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| 26 June 2015 | Reply

Music is one of those timeless forces that weave themselves into the fabric of our lives.  When that music itself is timeless, it becomes such an integral part of our memories and personal history and stories.  Styx is one of those bands that has put its stamp on millions of lives through the last four decades.  Recently I was given the opportunity to speak with Styx bassist Ricky Phillips (who happened to play in a couple of other favorite bands – The Babys and Bad English) about Styx’ 2015 tour, his influences, and the never ending debate of pick vs. fingers.

DSC_0088photo credit: Toddstar Photography

Toddstar: Ricky, thank you so much for taking time out for us today. We really appreciate it.

Ricky: Yeah, my pleasure man. I got a question for you though, how do you pronounce your last name?

Toddstar: (enunciating) Jolicoeur.

Ricky: Jolicoeur, okay. That’s a great spelling.

Toddstar: Much easier than it looks, man.

Ricky: Is this French? What is it?

Toddstar: It is French.

Ricky: Okay. All right very cool.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about much more important things than my last name. Let’s talk about things Styx and Ricky Phillips and everything else. You guys have just embarked on a cool tour with Def Leppard and Tesla.  How’s this kicking off so far?

Ricky: It kicked off pretty dramatically. There was a torrential downpour that completely washed away the time for Tesla’s set and we didn’t know if anybody would go on, but we actually got on stage. They let people in, there was so much lightening though, they were sending people to their cars. We were in Tampa, Florida to kick it off. Def Leppard got their set in as well. Actually tonight, we’re in Palm Beach, we’ll finally be able to do all three bands, God willing. Tonight will be really the first full show.

Toddstar: Cool, I’m sure the crowd in West Palm Beach will love that.

Ricky: Yeah, it’s a good spot for rock and roll.

Toddstar: Again, talking about the tour. It’s got a very cool routing in that in the middle of July we’re excited it’s held here in Detroit. You guys will be coming through Detroit and playing a place very familiar to you guys over at Pine Knob [now named DTE Energy Music Theatre].

Ricky: Right.  That is a great venue for every band that’s on this tour. It will be a blast.


Toddstar: Cool. You guys are out there. You’ve guys have done everything over the last few years from co-headline tours to headline tours, being a support bands, it’s hard to think of Styx as a support band, but not being the headliner. How is it that you guys collectively figured, “Let’s just get out there and rock. We don’t care where we’re at on the bill as long as we get to play.”

Ricky: We kind of came to the conclusion probably 10 years ago that there’s one band that everybody sees and there’s two bands that don’t get seen by everyone. At the middle slot is the slot everyone sees. The people who come late see the middle slot, the people who have to leave early because of babysitters or work the next day, the first half of the last band. It’s the sweet spot in the night, really, and so we have typically gone out with it, as a co-headline with either Foreigner or REO or Yes, or whoever it is, but this is definitely Def Leppard’s, tour. We toured with them about, I think it’s 7 years ago, and we had such a blast, we did another leg of their tour with them, and it’s taken all this time for us to do it again, but they’re just great guys, we love the band, and get on well, and so we’re looking forward to this whole thing. It’s beyond just the music, which is, throughout the night you’ve got Tesla, which is in one area of, I guess, the rock and roll umbrella; then Styx, which is completely a diversion from that, and then Def Leppard, which is the full-on British rock and roll… just songs that get more airplay than just about any other band out there, and it’s just a great night. I think wherever you are on this slot would be a good one.

Toddstar: I’d have to agree with that. The thing about Styx, and I’ve noticed that through the last few years, especially, with some of the great tours that you guys have been on, like you say, you’re almost a melting pot of just different genres. I remember seeing you guys with Yes, I mean to hit with a big prog rock band like that. What is it about Styx’s music, beyond being timeless, do you think that just lends itself to being able to jump on different style tours, and still kind of hit with the crowd?

Ricky: Yeah, I think that was sort of our intent.  There are bands that are still out there after so many years, some people are sometimes surprised to hear that certain bands are still out on the road. “Oh, they’re still out? They’re still around,” and so for us to be able to package up with an audience that may not necessarily, through their own progression in life, stumble upon us, in concert, it works out great, because we glean all the fans from the other bands, and the same with them. Our fans, we can introduce our fans to bands like Yes or with Foreigner, I don’t know if anybody has to be introduced to Foreigner. I mean, that music is iconic, but there are a lot of bands that we go out with that we will try to… Sometimes they will be the opening act or the opening slot, if there’s a band out there that’s doing really well. We used to love touring with Kansas, for example. I mean, those guys, and those songs, are just amazing and were very influential on a lot of us, as we were first doing what we do, and first writing songs, and they had a really great way of presenting the fantastic style of musicianship that they have. I mean, I could give a ton of examples, but we really like and think it’s important to, especially today, where people stretch a dollar as much as they can, to give them a lot of bang for their buck. Tickets are expensive as it is, but if we give you a good rock and roll show, and you go home satisfied, and if you can coast on that for a month or so, I mean, I think we’ve done our job.

