Styx was in town last night, playing across the river at the Brown County Fair. Having seen and heard them live once before, it didn’t seem likely that last night’s performance could be any better.
If memory serves — the ticket stub is long gone — Styx played a show at the Wausau West High School fieldhouse in Wausau, Wisconsin, in November 1974. It was the first rock show I ever attended. I was 17.
I’d hoped to have a date, or at least hook up with a girl at the show. No such luck on either count. I do remember running into a guy from school who seemed surprised that I would be there at all. An indication of my place in the social strata in my senior year of high school.
Styx’s single “Lady” was on the radio at the time. The band — five young guys from Chicago — was making the rounds of the Midwest in support. It had just released or was about to release a new album, its fourth on Wooden Nickel Records, an indie label out of Chicago. Thus the gig at a high school gym.
That night, Styx must have played tunes from those first four records, three of which are decent enough but mostly forgotten today. No one wanted to hear those tunes, though. They wanted to hear “Lady.”
So Styx played “Lady” early in the show, maybe the second or third song. The place went nuts. Then they played some other tunes that were received politely enough.
Styx wrapped up the show, and everyone fired up the lighters. They kept cheering for an encore. They kept cheering for a certain encore.
So Styx, the five young guys from Chicago trying to make it big nationally, came back out and played “Lady” again. The place went nuts again, and everyone went home happy.
All these years later, the only Styx records I’ve kept are some of those earliest albums released on Wooden Nickel from 1972 to 1974. They’re an interesting mix of boogie rock and prog rock.
My favorite is “Man of Miracles,” the album that came out about the same time I saw Styx in that high school gym. Give a listen to these tunes, all written by guitarists James Young and John Curulewski.
“Rock & Roll Feeling,” foreshadowing Boston?
“A Man Like Me,” inspired by Foghat? And dig those horns!
“Havin’ A Ball,” arriving at the same time and sounding like Head East, which also came out of Illinois.
All by Styx, from “Man of Miracles,” 1974. It’s out of print.
Young has been with the band since 1970, when it was known as TW4. Curulewski left Styx in 1975 — Tommy Shaw took his place — and died in 1988.