Dennis DeYoung’s music has come full circle.
The Chicago singer/songwriter/keyboardist/actor and co-founder/frontman for the ’70s rockers Styx, began his music career while in his teens, playing the accordion. And on “26 East, Vol. 1,” it’s the organlike chords from the hefty instrument that mark the final note on what DeYoung says is his last album. (Originally planned as a one-off, DeYoung says the label, Frontiers Records, decided to split the project into two albums, with Volume 2 slated for a release down the road.)
“That’s where it all began,” DeYoung said of the album’s title, a reference to the address of the South Side home where he grew up. “In the basement of that house. When Styx was born I was playing the accordion. So I’m happy to bookend it this way.”
The 10-track album is due April 10, but DeYoung/Styx fans on Monday can catch the first singles, “To the Good Old Days” and “East of Midnight.” While the latter is a throwback to vintage Styx rock, the former is a duet with Julian Lennon, a nostalgic piano-driven ballad fueled with lush Styx-meets-the-Beatles harmonies.
“I wrote the song as a tribute to the music the they made,” DeYoung said. “I did a demo of it with just the piano and sent it to Julian, whom I’d never even met, and had no idea if it would work out. He wrote back and said he’d be honored to do it.” (The single is getting plenty of airplay already on Sirius XM’s Beatles channel.)
The song’s lyrics are DeYoung’s anthem to the days gone by, when life was simpler and the music business much more satisfying. It was the days of The Tradewinds, a trio formed in the early 1960s by a teenaged DeYoung and close pals and neighbors, drummer John Panozzo and his brother and bassist Chuck Panozzo. The band would eventually morph into Styx nearly a decade later, when the hits — “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Lady,” “The Best of Times,” “Mr. Roboto” flowed like a river, indeed. The new album’s cover art even features three golden train locomotives representing the three musicmakers.
”East of Midnight” is pure vintage Styx, co-written with Jim Peterik of the Ides of March and Survivor. It was Peterik who convinced his lifelong pal and neighbor to do a “last album.”
“I didn’t want to do another album,” DeYoung said matter-of-factly. “And I kept telling him why would I want to do another album? There is no music business for rock. ... There is no radio for it. But Peterik, that S.O.B, kept after me. ‘Dennis, you gotta do this,’ he kept saying. The world needs our music.”
So DeYoung and Peterik went to work, crafting “26,” which DeYoung mixed at his home studio. It’s his seventh studio outing as a solo artist, and the first in more than a decade.
The album’s most romantic track is the beautiful, tug-at-your-heartstrings “You My Love,” written about his daughter Carrie Ann seven years ago as she was going through a divorce. (He says he never officially recorded the song’s demo at the request of is daughter, a longtime Chicago publicist.) The song is reminiscent of Roy Orbison or Gene Pitney, “those ’60s ballads they were famous for,” DeYoung said.
“It was actually my wife [Suzanne] who said, ‘Remember the song you wrote for Carrie Ann and she cried and said never play it?’ She convinced me to put it on the album.”
As for what’s ahead, DeYoung said he still does about 60 shows a year, but that will be scaled back. “It’s hard being on the road,” the 73-year-old said with a chuckle. “It’s gonna be all about peace and reruns of ‘Law and Order.’”
And living in the city he loves.
“I said it all in a song long ago,” DeYoung said, recalling the lyrics to the 1986 brassy rocker “Southbound Ryan”: ‘People always ask me why/I still live in this city. Seems half the population/Took the bus to Hollywood. I just smile at them/And say baby I like the weather. Maybe it’s courage/Maybe it’s fear. Hell, all my friends are here. ... Southbound Ryan/Take me home.’
“I didn’t make music for myself. I wrote music and told my story hoping you would find yourself in my story,” DeYoung continued. “And that’s what people did; my story became their story. ... If you read the lyrics on this new album you’ll know me. Find yourself in what I have to say.”
Catch “Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx” at the House of Blues, 350 N. Dearborn on April 3. The night also features a CD release sneak peek and Q&A. For tickets, visit houseofblues.com/chicago.