July 16, 1996 – John Anthony Panozzo (Styx) was born on September 20, 1948 in the Roseland/Pullman neighborhood, on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, with his fraternal twin brother, Chuck (born 90 minutes apart).
At age 7, the twins took musical lessons from their uncle in which John took an interest in drums and percussion. They attended Catholic school and eventually they were part of a three-piece band in which John played drums and Chuck played guitar. They would play weddings at age 12 and were paid $15 apiece.
Then, in 1961, John, Chuck, and their neighbor, Dennis DeYoung, formed a band called The Tradewinds in which John played drums, Chuck played guitar, and Dennis played the accordion and sang. They played local gigs at bars and began gaining popularity as a garage band on the city’s South Side. In 1968, Chuck switched to bass and they added guitarists/vocalists James “J.Y.” Young and John Curulewski, changing their name to TW4. The band signed to Wooden Nickel Records and changed their name to Styx, after the Greek name for the mythological river of the dead.
At first Styx struggled to get recognition outside their native Illinois. In 1975, “Lady”, a ballad culled from their second album, started to pick up nationwide airplay and eventually became a Top Ten US hit three years after its original release.
Suddenly promoted into a bigger league, the outfit signed to A&M Records and replaced Curulewski with the guitarist Tommy Shaw, who became one of their main writers with Young and De Young. The Panozzo brothers acted as a more than capable rhythm section for this hard-working band who didn’t flinch at doing 110 gigs in six months (this punishing schedule would later take its toll).
At the height of their fame in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Styx were prime exponents of the much-maligned power ballad and pomp-rock genres. As such, they have forever been lumped together with acts like Asia, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Kansas, Reo Speedwagon and Toto whose songs dominated American radio and the Simon Bates Our Tune and Golden Hour slots.
Styx undoubtedly became one of the prototypes and inspirations for the parodic Rob Reiner movie Spinal Tap with their elaborate shows based around concept albums like The Grand Illusion, Cornerstone and Paradise Theater (all platinum records). In 1979, following hit singles such as “Lorelei”, “Mademoiselle”, “Come Sail Away” and “Renegade”, a US survey by Gallup revealed the scary fact that, while punk and new wave were ruling the UK, Styx was the most popular rock band with American teenagers.
At the end of that year, the De Young ballad “Babe” became an American no 1 and a million-seller. Having also conquered Canada, Styx could at last turn their attention to overseas territories. In 1980, “Babe” duly entered the British Top 10 and the group played the Hammersmith Odeon in London.
The band may have over-reached itself with the ambitious Kilroy Was Here, which attempted to blend rock and theatre while dealing with the state of the nation, but their singles (“Mr Roboto” and “Don’t Let It End” in 1983) still secured high placings in the US charts.
However, after the obligatory double live album Caught in the Act, the now feuding components of Styx took an exten-ded break. De Young and Shaw both launched solo careers, the latter eventually joining veteran gonzo- rocker Ted Nugent in the Damn Yankees supergroup.
In 1990, the other four Styx members recruited Glen Burtnik to replace Shaw and hit the comeback trail with their Edge of the Century album. The following year, on a wave of patriotism fuelled by the Gulf War, their “Show Me the Way” single (not the Peter Frampton song of the same title) became an anthem and a US Top 10 hit.
Years of excessive drinking began to take a toll on Panozzo’s liver. In the mid-1990s, as Styx was about to embark on its first tour with the classic line-up since 1983, John fell seriously ill and began battling cirrhosis of the liver, eventually dying of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging and cirrhosis on July 16, 1996. He was 47 years old.
The band dedicated their 1996 Return to Paradise tour to him, and Tommy Shaw, who had earlier replaced Curulewski, wrote the song “Dear John” as the band’s final tribute to their drummer and friend.