Toddstar: You guys seem to be touring year in, year out.  I’ve been able to see you guys tour after tour for years, and it’s just, it’s always a good rock and roll show, no matter the stage or the venue.

Ricky: Thanks, man. Yeah, and that’s another great point. We stay out year round. We’re on the road over 200 days a year, and so what we like to do, and what we would hate to give up, is the ability to do the big arena rock show, which is kind of what we’re doing now, but also, there’s something about theaters, and that’s an entirely different presentation. It’s usually even a different set list. It’s appropriate for that kind of a setting, where people are in nice cushy seats, and they’ve got their beverage in hand, and they don’t have to go anywhere, they’re hunkered down; and then there’s the kind of hot and sweaty club gig, like a House of Blues or something, where people are pushing over, grabbing at your ankles at the front of the stage, and it’s a sweaty room, and we’re sweating on them, and they’re sweating on us. It’s a much more visceral sort of experience, and, I mean, how can you give any of that up? It’s all a great rock and roll experience. Styx got sort of tagged as one of the arena rock bands early on, but that’s probably more because the music does transcend in a big presentation, the big dramatic sort of showbiz-y thing, with lights and flashing this and that. Yeah, it does transcend that way; but broken down in a rock and roll club, it’s stripped down, a song like “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade” and “Snowblind,” it’s good, really, rock and roll as well.


photo credit: Toddstar Photography

Toddstar: That’s a great insight. I’ve seen you guys, again, on the big stages. I’ve seen you at the casino here in Michigan, at the Soaring Eagle. You guys break it down, and you bring yourselves to the fans, and you bring the show hard every time. I mean, how is it you guys can constantly be on your game.  I’m sure there’s off nights; I’ve yet to see one, but how is it you guys go through with this day in and day out, and you’re always on your A game?

Ricky: I think you can’t really fake that. You have to really be into it. With us, we’ve sort of found each other. Styx has made very few changes, but there have been some big changes made in Styx over its career to keep the organism alive. A couple of things that were threatening the livelihood of the band have had to go, and have had to change, and where we are right now, with this lineup that’s been sawed, I guess since I came in just about 12 years ago, we all would agree that not only is it a musical combination. It’s a much easier life on the road when you have people that you respect and who respect you, and you’re able to be not just the musician you want to be, and voice your instrument on a nightly basis, but also you’d feel, “I’m not just wasting my time on the road, it’s a fulfilling place to be, and I’m actually doing what I think I was put on earth to do.” That’s kind of the way we look at it. I mean, it maybe sounds a bit corny, but it’s really something that we look forward to getting out on that stage. We talk about the set, we change the set. It’s an important thing. The touring business used to be the recording industry, where you would tour a record that you were promoting, but these days, it doesn’t work that way. Music is free now, so you can’t really make a living… Certain people can, if you’re Beyoncé, or you’re, I guess, Justin Bieber, you can do it, but that’s not us, and so we have to find other ways to feed our crew’s families and keep those guys from going off to take a time-off and needing to find work; so we stay out, so we can keep our crew, and try to keep them happy, and there’s a lot to it. There are a lot of things, but you can’t fake the joy on stage. You either dig what you’re doing, or it’s going to come across like you’re phoning it in, and we certainly don’t do that. We talk about it if something starts to rub in any direction. It’s a work in progress, where we’re very vocal, and we’ll change things up so it’s fresh.

Toddstar: You mentioned that you’ve been in the band about 12 years, and it’s funny, because you’ve been in the band 12 years, yet you’re still the newest member.

