A brush with musical greatness

By: Michael Bird


The assistant principal of Robert E. Lee High School, James Bozeman, came over the school public address system.

“Teachers, please bring your students to the auditorium at this time for a special assembly.”

These things were usually scheduled but this time Mr. Bozeman sounded very excited, more so than usual. Mr. Bozeman was a really special man. He was a student the day Robert E. Lee opened in 1955 and, except for his four years at Auburn, he had spent his entire career there.

As the nearly 2,000 students moved into the auditorium and took their seats, we all sat looking at the closed red curtains on the stage and wondered what was going to happen.

Lee High has had many illustrious graduates but perhaps none more well known than the person behind the curtain that mysterious morning.

On that day in 1990, the red curtain opened and Mr. Bozeman talked about a former student of his who had learned to play guitar and was here to play a show for us.

As you can imagine, the student body went crazy when we realized who was there — it was Tommy Shaw of Styx. He had grown up on McQueen Street right beside the school and was in town visiting his parents.

Shaw was a 1971 graduate of Robert E. Lee and, after playing his songs at Keglers Kove next to Bama Lanes for several years as a member of a group called Harmony, he hit the big time in 1975.

Greg Budell, then the personal promotions coordinator for Chicago-area rock group Styx (and now a disc jockey and talk show host in Montgomery), picked up young Shaw at the airport and introduced him to his new bandmates in Styx.

Shaw contributed several songs to his first recorded effort with Styx and one in particular was so strong they named the LP after it: “Crystal Ball.”

By 1990, Styx was on hiatus and Shaw was leading a band called Damn Yankees. That year, they had two big radio hits, “Where You Goin’ Now?” and “High Enough,” two of the better power ballads of that era.

Shaw played a concert for the students with his newer Damn Yankees material but he also played his Styx stuff as well, and took questions and requests. He also stuck around for pictures and autographs. He even chose the Beauties and Beaux for our yearbook, The Scabbard, while he was there.

Brushes with greatness don’t come often but I will never forget the day Tommy Shaw came to our alma mater and gave a personalized concert for some very grateful high school students.