Even after releasing 16 studio albums since 1972, James Young “JY,” vocalist and lead guitarist of American rock band STYX, is still astounded by how many people listen to their music.
“It is a humbling thing to think that some notion that popped into my head, or one of my bandmates’ heads, had such a profound impact on hundreds of thousands, (or) millions of people worldwide,” said JY, who has been with STYX since its inception, making him the only member of the six-member band to be a part of each album.
“And it turns out that it (STYX songs) really did connect with people… I love being on stage, I love playing guitar, I love being in a rock n’ roll band. It is a great joy to me.”
The band has had four consecutive albums certified as multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, and 16 songs hit the top 40 in the nation — eight of which in the top 10.
STYX released their latest album, “The Mission” in 2017, which debuted on various Billboard charts, including No. 6 Top Rock Album, No. 14 Billboard Top Album and No. 45 on the Billboard 200.
The band will be performing at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Bert Ogden Arena.
JY, 70, said that he gets the energy he needs to perform from the crowd.
“When you have 2,000 or 20,000 people cheering for you and giving you a standing ovation, that’s rather reinforcing,” he said. “I watch the crowd to see who’s having fun and singing along. I feed off of their energy; if they are singing at the top of their lungs, and they’re jumping up and rocking to it, it’s like yeah, we are on the same wavelength.”
JY, who grew up in Chicago, learned how to play the keyboard and piano at 5, and at 14, bought his first guitar — a dark-wood Gibson Hollow Body electric guitar — with his younger brother. He said that he was supposed to share it with his brother, but used it so much that three months after, his brother bought another one.
He learned how to play guitar while he was a student at Calumet High, where he also learned how to play the clarinet.
JY’s father played the keyboard, piano and guitar, too. His aunt played the organ, and his four siblings also played piano. He added that this family would often play together, with his dad playing guitar, his brother playing the bass, his sister the organ and him on clarinet.
“My dad had the gift of playing by ear, he could pick anything up and play it, and I inherited it from him,” JY said.
“He definitely had an influence on us (his siblings and himself), but not stylistically. We are all musically inclined and we each took on a style that we liked — I skewed toward rock n’ roll.”
At 17, he and his brother started playing in a band, and in 1967, had the chance to perform in Battles of the Bands in downtown Chicago. Later that year, they performed in Canada with a band from England.
JY attended the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he got a bachelor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and joined the band, TW4.
A couple years later, TW4 changed its name to STYX.
Since then, the band has experienced many highs and lows, including many millions-selling singles, and two breakups. But through it all, JY said that the reason he plays has remained constant: to touch as many people as he can.
“Our music has not only enriched people’s lives, but it changed people’s lives by helping them get through very difficult times,” JY said. “Music is a universal language. You don’t have to learn how to speak another language to understand music, and everyone gets to embrace it in their own way.
“The great thing about music, particularly hard-edged rock music, is that it has a way of making you forget about all your troubles — whatever is bothering you. It is everyone’s escape, because life is not easy for anyone and we have to make the best out of what we have.”