Ricky: Yeah, and that was what Tommy said to me. He said, “Ricky, before you say ‘Yes’ to this offer,” he said, “I really want you to think about this, because I’m asking you because we want you, and we know you’ve been here, you know what the road life is like, but not everybody gets that. They think, ‘Oh, I can do this,’ and then they can’t,” and he said, “We’ve only had a few members in Styx. We don’t want any more. If you do this, we want you to be the last member,” so … and the word, the phrase I’ll never forget is, he said, “We’re going to drop till we drop,” or “We’re going to rock till we drop,” and it’s like… That was kind of what I needed to hear, because I had tried to redefine myself in my studio in Los Angeles, and I had picked up a lot of clients, and I was finally getting somewhere, but I missed being in a band, that’s my favorite bit, staring at a computer screen and playing the bunch of instruments is a blast, but the fulfilling part of what I saw when I saw the Beatles on television was being in a band that plays together and creates music and is able to play out live; and it’s a full sort of spectrum of what it’s like to be in a band, to contribute on all sides of what makes a rock and roll band, and so with a little bit stars in my eyes, and remembering how much fun that was, but with clarity, after Tommy told me they went for the long haul, I said yes, and 12 years, are you kidding me? It seems like about 2 and a half.

Toddstar: That’s good, though.

Ricky: Yeah. They say time flies when you’re having a good time, and it’s really … We’ve accomplished an awful lot if you break it down, and I’ve forgotten half the things that we’ve done until we hit a city, and somebody’s, “Remember, we did the blah blah blah here,” and “Oh, yeah.” Now that I have that longevity, I realize that I’ve been in this band 3 times longer than any band I’ve ever been in, and that’s the really crazy pill to swallow.

Toddstar: You do have a storied career, I mean, coming up with The Babys, and then into one of my guilty pleasures from the late ’80s, Bad English.

16395929-mmmainphoto credit: Ash Newell

Ricky: Yeah.

Toddstar: I still spin Backlash on at least a monthly basis.

Ricky: That’s awesome.

Toddstar: That’s one album that just didn’t get its due, in my mind.

Ricky: That is a great album, and I’ve turned people on to it, because we kind of were breaking up during the making of that record, so it never really got airplay, because it never got pushed, and I know the first record has like 6 top-40 singles on it, but I think something about Backlash, you can feel the tension that was mounting within the band, songs have a lot more substance to them, I think, and from just a musical standpoint, yeah, they still have sort of the ingredients of radio airplay, but man, there’s some tension in there, and I think “Forget Me Not” on the first record was a song that was like that, but then the rest of it was pretty much a much easier pill to swallow. It makes you feel a certain way, and I think that Backlash was one of those experiences that I had where it was great playing, and we had a lot of first takes on that record. I think we had 7 first takes between Deen Castronovo and myself, where, boom, you played it once, and it was done. It was one of those records that we’d been playing now so much, long enough, and put the time in on the road to know each other’s playing, and so it went very smoothly; but there was a lot of tension that we had. John Waite had to leave and go record somewhere else, because he got in a fight with Ron Nevison, the producer, and they couldn’t be in the same room together, so I would take the tapes over to another studio when I was done working with the band, and do the nightly session with John, and it was a crazy time, but out of that came a cool album. I appreciate you mentioning it and digging it, because I really think that’s an underrated record.

Toddstar: It’s totally an underrated record. Like you said, the other one had a bunch of top-10 singles, and it had “When I See You Smile,” and things like that, but the thing I like about Backlash and anything that you seem to have put your hands on, it’s a gritty rock feel. I mean, is that something that just, you were able to inject in your music, Ricky, or is it something that you just seem to fall into, do you think?

