album sales of over 10 million. These impressive numbers also included a #1 album with the aforementioned Paradise Theatre and a #1 single with the DeYoung written Babe.

Pieces of Eight included hit single Blue Collar Man (Canada #9, US #21):

Sing for the Day only just missed the top 40 in the US (#41):

Renegade, although the third single from the album, was the most successful, peaking at #16 US:

Cornerstone contained their only #1 hit single, Babe (the US & Canada #1, Australia & New Zealand #3, the UK #6). Babe is a smooth, keyboard-pampered love song that finally credited Dennis De Young's textured vocals.

Why Me made it to #26 US, #10 Canada:

Boat on the River was a top 5 hit in Germany:

Borrowed Time was a minor hit in the US and Canada:

Paradise Theatre, their only US #1 album, contained the big hit The Best of Times. The DeYoung composition, with its deliberate, marching rhythm, remains one of the more improbable Top Ten hits of the decade - somehow it just works. (#1 Canada, #3 US):

Too Much Time on My Hands is perhaps my favorite Styx song. It certainly figures among Shaw's finest singles ever.

In Paradise Theatre, all three of the band's composers get their time in the sun. The best offering by Young, the band's third songwriter (and resident peacekeeper), is the desolate tale of drug addiction, Snowblind.

The centerpiece of 1979's uneven Cornerstone album, the number one single, sowed the seeds of disaster for the group by pitching DeYoung's increasingly mainstream ambitions against the group's more conservative songwriters, Tommy Shaw and James "JY" Young. Hence, what had once been a healthy competitive spirit within the band quickly deteriorated into bitter co-existence during the sessions for 1980's Paradise Theater - and all-out warfare by the time of 1983's infamous Kilroy Was Here.

Although Dennis DeYoung's concept about man being replaced by robots in the near future failed to get off the ground, Kilroy Was Here still harbored two of the band's best singles. Don't Let It End almost captures the same endearing qualities as their number one hit, Babe, did four years earlier, peaking at #6 US & #15 Canada, and the synthesized novelty of Mr. Roboto went all the way to #1 Canada, #3 US & #8 Germany, accompanied by a lively and rather extravagant Dennis DeYoung at the helm. It was the song's mechanically spoken chorus and slight disco beat that made it Styx's fifth Top 10 single up to that point, overshadowing the rest of the album's tracks. Here's Mr. Roboto:

... And here's Don't Let It End:

By the end of the expensive and not necessarily successful Kilroy Tour, Tommy Shaw left Styx to record a solo album. In 1984 Styx released a live album, Caught In The Act, which reached #31 on the Billboard album chart and produced one more Top 40 single with Music Time.

After this album, the band broke up. As Chuck says, “Being 32-years-old and reaching the apex of a career in rock music is rare indeed and losing it (the band breaking up) was a loss, but it also opened up a new door for me - to just be myself. I do believe it was harder on John, though... there were no longer reasons to go back to Los Angeles and the odds of us starting up in another band for myself, would have meant a continuation of living a straight life... and I wanted to move forward from that.”

Styx reformed in 1990, bringing in Glen Burtnik as a new guitarist, in Shaw's place, who was by then committed to Damn Yankees. They released Edge of the Century in 1990. The album was a modest hit, but it produced two big hit singles. Show Me the Way peaked at #3 in the US and #4 in Canada:

Love at First Sight peaked at #25 in the US and #20 in Canada:

It was at that time that Chuck was diagnosed as HIV positive. “Yes, I was diagnosed in 1991 and it was a shock – a continuation of being in shock during the 80’s, watching my friends die... I am a part of the Harvey Milk generation. When the government, church and society in general failed to recognize a part of a population of young gay men and women who were turned away, blamed and shamed for contracting a disease... it was a call to arms... I could not sit idly by waiting. I was over being considered a second class citizen and I used the Styx platform to help create AIDS awareness. I also talked at World AIDS Day, both in the States and in Canada.”

"I was a teacher and I know that education means everything. I'll play for 500,000 people this year. Being a musician has given me a platform. Some people ask me "why do you keep talking about this?" I tell them for the same reason McDonalds it's out there."

Tragedy lurked around the corner, though, when in 1996, Panozzo's twin brother, John, died of complications related to alcoholism. "Alcoholism is a horrible experience which affects everyone in the household," Panozzo says. "I came to the realization that if I was drinking with him, I had to be an alcoholic with him. I was codependent."

John's death, although not unexpected due to his heavy alcohol consumption, devastated Panozzo, who remembers his brother as his protector. "He had my back. Growing up gay in the '50s and '60s was not like growing up gay in 2015. There was a lot of bullying in those days."

Believing that John was the only drummer he could ever play with compounded the emotional difficulties Panozzo faced following John’s death. After suffering what he refers to as a “breakdown,” Panozzo was able to stop his cycle of alcohol abuse and gain strength through his newfound independence. “[John] cast a long shadow, and once I got out of that shadow I felt more comfortable just being myself on stage.” 

Openly gay since 2001, Panozzo is now free to live life on his own terms. "I have to if I want to live an authentic life," he says. "To hide your life and to lead a secret life is not living. It's torture."

Resilient and enduring, Panozzo has said he would like to write his own obituary while he is still alive. He was angered when, after John's death, a reporter whom he considered a friend phoned him in an attempt to dig up dirt about John's life. Panozzo wants to make sure that doesn't happen when he dies. "I don't want to be exploited. The cult of celebrity is to the point where it's maddening. We see the damage it does to people, so I thought before someone defines me, I get to define myself."

But he won't be writing his obituary anytime soon, and Panozzo has zero intention of quitting the rock 'n' roll lifestyle he loves so dearly. "Every tour is different. Every time I think that I probably have done everything, I realize that I haven't even scratched the surface. There are always more surprises around the corner."


  1. Another classic rock/gay connection I was not aware of. Didn't DeYoung or Shaw go on to Christian rock? I thought I read this somewhere. CP never makes any mention about their reactions to his coming out so I guess it wasn't a big deal. I wasn't a huge fan of the group outside of The Grand Illusion, Babe and Too Much Time. Glad to hear he's having a good life and not the usual downer ending to this story.

    1. Hey RM! Shaw is still touring with Styx, while DeYoung is also touring with his own entourage, playing his own Styx compositions. I don't remember reading anything about Christian rock, but then again, I may have missed it. The group did react well to his coming out.

      I too am happy to write happy end stories, we do need positive role models. Not that everyone else should be swept under the carpet - quite the opposite. I have enjoyed reading CP's interviews, because he seems to be quite direct and unpretentious. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  2. I enjoyed very much reading and getting to know the Styx! I didn't and don't care about his sexual orientation! Neither Chuck Panozzo's nor anyone's else! I consider your blog, rather, an encyclopaedia about music!
    So i thank you for all the knowledge you are sharing with us!

    1. I'm glad that you've enjoyed the story, Εφη! You know what, quite often we write about what we would have wanted to read; when I was younger, I was always wondering which ones of my musical heroes are gay or whatever. Now, with the plethora of information available to us, I could find out, so I decided to share it with others as well. An encyclopaedia about music would have been nice, but it seems to be very ambitious an undertaking for now. Maybe in the future... Have a peaceful night!