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Background on Dennis DeYoung

Dennis DeYoung is the former keyboardist and vocalist for Styx, with whom he had five top-ten albums in the 1970s and early 1980s. DeYoung was the writer of some of the band’s most enduring hits, including “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Lady” and “Mr. Roboto.” Since leaving Styx in the mid-1980s, he has released several successful solo albums, and continues to write, record and tour regularly.

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Dennis DeYoung, former lead singer of the rock group Styx, talks about his background as a singer/songwriter.

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Dennis Deyoung: Background

My neighbor, who turned out later to be my godfather for my confirmation, was 14 years old. He lived next door to me when I was seven, and he played accordion. That was in the 50s, so you have to remember that the accordion has another connotation in different decades. In the 50s, it was the most-popular instrument in America. It was a big thing. You opened it up, and the bellows moved and the fingers are going, and it makes this sound. I was captivated by that, plus I knew like most children, when this boy played the accordion, my mother thought it was a greatest thing she'd ever seen. She was Italian. So I played accordion because, as you know, it's the law. If your mother's Italian, you have to do it.

I didn't own an actual piano of my own until I was 27 years old, after I recorded Lady. How about that? Never owned a piano. Really what I did was I went from accordion to farfeesa (electric organ) and then to the Hammond B3. Then I went to piano. So when I went and played Lady in the studio, which is the first hit record I ever wrote— Here's the great part about it. It was the first song I ever wrote entirely by myself and the first song I ever sang on a record by myself as a lead vocal. That's pretty good, isn't it? Yeah. The funny thing was, it was written for the first Styx album, and it was not allowed to get on the first Styx album. They said the producer wanted these other songs that were from outside songwriters. He wanted us to do them. We did those instead. Then Lady was on the second Styx album.

I don't see myself as a great keyboard player and never did, although I'm on the cover of Keyboard Player magazine—no. I never did. I had my limitations as a keyboard player, but what I did have was my own unique style of playing. I've come to realize over the years that so many times, your limitations will be your strengths. Here's what I mean by that.

Because you can't do something the conventional way, for whatever reason it is, as a singer or as an instrumentalist, you devise your own ways of getting by. Therein sometimes comes a unique style, because you are forced, as the mother of invention, to do something. You want to be able to do something but you can't quite do it the standard way of doing it, so you do it differently the way it fits you. That's where uniqueness comes from. I believe this with singers and with songwriters and with musicians, that your weaknesses can be your greatest strengths at times. It will force you to be unique.

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