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SAVATAGE

Current Members

Past Members

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Biography

SAVATAGE, one of the most individualistic of acts to have broken out of the eighties Metal boom, began life as a Tampa, Florida school trio titled METROPOLIS USA. With the Oliva brothers Jon on vocals and guitar, with Criss on bass guitar teaming up with drummer Steve "Dr. Killdrums" Wacholz the teenagers paid their dues in the Florida clubs performing cover sets by such artists as DEEP PURPLE and BLACK SABBATH. From these humble origins SAVATAGE would grow into an act that set itself apart from the pack possessing two unique talents in Jon Oliva's thundering vocals and Criss Oliva's supreme guitar talents. Despite gaining a major label deal SAVATAGE would swim against the tide releasing a succession of commendable but strangely overlooked albums. The group found a ready, cult audience but found it difficult to break into the mainstream. Eventually their tenacity paid off with the introduction of producer Paul O'Neill's more progressive themes drew in a loyal international audience.

Jon and Criss Oliva's first solid steps into the Heavy Metal arena came with a 1977 band called ALIEN. Criss, working with guitar player Rich Biganno, also gigged with an outfit dubbed TOWER whilst Jon had previously acted as lead vocalist and drummer for METROPOLIS. Subsequently Tony Ciulla was to take on bass duties and Joe Conn became the drummer. This formative act issued a rare 7" single 'Let's Get Rowdy' / 'Take Off With The Crowd' in 1978. Adopting the title of the benevolent sorcerer in the movie 'Wizards', the ALIEN group became AVATAR.

As is the familiar route, AVATAR underwent a succession of line-up changes, passing through the ranks would be ex-PARADOX bassist Brian Lennon amongst many others until some stabilization was to take effect as Jon and Criss were joined by Steve Wacholz, of BLAZE, WARHEAD and PARADOX repute, on drums, as Jon switched to bass. Also involved would be another BLAZE and PARADOX man, guitarist Patrick Dubs, and bassist Andy Grelin. Wacholz opted out, to forge IMAGINE, leaving Jon no option but to take command of the drums once again as Bob Boyer was briefly acquired as lead singer and Rich Pigano became rhythm guitarist. Then in 1981 Keith Collins, previously with SOLAR CITY, took on bass responsibilities as Wacholz rejoined. One of the earliest shows performed was opening up for SHOOTING STAR. Subsequently, Dubs joined up with AGENTZ.

As the desire for original material grew, AVATAR contributed two tracks, 'Rock Me' and 'Minus Love', for inclusion on a local compilation, 'The Pirate Album', assembled in 1983 by radio station 95 WYNF. Promotion for this saw AVATAR performing in the local K-Mart parking lot. They then released the now extremely rare 'City Beneath The Surface' EP in 1982. Only 1000 copies of the EP were pressed, a handful of these rarities made more collectable as yellow vinyl. However, once Savatage became popular, the AVATAR sessions were to be heavily bootlegged.

Working with a minimal budget of $3,000, the group laid down fifteen tracks in just three days, recording over two days and mixing on the third. This set of tracks would be spread over the next two releases, 'Sirens' and 'The Dungeons Are Calling'. The day before PAR Records was about to press 'Sirens' a hasty name change to SAVATAGE took place. Label boss Dan Johnson had been served warning by a European band also entitled AVATAR who laid legal claim to the title, necessitating a quick re-think.

PAR Records first issue of 'Sirens' was clad in a blue sleeve depicting a ship and a woman's face hidden in the clouds. This artwork was not chosen by the band and subsequent re-issues, through Combat, in 1985, and Relativity, feature the now more familiar "killer sewer children" design. For 'Sirens' band members were credited as "Shrieks Of Terror", 'Metalaxe", "Barbaric Cannons" and "The Bottom End". 'Sirens' garnered laudatory reviews globally, particularly in Europe where a license through UK label Music For Nations significantly raised the band profile. Delivered in 1984, the mini-album 'The Dungeons Are Calling', with its artwork warning of the horrors of drug abuse, also found an eager audience globally.

When SAVATAGE opened up for Atlantic Records band ZEBRA at a Tampa Mahaffey Theatre showcase, Robert Zemsky and ZEBRA bassist Randy Jackson persuaded Atlantic A&R supremo Jason Flom to check the band out. Already intrigued by the group's rapid ascent, Flom arranged a further showcase in Brandon, Florida and duly put SAVATAGE into Morrisound Studios with esteemed guitarist Rick Derringer producing, Savatage committed to further demos. At this juncture, word of SAVATAGE's prowess had circulated and the group was fending off bids from Elektra, Pasha, Geffen, Metal Blade, and Megaforce but an impressed Atlantic contracted the band, who installed Robert Zemsky as manager.

