November 22 – Styx’s Strange Animal

It would be almost ‘criminal’ not to wish a happy 63rd birthday to Larry Gowan! Scot, Canadian, solo artist, Styx guy- it’s hard to put a label on Gowan other than one of a talented musician. Born in Scotland but growing up in Toronto, Canada where he studied classical music and piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music, he became a big star at home in the ’80s.

Going just by “Gowan”, he released six studio albums mixing prog rock and new wave inclinations to great acclaim. His second, Strange Animal, won the 1985 Juno for the Album of the Year and gave us the biggest of his nine Canuck top 20 singles, “A Criminal Mind.” The single went platinum and the album, double platinum at home but remained more or less unknown elsewhere. Written after talking to a prison guard about his job and the people he met, “A Criminal Mind” featured Gowan’s soaring voice and keyboard skills and Jerry Marotta (formerly of Orleans and Hall & Oates drummer ) on percussion.

Allmusic thought him decent enough, praising how he was “making excellent use of the synthesizer’s ability to create a riff that is pop savvy and straight-forward”. They did find “A Criminal Mind” “campy” and dark though, and instead praised another single of his, “Cosmetics” as likely his best, which we’d second here. His keyboard skills are indeed excellent. He says he was much influenced by Keith Emerson, Billy Preston and Elton John, but above all Tony Banks of Genesis. “He’s the most melodic, most beautiful… keyboard player,” Gowan says of him, “(yet) he rarely gets mentioned when you’re mentioning the great keyboard players.”

Oddly, although a major star in Canada in the ’80s, it wasn’t til the ’90s that any of Gowan’s work was released in the U.S. His big break was opening for Styx in Quebec in 1997. They liked him and recruited him to replace acrimonious singer Dennis DeYoung in 1999. Gowan’s been a regular singer and keyboardist for Styx since, and the band often incorporate some of his work into their set. With his voice and keyboard skills, he may sail away with them for years to come…Vintage Rock recently made note of how he was a “bona fide superstar” in Canada long before joining and suggested Styx “courted Gowan quite a bit” to get him on their team. Remarkably he’s been singing with them now for more years than DeYoung did!

16 thoughts on “November 22 – Styx’s Strange Animal

      1. Yeah – they need a certain pesonality or charisma to pull it off in concert. I had friends once who were in a basic bar band, four-piece, all nice guys but their downfall (besides no fantastic original tunes) was they had a guitarist/singer who was dull as mud on stage, while their drummer was flamboyant and acted like a rock star in the shadows. Singer was a good dude but nearly put the crowd to sleep…

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  1. OMFG. I just caught a video of his singing A Criminal Mind live with Styx. WOW. His blending with them made that song sound better than the original. And, he can carry the DeYoung material. He has that same over-the-top singing flair that DeYoung had…the theatrics. And, his voice pitch is damn close.

    I stopped following Styx when DeYoung got sick. He was a founding member & I couldn’t see how they would replace his drama. I LOVE Tommy Shaw. His first solo album is STUNNING but, I couldn’t see Styx just being the sound of him & JY.

    I felt the same way after Perry left Journey…until I heard Steve Augeri with them in concert in Texas (Jeff Scott Soto was awful when Augeri was let go…he was obnoxious).

    Thanks for the introduction. I’d never heard of him but, he blends well with Styx.

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    1. You’ re welcome! As a Canuck, I was very familiar with his solo stuff in 80s &liked some. I knew he was with Styx but didn’ t hear any of it until putting this piece together. He seems a very good replacement for DeYoung.

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      1. I liked the SONG ‘Mr. Roboto’ but really didn’t like the other tracks I heard off it, which I think is what a lot of their fans thought. However, I’m guessing the tour for it was quite a theatrical extravaganza?

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      2. Heh. I couldn’t STAND ‘Mr. Roboto’. The good thing about tours is the ‘other’ music. That particular album, which was really meant as a smack towards the Christians screaming about “backwards satanic messages” in the recordings, was OK.

        The storyline…Kilroy…Jonathan Chance… It was a damn rock opera, up there with Tommy. There was just so much more to it than just music from Kilroy Was Here:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caught_in_the_Act_(Styx_album)

        I miss concept albums. The world runs on singles and streaming, now.

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      3. Yes- I think the concept for that album was quite good, not sure the music lived up to it. Concept albums sometimes worked, other times didn’t but indeed, like you I miss the concept of artists putting out whole albums to be listened to instead of just a streaming track or two at a time.

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  2. I have to add a correction, tho. Gowan has been with Styx since May 1999…which makes 20 years, this year. DeYoung, as a founding member, was playing music with the Panozzo brothers as a teen in the early 60s and picked up JY & John Curulewski in 1968. They went from Tradewinds to TW4 to Styx (all the same band). That is, roughly, 33 years, if you want to subtract his five year solo career.

    Just sayin’…

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    1. Ok, I’ll agree and thanks for making that point. I looked at timeline which had him with Styx 17Y between ’72 & ’99 (with 2 gaps in there) but didn’t know about the band before they took name ‘Styx’. That’ s a long time!

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    1. Thak you. I wondered if you heard him…I knew he hadn’ t made it in US but seems like some Ontario acts get known there either via Windsor radio stations or enough traffic across border for Detroit stations to play it.

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