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Former Styx frontman brings classic group’s songs to hospice concert

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Singer Dennis DeYoung, the power-pop voice behind stalwart Styx’s hit parade of the 1970s and 1980s, confesses upfront his secret to keeping his vocals seemingly as smooth and sweet at age 67 as they were at age 27.

“I’d have to say it’s wearing my underwear at least three sizes too small,” he said, speaking by phone from his home on Chicago’s south side, where he was born. “And if that doesn’t always seem like it’s going to work, I wet them.”

There you have it, creaky crooners — an inside scoop on a melodious fountain of youth. Keyboardist DeYoung and his band will perform the music of Styx, and also maybe a few solo tunes, such as “Desert Moon,” at the annual Our Hospice of South Central Indiana concert Aug. 30 at Columbus’ Mill Race Park. Styx’s major hits include “Lady,” “Show Me the Way,” “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Lorelei,” “The Best of Times” and “Mr. Roboto.”

The free event raises money for the nonprofit hospice through a raffle, food and souvenir sales. It also raises awareness of the hospice’s work with families of the terminally ill, providing a broad range of comfort and care.

Our Hospice President Laura Hurt said the concert committee selected DeYoung with a focus on two ideas for its biggest fundraiser, which sometimes has generated more than $100,000.

“He’s someone still with some big-name recognition and someone who also can appeal to a younger generation,” Hurt said. “That’s one of our key efforts — to make sure that we do our best to bring in performers who can reach all ages.”

The singer is the first to readily acknowledge he cannot reach all listeners. But after selling millions of records and touring worldwide in a career spanning more than 40 years in a fickle industry, he’s hardly concerned.

“I know that critics generally hate sentimentality in music,” DeYoung said. “But given the choice of no sentimentality or so-called cheap sentimentality, give me cheap sentimentality every time.”

He laughed about the fact that many listeners fancy him as a staunch Christian because of some of his spiritual lyrics, including on the 1990 prayer-like anthem, “Show Me the Way.” It was written for then 10-year-old son Matthew, now 34 and the lighting director for his tours.

“Those spiritual songs always asked questions, but people don’t always realize that they never really provided answers,” DeYoung said. “In a lot of my lyrics, I’m simply asking the question, ‘How are things supposed to work?’”

Of course, one of his singing stints in the early and mid-1990s might have linked the lapsed Catholic with faith. After he and Styx split, he played Pontius Pilate in a stage version of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“I prayed every night that people somehow would forgive me for allowing Christ to be crucified,” he said with a chuckle. “But then I realized it was OK because it was just (actor/singer) Ted Neeley.”

DeYoung is old-fashioned enough that he refuses to buy a cellphone (“These days, too many people are always looking down”) and has been married to wife Suzanne 44 years, who has been one of his backup singers since the mid-1970s. The couple raised two kids on the road.

He remains unimpressed with the Internet in general and it’s impact on the music business, record labels and such.

“A million choices really are no choices,” he said. “Could you go into a restaurant and order food if you had a million choices?”

He grew incredulous when asked how he keeps old songs fresh night after night on a tour before thousands of strangers. Silence fell on the other end of the phone.

“What?” he finally asked, sounding stunned. “That’s my job. And it’s a great job — maybe the best job in the whole world. Look — you come to our shows to hear me sing songs like it’s happening only for you tonight, at this very moment — and like it has never happened before or will ever happen afterward.”

A few days after this conversation, DeYoung and his wife planned to catch a production of “Brigadoon.” He follows Major League Baseball and professional football.

But the man helping classic rock fans reminisce knows his value lies in more than dusted-off, old records and videos. That explains why one of his recent Los Angeles concerts will hit Axs TV in October, and the two-video disc set of that show will hit the market.

Hear him sing again, and you might wonder if Dennis DeYoung is really Dennis The Young.

“I never smoked,” he said. “I never did drugs.”

Of course. But the underwear. Now there’s the magic in a soaring, sentimental voice.

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