Tommy Shaw

Tommy Roland Shaw (1953- ), a native of Montgomery, Montgomery County, is an American musician and songwriter with a career spanning more than 40 years. He is best known for playing lead guitar, singing lead vocals, and writing music for Styx and for his “supergroup” Damn Yankees. Shaw was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Tommy Shaw, 2010 Shaw was born on September 11, 1953, in Montgomery to Dalton Earl Shaw and Mildred Uline Shaw; he is the youngest of four children. His father was a pipefitter and his mother a nurse. When he was two years old his family moved to Prattville, Autauga County, where he lived up until the age of 12. It was there that he began playing guitar, in 1963. Shaw became an avid fan of the Beatles, who heavily influenced his decision to become a musician. He was also a country music fan and played Hank Williams songs. When his family moved back to Montgomery two years later, he was already an accomplished guitarist. His first experience in a group came as a teenager in Montgomery when he joined a neighborhood band, and he played lead guitar and occasional bass guitar. Shaw attended Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery and spent his high school years playing with a group called Jabbo Stokes and the Jive Rockets. After graduating high school, Shaw left Montgomery and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 19. His first big professional break came when he joined a band called MS Funk. While performing in Chicago, members of the group Styx took notice of Shaw and his guitar playing skills. In the mid-1970s, Shaw married Cuppy Enders; the couple would later divorce.

Shaw then returned to Montgomery and joined a group called Harvest. The band also included Jimbo Jones (bass), Eddie Wohlford (keyboard), and drummer Tommy Beavers, who would win a Grammy Award in 1994 for a country music recording with Asleep at the Wheel and Lyle Lovett. Member Beth Nielsen Chapman, who joined the band’s lineup (then under the name Harmony) after Shaw’s departure, was later nominated for two Grammy Awards. In 1975, representatives from Styx contacted Shaw about joining the band. He auditioned and accepted their invitation. He debuted on the band’s 1976 album Crystal Ball, penning the hit single of the same name. The following year, he wrote or co-wrote a number of songs on the album The Grand Illusion; his song “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” was the second single from the album and reached number 29 on the Billboard Top 100 pop chart. This album, boosted by Shaw’s songwriting skills, would be the band’s first Triple Platinum album, selling more than 3 million copies and reaching number 6 on the Billboard album chart. Styx’s next album, Pieces of Eight, also went Triple Platinum and also reached number 6 on the Billboard album chart, with two of Shaw’s songs, “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” and “Renegade,” becoming huge hits and reaching the top of the Billboard Top 100. His youthful appearance and high-energy style on stage greatly enhanced the live performances of Styx as well and helped make them one of the top touring rock bands in the world in the late 1970s. He was also extremely popular with female fans for his long blonde hair and boyish good looks, and because of this, Styx began appearing on the covers of magazines such as Tiger Beat and 16 magazine.

Tommy Shaw and NASA Scientist The band followed up these huge sellers with Cornerstone, which reached number 2 on the Billboard album chart and was nominated for “Best Album of the Year” at the Grammy Awards, and Paradise Theater, both of which also went triple platinum. Artistic differences, however, began to surface in the early 1980s. Dennis DeYoung, the co-lead singer and songwriter, became estranged from the rest of the group because he wanted the Styx music to be more theatrical. Shaw and the other band members wanted the music to be more rock and roll. The tension reached a climax when the tour for the 1983 album Kilroy was Here became a financial disappointment. The band broke up the following year. Shaw married actress Pamela Donnelly in 1986, and the couple had one child; they would divorce in 1993.

Shaw embarked on a solo career and released three albums: Girls with Guns, What If, and Ambition and achieved moderate hits with the title songs, “Girls with Guns” and “What If.” He returned to the top of the charts in 1989 when he formed a “supergroup” with Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Ted Nugent called “Damn Yankees.” Their self-titled first record, released in 1990, went platinum. They achieved a significant hit with the song “High Enough,” which Shaw co-wrote. It reached number 3 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, the band only produced one more album to moderate success, and then broke up. Shaw then collaborated with Jack Blades under the name Shaw-Blades, releasing the album Hallucination in 1995 to modest acclaim.

In 1996, Shaw reunited with most of the original members of Styx, and they began touring again with groups such as Def Leppard, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon. Shaw married Jeanne Mason, in 2000. In 2007, Shaw reunited with Jack Blades as Shaw-Blades for the album Influence, which consists of covers of songs that the two considered influences in their musical careers. In 2011, Shaw released a bluegrass album titled The Great Divide that reached number 2 on the Bluegrass Billboard Charts. In 2017, Styx released a record entitled The Mission that garnered positive reviews; Shaw and the band have continued to tour and perform.

Further Reading

  • Fuqua, Christopher S. Alabama Musicians; Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie. Charleston: The History Press, 2011.
  • Panozzo, Chuck, with Michele Skettino. The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies and My Life with Styx. New York: AMACOM, 2007.

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