Carlock: Hanging out with Styx

Published 9:51 am Monday, August 13, 2012

Nothing balances me out more than hanging with old friends. Last Sunday, the seminal rock band Styx played a full 100-minute set at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts in Muskegon.

Having worked with the band on its “Arch Allies” record and on Tommy Shaw’s solo full length, “7 Deadly Zens,” I had to make the show. As always happens, I go to catch up with the guys, and I leave floored at how really great they are at what they do. There’s no surprise fans still love and support this band as it celebrates its 40th year. Tight, effortless, skilled, high-level musicianship is delivered every time. Combined with great sound and solid tech, the show is so consistently top notch, it’s scary.

Their catalog is main-course classic rock radio, and rightly so. They have a solid set of songs most radio listeners know by heart, that features solid songwriting, definitive performances and great production. Even if it isn’t to your taste, Styx’s music has penetrated the public psyche. This is the big dream of any band that ever took its career seriously. Styx is one of a handful of the truly “big picture” winners of the rock music era.

Organically, the music has  been handed down through two and three generations by family members who are fans. At Dave Carlock’s Funkin’ Rock School, a 16-year-old bass student wanted to learn “Come Sail Away” at his own suggestion. Even Cartman sang “Come Sail Away!”

Seeing Shaw again was a real treat. He sang in that amazingly high tenor all night and sounded fantastic. We met away from the meet-and-greet in the subterranean hallways of the theater to catch up a bit. We talked about mic pres and Pro Tools and made sure we had the right numbers so we can connect in L.A. on my next visit. He’s got a bigger tracking room now at his home, which should be fun to check out.

Back at the meet-and-greet, guitarist James Young and I talked about the live Styx DVD the group did with the Cleveland Youth Orchestra and my experience mixing the Funkin’ Rock Orchestra’s live recording at Studio 376.

“How about that bleed into the string mics — unreal, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Horrific,” he replied with his big signature smile — shoptalk officially in full effect.

Meanwhile, my road trip partner-in-crime and guitarist for the Funkin’ Rock Orchestra, Suede Raptor, was being schooled by Styx drummer Todd Sucherman on a surefire method for picking up chicks. Now that Todd’s married, I guess he’s passing down his knowledge to the Millennials, which is great karma in my book. Sucherman also recently released a DVD set on drum technique called “Methods & Mechanics,” which also supports his efforts to share his experiences. Regularly voted “best drummer” in drum magazines, the contents are undoubtedly as informative and entertaining as the tips he was passing on to Suede.

My longtime friend, Keith Marks, has been Styx’s production manager since the 1990s and still body-blocks Murphy’s Law night after night before show time. When rain poured into the front-of-house consoles at an outdoor gig in Indiana the night before, he made sure there were replacements on hand just in case the consoles were toast the next day in Muskegon. This was no small feat — Best Buy doesn’t carry digital-mixing consoles. If the band suffers last-minute bus problems or staff issues, Marks finds a replacement while the tour rolls on.

I always felt touring was like being on a pirate vessel or a spaceship. Once you leave home, you’re in your own world until you come back to the mainland. In that world, Marks is the problem-solver.

Thanks for everything, Keith; the Frauenthal Center show was excellent. But the most excellent way to spend a Sunday night was among old friends.

Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.