We Wanna Rock Til We Drop – With Ricky Phillips of Styx
By Justin Morris
With a musical history that reaches back over 50 years, the band we have come to know and love as Styx officially hit the scene 44 years ago and continues to play their hearts out today, holding the road down for some 200 days year and still bringing a trademark Styx sound to their live performances that stands toe to toe with the recordings that have netted the act 16 top 40 hits, eight top ten hits and five multi-platinum awards.
Having seen this firsthand a few months ago at the Cajun Dome, I was excited to find out that not only were they coming to L’Auberge Casino Resort for Labor Day weekend, but that Styx bass guitarist Ricky Phillips was willing to take a few minutes and chat with the good ol’ Jambalaya News about the Styx of yesterday and today…
Justin Morris: You’ve a long musical career behind you that even predates your time in Styx, having spent time with The Babies and Bad English (1989’s “When I See You Smile”) , so how long have you been with the guys now and what’s it been like for you coming into a band with such a history?
Ricky Phillips: I will have finished my 13th year in September and it’s just flown by, but you know, we’re the family we see the most. This is a group of incredible musicians who get it and who have done it and have tested every boundary that you can. So many people say to us “Man, it looks like you’re having so much fun up there.” You know, its not an act. You can really see that we dig what we do and we like putting the time in we and like the hard work it takes to get to where we’ve gotten at this point.
JM: I can vouch for that. I saw you guys with Tesla and Def Leppard a few months back and, having never seen any of the acts live before, my biggest takeaway from the night and what I told people afterwards, was that a Styx fan really needs to see that show if they had not. It really stood out.
RP: That’s great to hear. I think a lot of that goes to James Young and Tommy Shaw really protecting Styx through the years and keeping a lid on anything that started to sidetrack the band. They really wanted to make sure the band was always on point and to be careful about who was allowed to be in this rarefied air, this club of being a member of Styx. I had to go through it, too. We pay great attention to details on the recordings, so when people come to hear the band they hear what they know as Styx—it’s not some “this is what we do now.” It’s a continuation. I had to study everything that Chucky (original bassist Chuck Panazzo) ever did.
JM: How far back do you go with these guys and what led up to you coming onboard?
RP: I met the guys in the ‘70s and Tommy and I have been friends ever since and always wanted to work together. Todd Zuckerman, their drummer for the last 20 something-odd years, he and I met doing sessions when I was in LA and he’s always just blown me away. So, when the call came asking if I wanted to get back out on the road again, I wanted to make sure that they were in this for the long haul. Tommy said one thing that did it for me. He said “We wanna rock till we drop. Are you in?” And once I heard that, I jumped on and we’ve been going strong since and some of the people in this organization are some of the best friends I’ll ever have.
JM: So, with as diverse as your musical background is, did you have any influence or experiences with Louisiana music or any other sounds from our part of the country?
RP: Oh yeah, man. You know, Zydeco is something that every musician eventually discovers and Todd’s one of the few drummers that I’ve played with that can really do it. He can lay down a Cajun feel that’s pretty special (laughs) and not all drummers can do that. That’s one of those wools that you have to be dyed in at a pretty young age which is why I’m so thankful that I came from a musical family. I was introduced to so many styles of music and didn’t even know it at the time but some of that stuff really just has to be a part of you and you can’t mimic it. Zydeco really is a special thing and, though I couldn’t do it nearly as well as Todd, I was influenced by it early on in my life and it became a part of me as well. Now I hear it and I just smile. I remember the first time Todd and I jammed Zydeco together and I was like “Oh my God!” It was just amazing.
JM: So what do fans have in store coming up for them this Labor Day Weekend?
RP: You’re gonna see and hear the Styx you know and remember. You’ll hear vocalists that care about you hearing those songs as you remember them, in the original keys, with the original arrangements and making sure that nothing is left to the imagination and I think that’s what people like about the band. We do that but we also have a chance to show who we are as musicians and we change it up to where you can see the personality of each guy because the catalog is so vast. As far as the hits and everything that makes them what they are from the vocals to the arrangements to the guitar solos, they’re all there and people will be satisfied with what they see and hear.
After my recent “Styx-perience” in the Laffy, I can tell you that the man is speaking the truth. A big thanks to Ricky Phillips for the time and to L’Auberge Casino Resort for bringing this killer act to the Lake City! The show is set for Saturday, September 3 at L’Auberge and I hope to see you all there!