Tommy Shaw joined Styx in 1975, just after the band made the leap to A&M, but he'd come to help define the band's glory years, penning the hard-rocking hits "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)," "Renegade," "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)," and "Too Much Time on My Hands." Shaw stood in contrast to the melodramatic flourishes of Dennis DeYoung, a tension that would lead Shaw to pursue a solo career in 1984. Girls with Guns, his solo debut, found some attention on album rock radio and MTV, but his next success arrived when he teamed with his former Styx colleague Michael Cartellone, Jack Blades, and Ted Nugent for the AOR supergroup Damn Yankees. Once that group split, he formed Shaw Blades with his bandmate Blades, before reuniting with Styx into the new millennium.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama and raised in its suburb of Prattville, Tommy Shaw started playing guitar at the age of ten. Two years later, his family moved to Montgomery proper and Shaw began devoting himself to his guitar. He played with neighbors, then local bands, including a group called Jabbo Stokes & the Jive Rockets. Upon his high-school graduation in 1972, he headed up to Nashville upon the encouragement of talent agent Bobby "Smitty" Smith, where he joined a band called the Smoke Ring, soon renamed as the horn-driven rock band MS Funk. Shaw stuck with MS Funk for a few years, during which time the group relocated to Chicago, but departed in 1975 as the band edged closer to disco. Shaw moved back to Montgomery and joined a group called Harvest before hearing that Styx was interested in having him join the band as a replacement for John Curulewski.
Styx were on the eve of a tour supporting Equinox, the album released in the wake of their breakthrough single, "Lady," so they urgently needed a new guitarist. Shaw accepted the offer and he soon made himself at home, contributing several original songs and lead vocals to 1976's Crystal Ball. Styx hit their stride with The Grand Illusion, thanks in part to Shaw's hard-rocking material, highlighted by "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)." The Grand Illusion was the first of five Billboard Top Ten albums for Styx, a run that produced four Top Ten singles including Shaw's 1981 rocker "Too Much Time on My Hands." Kilroy Was Here brought their streak to an end in 1983. It may have generated a pair of Top Ten hits in "Mr. Roboto" and "Don't Let It In," but the supporting tour found the band fraught with tension, culminating in Shaw's departure at the end of the tour in 1984.
Upon leaving Styx, Shaw launched his solo career with the 1984 album Girls with Guns. Its title track made it to 33 on the Billboard Top 40, with its sequel, "Lonely School," topping out at 60. Shaw contributed "Remo's Theme (What If)" to the 1985 adventure film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and the song made it to 18 on Billboard's rock chart, while providing the title track for his second album, What If. A third album, Ambition, arrived in 1987, before Shaw turned his attention to a new project with his touring drummer Michael Cartellone, Night Ranger's Jack Blades, and Ted Nugent.
Called Damn Yankees, this new group released a self-titled album in 1990 that went double platinum on the strength of the hit "High Enough," a power ballad that climbed to number three on Billboard's Hot 100. Damn Yankees were short-lived: a second album, Don't Tread, appeared in 1992 before Nugent left to resume his solo career. Shaw and Blades continued as the punningly named combo Shaw Blades, releasing Hallucination in 1995, but the group disbanded after the album failed to catch fire at album rock radio. Shaw returned to a reunited Styx, who toured through 1996, culminating in the live set Return to Paradise in 1997. Styx released a new studio album, Brave New World, in 1999, by which point Shaw had released his fourth studio album, 1998's 7 Deadly Zens, and had made overtures with Jack Blades to record a third Damn Yankees album with Ted Nugent.
Damn Yankees fell apart once again but Styx remained a mainstay, allowing Shaw to pursue other projects while the group released such new albums as 2003's Cyclorama and 2005's Big Bang Theory. He and Blades released a second Shaw Blades record, the covers album Influence, in 2007, and in 2011 he reconnected with his country roots on the bluegrass album The Great Divide. Styx achieved their highest-charting record since 1983's Kilroy Was Here when The Mission went to 45 in 2017. The next year, Shaw released Sing for the Day!, a live album recorded with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine