The Best of Times for Chuck Panozzo
BY Winston Gieseke
August 26 2011 4:00 AM ET
Over the course of Styx’s 38-year career, the group sold more than
30 million albums worldwide. We caught up with the band’s cofounder and
original bassist, Chuck Panozzo, a former high school teacher and an
AIDS survivor who’s been campaigning for HIV awareness and gay rights
since 2001. Despite having just wrapped a U.S. tour and gearing up for
the release of Regeneration: Volume 2, Panozzo had enough time on his hands to give us his thoughts on gay rockers, the power of coming out, and male groupies.
The Advocate: You’ve said that your sexuality was never a topic of conversation among the members of Styx. Does that mean they weren’t aware that you were gay?
Chuck Panozzo: I had a twin brother [drummer John Panozzo], and we started this little band when we were 12 years old. Dennis [DeYoung, Styx lead singer] was our neighbor. I was fairly asexual as a young kid and kind of intimidated. I grew up in a neighborhood full of Italian Catholics, which was a lot different in the ’60s than it is in the year 2011. If you said too much or got too involved in your sexuality, you would run the risk of being slammed down or made fun of, so I just kept quiet and concentrated on what I knew, which was music and trying to live the American dream in my own way. Of course, I knew I was attracted to other guys but I didn’t know how to express it — and if you did on the south side of Chicago, believe me, they would beat the hell out of you.
What did music give you as a kid?
In high school [our band] started playing mixers, so all of a sudden I didn’t worry about being an athlete or being a common kid who got picked on. Being a musician kind of elevated my status. It set me apart. Because of music I didn’t have to deal with a lot of harassing or bullying. It was kind of a refuge for me — a safety zone.
When did you begin exploring your sexuality?
In the ’70s when we started becoming famous, I liked the freedom of being on the road, and occasionally I would venture out to find a bar here or there and try to have what I thought was fun or exploration. But it wasn’t until I moved out of my [parents’] house and moved downtown into the city of Chicago that I was able to get my first taste of what it was like to experience myself as a gay person. But it was always very clandestine.
You were never recognized?
No one ever brought the subject up. If anyone I met asked me “What do you do?” and I told them I was a musician, they’d ask if I was a church organist. If I told them I was in a rock band, they would kind of gasp and walk away. Back then it was my presumption that there were no gay guys who liked rock and roll except for me. But, you know, these things change in time.
Sounds like you were able to remain fairly anonymous.
My big fear at that time was coming out and having the fans turn on Styx. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to the others. I knew if anyone found out, I would have to leave the band. It really wasn’t until later on, when the band regrouped in the ’90s, that I felt angry about being onstage and not being myself. I realized you can’t hide these things forever. They’ll eat you up.