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Lawrence Gowan

What hasn’t been written already about Larry Gowan over the years? I’m pretty sure I have uncovered more than enough in our fabulous chat recently. Rhinegold, Solo Artist and a member of Styx - he has done it all. Because he is over the top talented, charismatic and down right hilarious, it made our time so enjoyable. Enjoy the read!

Jay Cooper (ATOTK): You played a show here in Peterborough Ontario in early July. Did you enjoy it?
Lawrence Gowan (LG): (laughs) Yes, I remember it and it was great!

ATOTK: I looked at the bill for tonight’s show in Dallas Texas with Loverboy, Styx and REO Speedwagon and I thought, WOW, what a flashback.
LG: It’s a great tour. It’s the most successful tour we’ve had since I’ve been in the band. We are always in the top 50 touring acts every year that we go out on the road. It surpassed the past tours with every single venue being jam packed with four straight hours of classic rock. I can’t believe the wide age range this summer - half of the audience weren’t even born when these classic albums were made and they just embrace it as a part of their lives.

ATOTK: Does it bother you that other classic acts are out there when their vocals have diminished and it’s kind of half-assed?
LG: (laughs) I’m going to let you quote yourself on that one Jay (laughs). The beautiful thing about playing music in your life is that it’s the greatest addiction you could have and sometimes artists remain on a stage a little longer than they should have (laughs). The great thing about Styx, Loverboy and REO is that we are our own worst critics. There is nothing someone could write about us that is negative that could come close to how hard we are on ourselves. On this tour there is a healthy competitive spirit where each band is still able to perform at peak capacity. Every day the rock gods smile down on us is a great day.

ATOTK: So after all these years you attack the show like you did years ago?
LG: We connect to the feeling of being 15 years old again when we are on stage. The next morning I feel every single day of my age (laughs). But once we get out there something takes over and you forget about those little aches and pains.

ATOTK: You were born in Scotland and raised in Scarborough. I interviewed one of my teen idols from Scotland, Les McKeown, (RIP) of The Bay City Rollers and thought you should have joined that band (laughs).
LG: Oh, you know something? I didn’t know that he passed. So very sad. These days it’s hard to keep up with who’s still got the oxygen habit and who’s given it up. Most of my relatives still live in Scotland and when The Bay City Rollers hit, my Manager had a music store in Toronto. I was rehearsing in the store and they came in. They were playing in town and came to pick up a few things. I told my mom and she phoned the relatives in Scotland and they said “Oh you have to join that band immediately!!” (laughs), I just said, I don’t think they want a Canadian and I have other plans (laughs). I thought it was great with the tartan thing and embrace your heritage. I wear a kilt in my solo shows.

ATOTK: You’re known for your keyboard skills but you do play guitar. I’m assuming you started on piano?
LG: Yeah, I play guitar mostly in my solo shows and the guitar was my first instrument at 8 years old. At 10 I was playing my mom a song and she said, “You know the guitar is alright but if you want to play a real instrument, play the piano.” I love the fact she called the piano a real instrument but my response was, “Well we don’t have a piano, so how the hell am I gonna do that?” (laughs). She said if I took lessons for a couple of years then maybe we would get one. So I started lessons and if you didn’t have a piano there was this cardboard foldout with real size keys on it to learn lessons. But after 2 years we had a recital and my teacher met my parents and said, “Your son has a really good aptitude for this, what kind of piano do you have?” and the answer was that we didn’t have one yet. He says, “You mean he learned all this stuff on the cardboard? You better get him a piano.” (laughs) And the next day we had one.

ATOTK: I started playing piano at the age of 5 but at the age of 10, I really wanted a drum set.
LG: You know, I believe the instrument chooses you. For example, my son suddenly at the age of 11 said “I want to play drums.” Now he is my drummer in my solo band. At first I said no, no we’re not drummers. Then I found a picture of my grandfather in Ireland playing the drums and I thought, holy shit, this is kind of weird. I never knew that’. He is an excellent drummer and got exposed to a lot of great drummers I have and do play with.

ATOTK: Rhinegold had a huge impact on our Editor, Karen, back in the day. She followed your band all over the GTA. She loved a song called Two Love Birds or something?
LG: Wow! Yeah, it was Two Cage Birds. That’s really nice to hear - it was never recorded. Rhinegold was very similar to Styx. We were a theatrical, progressive rock band but everything is about timing - we came together in 1976 when Disco and Punk became the new flavor. We had a career for 5 years playing clubs in Ontario, Quebec and down east but no serious record deals came out of it because of the musical climate at the time. It’s amazing to me that so many people remember it and we never made an album. But I do dust off a few of those old songs and perform them. That’s lovely that Karen remembers that, they were special times.

ATOTK: Those days, being young and on the road playing six nights a week, I remember fondly myself.
LG: You were the 80’s and it’s a drag that it all fizzled out. I took a walk in Austin Texas the other night and there were bands playing in every venue and it felt like I was right back in the 70’s. That beautiful smell – a mix of stale beer, barf and the amazing food from a food truck, which is, OMG, that smells fantastic and OMG that’s horrible and OMG it’s not, kind of like the carpet in the Gasworks (laughs). You have to have all those smells together on a hot summer night and bottle it (laughs).

ATOTK: You had a very successful solo career but you joined Styx in ‘99?
LG: To encapsulate it, after Rhinegold I got a good deal from Columbia Records to go solo with the first album coming out in ‘82. The record was not a commercial success but they thought a second was merited from the strength of the material. Next was Strange Animal, which went triple platinum. A total of 6 albums, a greatest hits compilation and a live album that was recorded in Quebec. Promoter Donald K. Donald said “You’re playing on the same night as Styx and I’m dealing with both, so why don’t you open for Styx at the new Forum in Montreal”. My tour manager said “Why would you want to do that - you haven’t opened for anyone in 14 years.” But I thought, it’s a new building and I’ve never seen Styx live and it turned into almost a Hollywood scripted night. Styx’s manager came up to see if Donald was out of his mind to have a completely solo artist open. I had multiple encores from the audience - they were singing along and knew the material. By the last couple of songs, Styx was standing at the side of the stage and Tommy Shaw said, “We have to do this again” after my set. When they called in ’99, I thought they wanted me to open again. But they asked for me to join Styx and now it’s been 23 years.

ATOTK: Did the fans accept you as Dennis DeYoung’s successor?
LG: That’s a better way to put it - it use to be the term ‘replacement’ and I’m very uncomfortable with that because no one replaces anyone on planet earth. First off, they put Criminal Mind in their set and never wanted me to emulate Dennis in any way, just said to bring my own tools and personality into the band. Thousands of people are on their feet after every show. It’s a group effort after all and people are accepting of the band, not one individual. We are at a point now that a good number of people only know this version of Styx. A perfect example of a new member of a band is Ron Wood. I saw the Stones a couple of years ago and it dawned on me that he is every bit a Rolling Stone than Mick and Keith are. And he’s the third guitar player they had and he never played on some of those classic songs. Spirit of the band has to be authentic even with a member change.

ATOTK: Tommy Shaw is in my top five list of guitar players. You are blessed with that.
LG: Thank you for saying that. Everyone knows him for his vocals and songwriting. But we were playing in LA and there on the side of the stage was Eddie VanHalen just watching him play. I will tell him that, Jay.

ATOTK: Hope the tour continues to be over the top.
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