Tommy Shaw: Styx

Why You Should Know Him

In the winter of 1975, Tommy Shaw was asked to audition in Chicago for the band Styx without ever having to take out his guitar. After the band listened to Shaw’s demo tape and found him able to sing the high notes from “Lady,” he was hired.

We’ll pre-date the ‘80s just a bit to reference the band’s 1977 magnum opus, The Grand Illusion, which achieved multi-platinum sales, mostly thanks to Shaw, who traveled coast to coast having radio stations play “Come Sail Away” and “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).”

The band began to find even greater success in the 1980s. 1981 yielded the release of Paradise Theatre and their biggest hit, “The Best of Times,” with the album reaching Number One on the Billboard pop albums chart. Throughout the 1980’s, the band used “Rockin’ the Paradise” from Paradise Theatre to open many of their shows.

In 1983, Styx released Kilroy Was Here, an album that took the definitive direction of rock opera, and was the creative brainchild of singer/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. The album yielded two top hits including “Mr. Roboto” and “Don’t Let It End,” with the album also achieving platinum status. Even with the huge success of Kilroy Was Here, Shaw and other members of the band were not happy with this new direction, preferring the rock direction of the songs penned earlier by Shaw and guitarist James Young.

Shaw’s dissatisfaction grew as he continued to lose creative control. He finally departed from the band in 1984 after the Kilroy Was Here Tour and went on to release solo albums including Girls With Guns, What If, and Ambition, opening for The Kinks in 1984 and Rush in 1987-1988.

The close of the ‘80s saw Shaw forming the super-group, Damn Yankees, with guitarist Ted Nugent and Night Ranger bassist/vocalist Jack Blades. Their self-titled debut album in 1990 achieved double-platinum status on the strength of the major hit, “High Enough,” just a short moment in time before grunge came along and swept hair band mania away.

The Gear

Because he plays for many different acts, Shaw has many styles and pieces of equipment. He primarily uses Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Les Paul guitars, but other notable instruments he utilizes are the Gibson Explorer, Hammer guitars, and Taylor acoustic guitars.

For the classic material, Shaw used a Marshall Plexi head and a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, once stating in an interview with Guitar Player Magazine, “You can’t go wrong plugging a Les Paul into a Marshall!” He also used a Gibson J-45 for acoustic parts.

For effects, he currently uses the Dunlop Cry baby Wah, Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner, Boss OD-3 Overdrive, and a DigiTech Delay Modeler.

Where Is He Now?

After the success of Damn Yankees, later in the ‘90s, Shaw joined up once again with Jack Blades to form a band called Shaw Blades, as well as re-joining Styx to head it with James “JY” Young. After a few performances and releases, Shaw Blades became a much sought after songwriting duo for artists including Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, Vince Neil, and Cher.

From 2003-2006, Styx released compilation and new albums alike including Cycloramaa and Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology.

On New Year’s Eve 2007, Shaw performed with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in Birmingham, Alabama, playing songs like “Blue Collar Man,” “Renegade,” and originals by the Orchestra.

Shaw was formally inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame on February 28, 2008 in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.

In 2011, Shaw made his debut in the genre of bluegrass with the album, The Great Divide.

Tommy Shaw continues to record and write music. If you want to keep up with his daily routine and happenings, visit his official website