Ricky: I think it’s your influences. I mean, I started off Herman’s Hermits, you’re a little kid, you hear, “Baby, baby, can’t you hear my heartbeat,” that’s one thing, but the Beatles were really such a great template for learning song structure, harmonies, cool harmonies that aren’t really sappy and syrupy; yeah, they may be, but somehow the Beatles knew how to lay things down so they had sort of an edge to them. That’s kind of easy for me, because of them, to do, and then it was just a couple of years later, I mean, The Kinks, and now that led me to Hendrix and Cream. I started hearing real playing at such an early age, real, serious playing, and I was a guitar player till I was probably 15, but I’ve been playing bass since I was 13, but in bands, I was the guitar player. Man, John Entwistle was a guy that I just thought, “This is the cat, man. This guy is … it’s sick, how good he is.” I thought McCartney was great, too, for learning songwriting and structure, but Entwistle had this thing, just the tones he was getting, and then I discovered Chris Squire after that, and even Tim Bogert from Cactus, who was initially in Vanilla Fudge. The guys that were edgy, when Ron Wood played bass for Jeff Beck and the Jeff Beck Group, and he just took a ’68 Tele bass and cranked it through an SVT pretty loud with a lot of mid-range. I mean, that’s sick stuff. I totally became just immersed in, not necessarily bass as a lead instrument, but with tone and style and contributing percussively to the band, and the sound of the band, and that’s the kind of stuff I started really, really enjoying. I always get into this crazy debate on fingers or pick. I mean, it’s the stupidest thing. Whenever I see that on Facebook, you’ll see those siding one side or the other, and I’m thinking, “Dude, shouldn’t you be able to do both?” I mean, shouldn’t you really learn, because it’s a completely different thing. I mean, pick players, there’s some insane pick players. I mean, Chris Squire even used a coin that he had filed down. That’s some sick playing; and then finger players, that’s a whole other thing, but I play differently when I play with a pick than when I play with my fingers. In Styx, when I first joined the band, I was 100% fingers, and then I realized, “You know what? “Too Much Time On My Hands” needs a pick,” and so does… I have to think, what else do I play, but I found out where it’s appropriate, where it’s necessary, where you get the tone, and how it changes the style, just that little bit that gives it the extra that it’s supposed to have, so I got into the instrument from an aspect of how much I can contribute what I need to do, what I have to know to be a great bass player, and I’ll never be the great bass player that I want to be, but it’s a challenge, and it’s an incredibly wonderful journey.


photo credit: Toddstar Photography

Toddstar: You mentioned that you’re not going to be a great bass player. You mentioned guys like McCartney and Entwistle, but you have to think about how many kids or how many players out there today picked up a bass because they saw Ricky Philips tear it up.

Ricky: I hope so. I mean, that would be the best thing ever. That would be such a satisfying and wonderful place and hopefully somebody has thought that, but I’m just blessed that I’ve been on the other side, where I’ve heard these other guys, and they did something, then I went, “Whoa, wow, I haven’t seen that before. I haven’t heard them before. How did they do that? I got to do that,” and then all of a sudden, it becomes a part of you, because I probably don’t do it anything like they did. That’s the great thing about studying your instrument and studying the players who came before is, you won’t play it like they did. You’ll think you are, but it’ll be somehow, your personality will change it, and you’ll do things that are different, and it will become a part of you, but it was definitely an influence, and I think influences are really important. I read something recently that Eddie Van Halen hasn’t listened to or bought a record for, I don’t know, 30 years, since ’84 or ’82 or something, and I thought, “Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard…” You need influences. You need to hear things not to steal from, not to copy, but to just shake yourself up and see a different viewpoint, and I think that goes down in anything, that once, when you’re young, you’re filled with ideas, you don’t know where you got them, and you’ve got a ton of ideas, but after a while, if you’re not feeding the fountain anymore, you’re going to run dry, and I think I’ve seen that happen to a lot of people.

Toddstar: I think it’s poignant, and I think it’s also a part of what keeps Styx alive. I mean, you guys did the Regeneration project a couple of years back. The fact that, you guys stay true to the original, but I can hear your playing in there. I can hear Todd’s [Sucherman] playing; I can hear Lawrence [Gowan] in there.

Ricky: Right.

Toddstar: You’re giving that blend of original Styx, but also the influence that you guys bring to the table.

Ricky: Right. Yeah, I agree.

Toddstar: I know you’re busy, so I want to move you along on your day, but looking back over everything Ricky, with everything you’ve done, what are the couple of things that you’ve done that you’re most proud of or that you just want to be remembered for?

