Although he wasn't an original member, guitarist Tommy Shaw not only penned some of Styx's best-known songs but served as a musical foil for Dennis DeYoung during the band's heyday. Born on September 11, 1953, in Montgomery, Alabama, Shaw's interest in music began at a young age and he spent years playing in local bands. He was still living in Montgomery when he was offered an audition to replace departed guitarist John Curulewski for the group's tour to support 1975's Equinox. By the time Styx released their next record, Crystal Ball, Shaw was not only a full-time member, he had written the album's title track. From 1976 through 1983, Styx were one of the most successful rock bands in America and Shaw contributed songs like "Fooling Yourself," "Blue Collar Man," and "Too Much Time on My Hands" to their catalog.
With personal tensions causing the band to go on hiatus, Shaw released his first solo album in the fall of 1984 and managed to score a Top 40 single with the title track, "Girls with Guns." He followed that set with two more solo releases, 1985's What If? and 1987's Ambition, but neither was as commercially successful. Shaw soon found himself joining forces with Ted Nugent, Night Ranger's Jack Blades, and drummer Michael Cartellone to form Damn Yankees. The new act was immediately embraced by rock radio and crossed over to the pop charts with the power ballad "High Enough," co-written by Shaw. Their self-titled debut album would go on to platinum status and the quartet was a popular live draw. Don't Tread, the follow-up issued two years later, was a moderate success but not on the scale of their first record, and the band was shelved. In 1995, Shaw and Blades cut their own disc, 1995's Hallucination, as Shaw Blades.
In 1996, Shaw rejoined the lineup of Styx (which had recorded one album together in his absence) for a well-received reunion tour, documented in the live greatest-hits set Return to Paradise. Shaw balanced the band's touring with his solo work, releasing 7 Deadly Zens in 1998. Critically, the album was one of his best received and saw appearances from his Damn Yankees bandmates. The following year, Shaw joined Styx in the studio to record a full-length album of new material for the first time in more than 15 years. Although Brave New World didn't earn them a place on commercial and rock radio formats that they had once dominated, it sold well and the band again embarked on a successful tour. Shaw returned to the studio in 2006 for a second collaboration with fellow Yankee Jack Blades entitled Influence.
He made a very wide left turn in 2011, turning in The Great Divide, an album that returned him to his first musical love: bluegrass. Shaw learned his flatpicking skills as a youngster playing the genre almost exclusively. The album, which is exclusively progressive bluegrass (it's not pure because the set has a drummer), was released on the Pazzo Music imprint through Fontana. It features Shaw in some very tough company: along with guests Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakam guesting on vocals, the house band for the set includes fiddler Stuart Duncan, mandolinist Sam Bush, Dobro bosses Rob Ickes and Jerry Douglas, second guitarist Chris Brown, banjoist Scott Vestal, and drummer Chris Brown. The Great Divide was released in March of 2011. ~ Tom Demalon