Styx bassist enjoys 'magic' of performing

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Styx, with REO Speedwagon, will play the Ohio State Fair Sunday, July 28. Tickets are $32 and include fair admission. Visit ohiostatefair.com.

Ten years into his stint as bassist for the classic rock band Styx, Ricky Phillips has held up his end of the bargain.

"When they called me, they said, 'We want you, but you gotta really want it, because we hope you'll be the last new member in the band,' " Phillips recall-ed.

"I was honored. I had been doing primarily production and songwriting since my last gig with David Coverdale and Jimmy Page, and I found I did miss getting out and playing. That's where the real magic is. Any guy who says they got into the music business to sit in a studio is lying through their teeth."

While the current Styx roster might not be the band's "classic" lineup, it is the longest tenured in the band's 40-plus-year history.

"I'm having a blast," Phillips said. "These are incredibly talented guys. Every day, every gig is fresh. (Longtime members) J.Y. (James Young) and Tommy (Shaw) really get it."

Phillips had crossed paths with Styx a number of times throughout his career, first meeting the band when he was the bassist for The Babys (featuring John Waite and Jonathan Cain). He told The Beat he was always impressed.

"They were never a cookie-cutter band. A lot of their music is 'disguised' as pop, but there are loads of harmonies, lots of changing time signatures, some really complex things going on. They sort of defined a sound."

In addition to guidance from Young and Shaw, Phillips' learning curve was accelerated by the presence of Styx founder and original bassist Chuck Panozzo, still a part-time member of the band.

Phillips set out to learn Panozzo's original parts, making sure to honor his predecessor and protect the music that earned the band its fans in the first place.

"Chuck started Styx in his basement. He's the man. And he couldn't be any cooler to me. He's been great to work with."

Joining a band with as lengthy a history as Styx's meant learning lots of songs, and Phillips wouldn't have it any other way.

"We can change the set every show. A few years back, we did a tour where we performed the entire The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight albums. We learned there were some songs on those that the band had never played live, so now we had even more songs we could add. It's great to play a song and feel a surge through the crowd from the die-hard fans."

Shorter sets for shared-bill shows such as the July 28 Ohio State Fair date with REO Speedwagon allow for less experimentation, but replace that with raw energy.

"We're on there for an hour and we know there are songs we have to play that people are going to want to hear. So it's a slam dunk, where we're going to get cranked up and go nonstop. It's great for an audience."

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