Interview: Styx Bassist Ricky Phillips Talks Touring, Music And Career Highlights
Classic rock pioneers Styx has gone through waves of change over their legendary forty-seven-year career. But perhaps at no time in the band’s history has it shown more diversity, musicianship or the ability to adapt and fire on all cylinders than in 2019. In addition to showcasing its arsenal of radio hits on its current tour, Styx is able to draw material from deep in its catalog, much to delight of diehard fanbase.
Tracks from the band’s most recent release, The Mission, also find their way into the band’s set list. The concept album, an adventurous forty-three-minute thrill ride chronicling the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the first manned mission to Mars, conjures images of the band’s mid-70s sound with with 21st-century appeal.
On Tuesday, May 21, Styx — Tommy Shaw (guitars/vocals), Lawrence Gowan (keyboards/vocals), James “JY” Young (guitar/vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums), Ricky Phillips (bass) and Chuck Panozzo (bass), will bring its well-oiled machine to The Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA for what’s sure to be a night to remember.
I recently spoke with bassist Ricky Phillips about the band’s upcoming performance in and more in this exclusive new interview.
What can fans expect from Styx’s appearance at The Sands Event Center?
Every show is different but what I can guarantee is that Styx is running like a well-oiled machine. We still do close to 100 shows a year and are on the road most of the time. We’ll play the hits everyone expects, like “Renegade,” “Come Sail Away” and “Blue Collar Man,” but we also try to go deep into the catalog and find little nuggets like “Snowblind,” “Suite Madame Blue” and “Castle Walls.” We also have a new record out called The Mission and we’ve been having fun playing some of the new songs as well.
Speaking of The Mission, didn’t the band recently do a show in Las Vegas where you performed the album in its entirety?
We did. It was only one night but it was a blast. We had people fly in from all over Europe and Japan just to see it. The Mission is a concept album about NASA preparing its first manned flight to Mars. The music and storyline is right in Tommy’s wheelhouse. He created characters and a storyline that runs throughout the album. It has a sound like the Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight period of the band, with vintage instruments and analog recording. It was a great feeling to create something that sounds like was recorded in the 1970s.
Outside of Styx, you recently produced an album for the late Ronnie Montrose called 10x10. What can you tell me about that experience and your relationship with Ronnie?
Ronnie was a dear friend and we had gone into the studio with Eric Singer [Kiss] to begin working on ten tracks. The idea was, ten songs with ten different singers. Ronnie’s passing came as a complete shock to all of us. Eric was the one who actually got on the phone and asked if I had it within me to finish it. Ronnie had already recorded Sammy Hagar on one track and another track had Edgar Winter. The album also has guys like Mark Farner, Tommy Shaw, Eric Martin and Glenn Hughes. There was a lot of strategy getting everyone involved but we got it done. Music was important to Ronnie and there’s a lot of excitement on these tracks.
A lot of artists expand their creativity outside of music by painting or woodworking. What do you enjoy when you’re not playing bass in Styx?
The immediate answer is golf. When I was growing up I wasn’t like everyone else in my hometown. I was always disappointed in something or trying to get something more out of life. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy. My dad would take me out on the golf course and it was the one place where the arguing would stop and we’d really have fun together. Golf is a cerebral sport and to play well you have to focus and go deep. You’re not on a tour bus or standing on the concrete of a big city. You’re on green grass and a playing field that’s open air. It’s a place for me to just let it all go.
Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?
Right now I’ve got a bunch of songs and ideas I’ve been compiling over the years. I don’t want to leave the planet and have the things I’ve come up with not represented or recorded. At least they’ll be logged somewhere and completed. That’s my mission right now.
Have you ever given thought to writing a book about your life and career at some point?
I’ve been asked that a lot because I’ve been in some crazy places with people of note, but I’m just a behind the scenes guy who’s been fortunate enough to work with a lot of my heroes and shared a musical journey. It’s an interesting thought though.
One of those big moments had to be when you were asked to join The Babys. Can you tell me how that came about?
That was one of the first big things that happened for me. I’d only been in L.A. for a few weeks and was sleeping on couches. I’d auditioned and gotten a gig with Timmy Dulaine who was an artist every producer wanted. I was lucky enough to get in with him and be seen by everyone. All of a sudden I was this new guy on the map. I was working in a music store in Hollywood one day when the sound man for The Babys brought John Waite in. He asked me to get a bass off the wall and come play. Next thing I know I’m getting a passport and flying to Europe. Then Van Halen was supposed to play a New Year’s show at The Whisky but David Lee Roth had broken his leg and we wound up filling in. It was my first show with the band and, the next morning, we got a good write up in the L.A. Times. That kind of catapulted into us having this conversation thirty-some years later, with still more chapters to be written.