Although he wasn’t an original member, guitarist Tommy Shaw not only penned some of Styx’s best-known songs but served as a musical foil for Dennis DeYoung during the band’s heyday. Born on September 11, 1953, in Montgomery, Alabama, Shaw’s interest in music began at a young age and he spent years playing in local bands. He was still living in Montgomery when he was offered an audition to replace departed guitarist John Curulewski for the group’s tour to support 1975’s Equinox. By the time Styx released their next record, Crystal Ball, Shaw was not only a full-time member, he had written the album’s title track. From 1976 through 1983, Styx was one of the most successful rock bands in America and Shaw contributed songs like “Fooling Yourself”, “Blue Collar Man”, and “Too Much Time on My Hands” to their catalog.
With personal tensions causing the band to go on hiatus, Shaw released his first solo album in the fall of 1984 and managed to score a Top 40 single with the title track, “Girls with Guns”. He followed that set with two more solo releases, 1985’s What If? and 1987’s Ambition, but neither was as commercially successful. Shaw soon found himself joining forces with Ted Nugent, Night Ranger’s Jack Blades, and drummer Michael Cartellone to form Damn Yankees. The new act was immediately embraced by rock radio and crossed over to the pop charts with the power ballad “High Enough”, co-written by Shaw. Their self-titled debut album would go on to platinum status and the quartet was a popular live draw. Don’t Tread, the follow-up issued two years later, was a moderate success but not on the scale of their first record and the band was shelved.
In 1996, Shaw rejoined the lineup of Styx (which had recorded one album together in his absence) for a well-received reunion tour, documented in the live greatest-hits set Return to Paradise. Shaw balanced the band’s touring with his solo work, releasing 7 Deadly Zens in 1998. Critically, the album was one of his best received and saw appearances from his Damn Yankees bandmates. The following year, Shaw joined Styx in the studio to record a full-length album of new material for the first time in more than fifteen years. Although Brave New World didn’t earn them a place on commercial and rock radio formats that they had once dominated, it sold well and the band again embarked on a successful tour. Shaw returned to the studio in 2006 for a collaboration with fellow Yankee Jack Blades called Hallucination.
Montgomery, Alabama, is 280 miles from Nashville, Tennessee. But in the early 1960s, that wasn’t too far for the AM radio waves of the Grand Ole Opry, where in the back seat of a 1958 Chevy, a young Tommy Shaw lost - and found - himself in every note, and where the seeds of a life in music were planted.
Though Shaw went on to become one of the brightest stars in rock 'n roll as the singer and guitarist of Styx, his early love of roots music always burned bright. The sense of direction instilled in him at that early age has led him on a remarkable path of musical discovery and storytelling, and ultimately, has led him home, to The Great Divide (2011).