The first time I saw Dennis DeYoung on stage was in Long Beach, Calif. He was with other members of the band he had formed in a basement on Chicago's South Side when he was a teenager. The band was Styx, the year was 1979 and Styx was riding high, filling stadiums across the country on its way to becoming the first band to release four consecutive multiplatinum albums.
"Our music is what finally sold us," DeYoung told me backstage. "Even after our first four records went nowhere, we never gave up. We didn't ever do a lot of self-promotion. We tried to let our music talk for us."
That was then.
This is now and DeYoung, who is 73 years old, is locked down in a nice house in the Chicago suburbs with his childhood sweetheart, Suzanne, who has been his wife since 1970 and is the mother of their two adult children, Carrie Ann and Matthew, tucked safely in their own homes. Dennis only goes out to buy groceries. He spends a lot of time in the studio in his basement. A great deal of it is on the phone, being interviewed by a stream of journalists, all eager to have him explain what is certifiably the second coming of this rock star.
Though he has been consistently performing on the road for the last decade with a band that is not Styx but singing the many hits he wrote for that group -- "Babe," "Lady," "Come Sail Away," "Mr. Roboto," "Show Me the Way," it is a long list -- he had recently completed a new album and has become an internet sensation.
"I had been, still am, trying to understand what's happening in this world," he says. "I'd been asked to maybe play a song that could be posted on the internet, maybe brighten things up. I gave in and played (1981's) 'The Best of Times,' even though my piano wasn't even in tune."
The song was posted in April and it has since been viewed by more than 1 million people and counting. "I was stunned, overwhelmed," he says. "I must have hit a chord with people."
He has since posted another song, 1990's "Show Me the Way," and started his own YouTube channel.
But more enlightening and deeply satisfying than the number of viewers have been the comments they posted. There are more than 7,000 and counting, all along the lines of "Wow someone playing an actual instrument. Singing without any electrical enhancements" or "I'm not even an 'official' Styx fan, so why did this make me tear up."
And on and on and on and he has read them all.