CHUCK PANOZZO | Love, Lies and My Life with Styx
by Herb Sosa
Styx has had 4 consecutive albums
certified multi-platinum by the RIAA as
well as 16 top 40 singles in the US, 8 of
which hit the top 10. Best known for the hit
songs "Lady", "Come Sail Away", "Babe",
"The Best of Times", "Too Much Time on
My Hands" and "Mr. Roboto". Other major
hits include "Show Me the Way", "Don't
Let It End", and "Renegade", Styx Is Rock
& Roll Royalty.
In 2001, Chuck Panozzo, lead bassist of
the legendary Styx band, came out and
announced he was also living with HIV.
Since then, he has turned his focus to
becoming a major AIDS and gay rights
activist. In 2007 he released a tell-all
autobiography titled, ‘The Grand Illusion.’
“My wish is to inspire others, gay or
straight, to live a proud just life.
How did you and your brother start Styx, and why? Tell me about the early days & starting out.
When my brother and I were 7 years old my uncle who was a professional musician came over and asked my mother, if it was okay for us
to start music lessons and that was the start of what was to be a future in music. Then we started a little band in grammar school with a
neighbor and our first music concert was a New Year’s Eve concert in 1962 and from then on we went on to preform sometimes amateur
shows and sometimes when we got older proms, weddings and high and college dances. Then we started to play more original
material and we didn’t want to play those types of gigs anymore. We started to be more professional and it 1972, I was teaching high
school and signed my first record deal.
How did your brothers struggles with alcohol influence you and your life?
I am going to share this story, because I think it is really important for many young people to hear. No one starts out drinking thinking that
they will become an alcoholic, no one starts recreational drugs thinking they will become an addict. So, I would say it had a profound
effect on my personal life because he was my twin but I don’t care if it is your twin, your mother, your father, your brother or sister it impacts
the entire family.
So, I would tell young people today to just remember you have a choice in life and you can choose to go down a path where you might get
into trouble. Life is about choices and never turn to drugs or alcohol for your choice. Today, I just like to think of my brother as a great
musician, the same way I think of Michael Jackson, Prince and Elvis Presley etc.
What was the climate in the industry when you started, towards gays, and what do you think it is now?
I would say it was anything but welcoming. The image of being a rock star for young girls, who are your fan base is about how they relate
to you. In the industry, your popularity is sometimes based on your looks and if you write a hit song. It has obviously gotten much better.
As an opening up musician I rarely run into guys who are as out as I am, in a crew or as a musician. It is happening but I can only speak
from my own place in rock and roll obviously in the 80’s there was a lot of gender bending.
Fame happens in increments, it isn’t all of a sudden, bam and you feel
famous. You take these small steps and you build and build and then suddenly
you look around at yourself and you are living in a high rise in Chicago and
you get a call from the door man to tell you that your limousine is waiting to
take you to a private part of the airport. When you arrive at the airport you see
a private plane and you step inside and then you have a funny feeling, you
have finally made it.
Your biggest splurge when you began to make some money was…
Well having a twin brother in rock n roll would influence you on a personal level so I remember going out with him and I bought my first
very expensive car. When I got back home I realized that the car was worth more than most homes on the block I lived on, so I would say
that was kind of a splurge, but when you are young and really have no direction about what is happening in your life, I mean a car is a very
nice thing to have.
We hear a lot about groupies & rock bands. Did you have groupies, and how did you deal with it (being in the closet)?
Well I think every rock band has groupies and every celebrity has a fan base who love them but for me as a gay I just kind of walked
through it. When young girls get silly it is easy to walk by them or when they ask you to sign their t-shirt and they take it off but that is one
thing when they ask you to sign a body part, that is another thing. Also, the guys were married at the time so that kept any kind of
shenanigans under control. Even today somebody will walk up to me, a few shows ago a young woman asked if would sign her t-shirt
and I said yes and then she asked if I would sign a body part. I said I signed your t-shirt that is enough. So that is pretty much how I
What Styx song resonates most with you, and why?
I would have to say, Come Sail Away really touches my heart and a lot of people who are fans. It is a great hook, everyone knows it when
we say, “Come Sail Away with me”. They sing it in chorus and with us and it is very exciting. I love the lyric line, “a gathering of angels
appeared above my head and sang to me this song of hope and this is what they, said Come Sail Away with me”. It is an inspiring and
powerful message because, if there is love there is hope.