Ricky: Wow, what a great question. I don’t get asked those kinds of questions a lot. Maybe that’s my answer, actually, in a sense. That kind of leads to being a soldier and not always being the leader in a situation, and I think that that’s one of the reasons, maybe, I gravitated towards bass. My first instrument was piano; my second was guitar, and then where I’ve found my home, really, is playing bass, although I do play both of the others quite often. The satisfaction I get of being a support player and knowing how important that is, what it’s like to be in a band, I’m hoping that all of the things I’ve done kind of does translates down to being a guy that knew how to get in that room with all those guys, and be an ingredient that moved it forward and didn’t take it backwards, and I hope I’m just remembered for being a good soldier, really. Because that has enabled me to have sort of the career that I’ve had, and able to do all the things that I’ve done, from live to studio work. I mean, when I got the call from Page and Coverdale, it really wasn’t to be on the record. David wanted me to help them woodshed the material, and then 5 months later, they’re handing me flights to start recording in Vancouver, Canada; and we did, we immediately, we just had this chemistry, and as we were working on the stuff, that that was working; but I’m kind of that guy. I know how to work with people; I produce, so I kind of know what’s necessary in certain places. I don’t always offer my opinion in all situations, and I think that’s part of it as well. I mean, sometimes there’s a time to speak, and there’s a time to shut up, and most of the time, it’s time to shut up; but I’m actually producing and finishing up the last recordings of Ronnie Montrose. I’ve had a lot of guest people come on. It’s not a tribute record, it’s actually the last recordings of Ronnie, and Ronnie is huge on the record, but he died before he was able to play the solos, so I’ve had the people that Ronnie and I have had conversations about that he loved and admired, like Brad Whitford from Aerosmith, he thought he was going to be the unsung hero in Aerosmith. Not unsung, but he was the dark horse for him, and so Brad came in and played a beautiful solo. I called Rick Derringer, who took Ronnie’s place when he left the Edgar Winter Group, and it’s a song with Edgar, so you’ve got 3 members of the Edgar Winter Group – Ronnie, Rick Derringer, and Edgar.  On all the songs, it’s myself and Eric Singer from KISS on drums, and this has been a great place for me to kind of exercise the production side of me that I haven’t been able to do because of being on the road 200 days a year with Styx for the last 12 years, but it’s about ready. It’s almost killing me, because we’re just about done, we have just now started mixing, so that’s the good news, but I love all bits of music. I’ve tried to glean everything and tried to be as good as I can possibly be at a lot of things, and I think if I’m just remembered for anything, it would be that the cat was easy to get along with, and offered up some good stuff on the way.


photo credit: Toddstar Photography

Toddstar: Cool. You stole the thunder with my closer, man. I was going to ask you about 10 By 10, so…

Ricky: There was a segue there somewhere, and I just jumped on it, I guess. Anything you want to know about it? I mean, there are a lot of great players. I mean, Sammy Hagar’s track with Steve Lukather on guitar is amazing. Gregg Rolie had the track on there that is Ronnie’s playing that is so beautiful. I mean, it’s hard to listen to it and not tear up, and I’ve got Thom Gimbel from Foreigner playing saxophone on the out chorus of that, which is pretty brilliant. There’s performances from Glenn Hughes, with Phil Collen on guitar, playing the solo in that, but through all of this, everybody walks away going, “Oh, my God, who’s playing that guitar,” and it always ends up being Ronnie. Ronnie’s playing, when he structures the song, when we were writing the music and recording it, he is one of the unsung guitar heroes of the beginnings of American rock and roll, certainly from the ’70s up, and this’ll be a chance for people who maybe didn’t stumble across the band Montrose or his work with Gamma. I mean, “Wild Night.” That’s his riff that he did when he was working with Van Morrison. There’s just so much Ronnie did. “Town Without Pity,” which he did as a solo artist, is something that guitar players still try to play, and it’s hard. It’s, you know the melody, but it’s hard to play it the way Ronnie did. It’s something special. You go on YouTube and you find Ronnie back in the day playing it with Steve Smith on drums. He plays, Ronnie plays, with his entire body. His hands are flailing, his feet are stomping, he’s got a big smile on his face, he’s moving around the stage like a locomotive, and that’s the way he played, and he was a great guy, great friend, and a good inspiration to me, at a time in my life where I was doing mostly production. Eric and I started going out and doing stuff with Ronnie, and then it led to this great record. We miss him dearly, but at least we have this to share after he’s gone.

Toddstar: It’s going to be a great record, and you can’t negate Ronnie Montrose, but in my opinion, he’s got probably two of the best players anchoring, probably was going to be one of the heaviest, coolest, rhythm sections, which is you and Eric, so…

Ricky: Thanks, man. That was a blast. We’re good friends, and he’s just a blast to work with. Great energy, real positive. He’s kind of not like me, but we meet on the same level. We obsess on the positive in this world, where there’s a lot of people obsessing on the negative. We have a blast, and things seem to move quickly in the right direction.

Toddstar: Awesome; well, again, Ricky, thank you so much for taking time out. We wish you well, we wish you safe travel, and we really wish we could be at West Palm Beach tonight, but…

Ricky: Thanks, man, yeah.

Toddstar: We will be there when you guys kick back through Detroit on July 17th.

Ricky: Detroit Rock City, man. Looking forward to it, baby.

Toddstar: Awesome, Ricky, we’ll talk to you soon.

Ricky:  Thanks, man.






Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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