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    NORTH AMERICA - School of Hard Rock

    Fall 2013

    Marcia Faye

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    Members of the band Styx: [top, left to right] Chuck Panozzo, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman [bottom, left to right] James “J. Y.” Young (MAE '70), Tommy Shaw, Lawrence Gowan
    Photo: Art Newell

    "Citizens of western DuPage County..." the guitarist purred into the microphone before erupting into the maniacal sentence-ending shout, "...LIGHT UP!" Many in the cheering crowd did just that, flicking open lighters and hoisting them high, in a tradition made popular at arena rock concerts of the '70s and '80s. Acknowledging the audience response, James Vincent "J. Y" Young (MAE '70)—a lead guitarist and vocalist of the band Styx—smiled, sidled up next to his co-lead guitarist/vocalist, Tommy Shaw, and launched into "Light Up" from the band's 1975 album Equinox. The scene seemed a mutual musical high shared by the boys in the band and their thousands of fans at this summer's Naperville (Ill.) Exchange Club's Ribfest 2013.

    Playing a set list that included hits such as "Renegade," "Come Sail Away," and "Lady"—the song that propelled the Chicago-bred group into rock stardom—the present incarnation of the band performed before a crowd that spanned the generations from grandparent to grandchild. That Styx—now composed of Young, Shaw, Lawrence Gowan (vocals/keyboards), Ricky Phillips (bass guitar), Todd Sucherman (drums), and occasionally, original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo—can appeal to such a wide range of ages both humbles and astounds Young, who joined the group the same year that he graduated from IIT.

    "Music communicates to everyone on a personal level and truly has the power to even heal," says Young in a phone conversation from Baton Rouge, La. He notes that band members have received mail over the years from fans who have written that certain Styx songs have helped to save someone's life or have shepherded the writer through difficult times.


    A 20-something "J. Y." in the
    early days of Styx
    Photo: Georg Bosek

    "I used to view my career choice as something that is completely egocentric and self-serving, and in some ways, it is," says Young. "But when we get these letters, I recognize that we have a tremendous responsibility; I think we've done a reasonably good job of coping with that responsibility. And by going out and performing live concerts, we see that more and more young people under the age of 30 are becoming fans, too."

    Young was, well, quite young when he began to play his first instrument, a piano. Music was a language commonly spoken in the Young household in Chicago's Auburn/Highland neighborhood. Young's parents started all of their children—Young, his two older sisters and two younger brothers (including Rick, who passed away in 2000)—on piano at age 5. Rather reluctantly, Young also took up the clarinet for several years, but weaned on the Beatles, at age 14 he became "enchanted" with his uncle's new classical guitar. Young's fingers took flight on the strings, as did his dream to become a professional rock musician. 

    While a student at the former Calumet High School, Young and his brother Rick, also an aspiring rock musician, formed the band The Catalinas and placed third in a regional contest, securing themselves a place in a "Talented Teen of America" tour of Canada and Europe. Young also discovered his aptitude for mathematics and science, and his father urged him to obtain a college degree. Knowing that his uncle Sheldon Young (CE '44), an inventor, had graduated from IIT and founded the Vibro/Dynamics Corporation, a successful vibration isolation and shock control company, Young enrolled at the university while forming a new band, Monterey Hand, with his brother.

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