If not a career in music, what would you be doing?
Well I actually had a career before music, I had gone to the Chicago Teachers’ College. When I graduated with a BS in Education, I taught
in the Chicago public school system to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Like I said earlier, when I was 22 I got the call that I had gotten
a record deal. If I hadn’t gotten that call, I probably I would have maintained being a teacher and just furthered my career to eventually
become a college professor.
3 things I never leave home without.
Well the is first thing I will never leave home without are my HIV meds. That is number one because I can’t buy that at the pharmacy. I try
to remember my toothbrush and socks but in reality those are all usually things, I can buy on the road. The first thing I look for is my meds
and really once I have them I am ready to go on the road.
If I knew at 20 what I know now, I would have…?
That is a hard question it is really speculative. Well hind sight is 20/20 I think, I might have taken things a little more seriously in the
beginning. Of course, that is part of becoming mature. We see a lot of young talents they make plenty of mistakes. When you sky rocket
to success, it is like a giant free fall and if there is no one to catch you or help you along that journey, you can land on a very hard surface.
But once you realize you are a professional you have to become a professional, you can’t phone your job in, you have to be there and be
aware, but it takes growth. When you are 22 you are not 30 and when you are 30 you are not 40 and when you are 40 you are not 50 or
when you are 50 you are not 60; so all I can do is look back at what I have achieved and I just look at all of those years as experience.
Whether or not I made the right choice or a bad choice, I have no regrets, you can’t change the past. I am still around right now to really
enjoy the rewards that 45 years in music has given me.
What inspired you to write your biography: The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life With Styx.
Well I guess I was inspired by my Outing to write my auto-biography. I mentioned to my band members that I had written a book and they
were kind of shocked. I told them that it was about this gay guy, that they had been preforming with for the last 35 years. I just wanted to
set the story straight about my life because, if you don’t the press will define you and I wanted to define myself. The book is a personal
journey more than a Styx story.
The six men comprising Styx have committed to rocking the Paradise
together with audiences far and wide by entering their second decade of
averaging over 100 shows a year, and each one of them is committed to
making the next show better than the last. “Every night, we go on that magic
carpet ride together,” observes original bassist Chuck Panozzo, who joins the
band on tour as often as he can
What inspires you today?
I would say a very simple thing. That is after surviving full blown AIDS, having 2 occurrences of cancer, it is the ability to wake up and enjoy
a day, I don’t care whether it is sunny or rainy, it is still a wonderful day. When you realize that we are all living on an x amount of time you
have to embrace each day, so that, is what inspires me, that I am here. Knowing that I am still touring with a great band, that I am still
playing and that I can still performing 100 shows this year, instead of just watching TV. Also, standing in front of a group of fans and
playing with a great band, that is also very inspirational.
What makes you angry?
Well I try to keep the anger level down. I would say mostly, we all have to face indignities in our lives every day but I would say ignorance
is the most frustrating thing. When people refuse to educate themselves about issues of equality or freedom and just hang on to the
same old stories they heard from before. That is extremely frustrating for me so I try not to be angry, it proves nothing. You can have
frustration but you don’t have to harbor hate for things you can’t change anyways.
What do you think of today when you look at all your awards and accolades?
Well I am actually sitting in my office right now looking at my awards and the 11 albums I have performed on, by seeing this I know I have
made it. Even a thank you for a speech about HIV, makes me realize I have made a mark as a gay man. Which I will continue to try to do
as long as I am able to. It looks like I have lived a very rich and rewarding life when it comes to both personal and professional career.
My best advice for a young gay rocker starting out today would be…
I would say be prepared for opportunity. If you are a singer keep on signing, if you are a musician keep on practicing, to be the best that
you can, because when opportunity comes your way, you have to be prepared for it. If you are not prepared for it, the opportunity goes
away and it might not come back. So, I would say just embrace what you love to do. It is not always easy. Someone once asked me,
“What did you have to give up for your career?”, my comment was, I had to give up Everything. To have everything, you really have to give
up everything and focus completely on your career in music, acting or in any job to get to the top.
Where/when can we see Styx performing now?
Well recently we just did two shows one in Miami and one in Dania beach, next we will be in West Palm Beach, Tampa and then up to
Jacksonville, which are pretty much right in my back yard. This year I will be preforming a major tour of 100 cities across the United States
and in Canada.
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