In 1999, Canadian vocalist / keyboardist / guitarist Lawrence Gowan was invited to join U.S.-based rock legends Styx as a permanent band member. The news came as a surprise on many levels. For one thing, Gowan had replaced Dennis DeYoung, considered by many fans to be the The Voice of the band, and the vast majority of those followers were completely oblivious to Gowan’s star status at home. He was a dreaded unknown. Gowan fans, meanwhile, were left wondering how a star of the Canadian ’80s pop rock scene had managed to attract the attention of a band that had been around for 20 over years by that time.
I was one of them. Having grown up with both Styx and Gowan as a teenager, it was an amazing development that blew me away. The fact that Styx had added Gowan’s breakthrough hit ‘A Criminal Mind’ to their setlist was the icing on an already fattening cake. In 2005, I was given the opportunity to interview Gowan for BW&BK (found here), a personal high that fulfilled one of the unplanned items on my bucket list.
The band recently released the Regeneration album, featuring re-recorded versions of Styx favourites (and a Damn Yankees song or two). And while I didn’t have the chance to speak with Gowan or his bandmates, credit where it’s due to my BW&BK colleague Mitch Lafon for a fantastic in-depth chat with Gowan about the record and his career. An excerpt is available below.
By Mitch Lafon
BraveWords.com: Gowan was a staple on Canadian radio and TV in the ‘80s. ‘Moonlight Desires’, ‘A Criminal Mind’ and ‘Strange Animal’ were top hits…
Gowan: “’Moonlight Desires’ was a #1 video. ‘A Criminal Mind’ was #1 in Montreal.”
BraveWords.com: A friend of mine, Sean Kelly, just did a cover of ‘A Criminal Mind’ on his new solo album – Where The Wood Meets The Wire (Universal).”
Gowan: “I heard that. It’s great.”
BraveWords.com: It just goes to show that people still love that song, but how come Gowan didn’t break through in the United States?
Gowan: “I’ll explain that, but it’s a terribly long, drawn out and boring story. So, last year when I did the Return Of The Strange Animal record – I decided to tell the story in cartoon form. The link is: Gowanstrangeanimal.com. What you’re getting at here is the two completely different music businesses that exist today and existed in the ‘80s. Yesterday, Todd came to me with a new artist from Australia that I had never heard called Gotye. I immediately put in on, looked him up on Youtube… There’s the difference today. If somebody came to me back in the ‘80s and said there’s this new Australian band called AC/DC. How can I get their record? I’d have to go to the import section of my local record store or… But today you can access anything from around the world instantly. Everyone now, automatically gets a world wide release because of the Internet, but the way it was in the 1980’s was the polar opposite of that. The record companies decided who got released where and why. A terrific example would be The Jam in England. They’d play Wembley Stadium in England, but you could barely find their records in the United States and that was the same situation for Platinum Blonde and me in Canada. We were signed to CBS records and although we had international deals and out sold some of the biggest international stars (in Canada) – we couldn’t get a guaranteed release in the United States. It seemed like the hurdle just kept moving and moving and moving…”
BraveWords.com: I could never understand that. ‘A Criminal Mind’, ‘Strange Animal’ and the hits just kept coming – you’d think , at some point, they’d say we can export this artist. They tried to break Platinum Blonde’s ‘Crying Over You’ single in the US, but for you they didn’t seem to try at all.
Gowan: “It was very strange and unusual. In all those years, I was managed by the same guy that managed Rush (Ray Daniels). I was managed by him for fourteen years and it was a constant daily frustration. We just could not convince them (CBS) to put it out. They’d say ‘we have this artist or that artist coming out’. When I tread back over this that’s basically what the story is – my records were just not released in the United States. I did an interview recently with a Buffalo radio station and a lot of the border cities that I talk to mention ‘A Criminal Mind’ because they got it from St. Catharines or Toronto. Plenty of records made it across the border or they heard the airplay or played it themselves, but it did not translate to the big giant record company putting it out nationally in the United States. So, as a result you have these songs that become tied to one country. I’ve met artists in Germany who’ve had the same experience. They’ve had monster hits in Germany, but were never released elsewhere. Same in England. Same in Japan. It’s the same in every country. My records were never released in the United States and it was a terrible frustration at the time and it was an ongoing frustration throughout my entire solo career. It didn’t matter how many top ten songs I had or how many gold and platinum records I amassed. It was just the way my deal was structured with CBS (who later became SONY). Finally, when I left them (after my Greatest Hits record) – I went to England for a few years, I started doing tours over there and I noticed that the internet was picking up and I could release my records independently. It was at that time that the people in England suggested that bands were looking for new members (because they were still around)… My publicist started bringing people out to see me, but I didn’t want to do that because ‘I’m a solo artist’ but a month later I got a call from Tommy Shaw and I figured the universe is telling me something. It was tied to the fact that I never got the big release in the United States and now I had the opportunity to join this worldwide band and the first thing out of Tommy’s mouth was, ‘I want to make ‘A Criminal Mind’ a Styx song’.”
BraveWords.com: So, he was just using you…
Gowan: “In a way (laughs). He just thought that should be a Styx song. I had opened up for them at the ‘new’ Montreal Forum in 1997 (The Molson Centre) – it was the first or second concert ever performed there and I remember that every member of Styx were standing side stage (well, all but one) and after the third encore – I played ‘A Criminal Mind’ and when I came off stage that night JY, Chuck, Tommy and Todd… Tommy said ‘we’ve never heard these songs before and some sound like Styx songs or they could be Styx songs’. I thought – ‘what a curious comment that was’ and two years later when the went through their biggest backstage upheaval – they saw me as the solution to that, so I joined the band and I’ve been very happy going around the world and playing with them ever since, but that’s not to say that I haven’t always had this strong identity as a solo artist that, at some point, I want to address again.”.
Go to this location for the complete interview.