The band delivered a titanic tour de force in the Max Norman produced 'Power Of The Night'. This album, hewn out at Bearsville Studios in New York during late 1984 and on which both Oliva brothers and Keith Collins laid down bass in the studio, proved beyond all doubt that SAVATAGE were a major force to be reckoned with a set of class songs bolstered by uncompromising and unadulterated heaviness. The group embarked upon the "Monsters of the Universe" tour in July 1985, backed by ILLUSION and British band ROGUE MALE, during which Collins was replaced by Johnny Lee Middleton, pulled from the ranks of Florida act LEFTY. The band performed a spot one off headliner at the London Marquee on July 1st 1986 prior to hitting US road dirt again backing TED NUGENT.

However, SAVATAGE then strangely stalled, hitting their creative nadir with 1986's 'Fight For The Rock', recorded in late 1985 at Trident Studios in St. Anne's Court, London with producer Stefan Galfas. The previous power and commitment was tempered by blatant commercialism, including an uninspired rendition of FREE's 'Wishing Well' and BADFINGER's 'Day After Day'. Atlantic Records desire to steer the band into radio territory backfired horrendously and the record was soundly panned by critics and fans alike. Jon Oliva took the strain so badly he reportedly resorted to drink and drugs.

The band endeavored to tour but their singer's downhill spiral forced the cancellation of many dates with the band being put on hold whilst Oliva cleaned up. A one off show did find the group headlining a festival in Oulu, Finland when original bill toppers METALLICA withdrew due to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. In this period of turmoil Chris Oliva was approached by OZZY OSBOURNE and MEGADETH amongst others but loyally chose to remain steadfast to SAVATAGE.

'Hall Of The Mountain King', which without doubt sparked a renaissance for the band, was the first album that captured SAVATAGE spreading their musical wings further including as it does a radical re-work of the Grieg classic 'Hall Of The Mountain King'. Former BLACK SABBATH vocalist RAY GILLEN guests on the track 'Strange Wings'.

The band added former HEAVEN guitarist CHRIS CAFFERY for live work guesting for DIO and MEGADETH in North America. Unfortunately these dates were marred by friction caused by physical altercations between Jon Oliva and MEGADETH's Dave Mustaine. The band also put in a European date at the legendary Aardschock Festival in Holland. With the completion of these dates Caffery would join DIRTY LOOKS but would make a return to SAVATAGE and by recording of the 'Gutter Ballet' album, cut between February and July 1989 at The Record Plant Studios in New York, the guitarist had earned his stripes becoming a full time member.

Cut in New York with Paul O'Neill, the demo sessions for this record went through projected working album titles of 'Temptation Revelation' and 'Hounds Of Zaroff' until settling on 'Gutter Ballet' once actual recording had commenced. The record arrived in December 1989 and reached Number 124 on the US charts.

'Gutter Ballet's title track, the final song of the sessions being influenced by Jon Oliva's experience at 'The Phantom Of The Opera' stage show, hinted strongly at the future, full-blown concept works to come. Also onboard would be more traditional SAVATAGE fare, such as the horror noir of 'Hounds' and Jon Oliva's autobiographical 'Thorazine Shuffle', documenting his pre-recording tenure in a Minnesota detox facility.

Touring in Europe and the UK had SAVATAGE partnered with KING DIAMOND for the "Rulin' Gutter" dates commencing in February 1990. By March they were back on US territory, collaborating with TESTAMENT and NUCLEAR ASSAULT for a sustained campaign between March and late summer.

The 1991 release 'Streets - A Rock Opera', which featured the Metropolitan Opera Children's Choir, was an ambitious affair, taking nine months of studio time, conceptually based upon the fortunes of a fictional New York musician named DT Jesus embroiled in the world of street drugs. Whilst many related the storyline to Jon Oliva's tribulations, in fact the draft concept had been written up by Paul O'Neill in 1979 and later fleshed out, with songs such as 'Tonight He Grins Again', 'Agony And Ecstasy' and 'If I Go Away' by the Oliva siblings. A further track, 'Can You Hear Me Now', was put down as album sessions closed and found Jon Oliva on drums and Criss Oliva on bass.

'Streets- A Rock Opera' was originally intended as a double album but Atlantic baulked at the idea. As a compromise the group whittled the track listing down to 17 songs with spoken narrative as a common thread. The label trimmed their ambitions further by removing the narration entirely, excepting the intro to 'Jesus Saves', and excising the song 'Larry Elbows'. Although, in context, an important release and one that surpassed the sales of previous efforts, Streets was often overlooked suffering from unfortunate timing, coming as it did soon after the massive impact of QUEENSRYCHE's 'Operation Mindcrime' blockbuster concept album.

SAVATAGE toured heavily to push the album, opening operations in Europe that October backed by VICIOUS RUMORS and into New Year 1992 in the USA with ARMORED SAINT prior to Japanese shows, but this road work took a severe toll on Jon Oliva, who suffered from severe illness. Losing his voice entirely, and even coughing up blood onstage, Jon Oliva reluctantly withdrew in order to recuperate.

In 1993 SAVATAGE issued the 'Edge Of Thorns' opus. The group pulled in new lead vocalist Zachary Stevens, (a.k.a. Zak Trussell) previously with Boston band WICKED WITCH, although Jon Oliva still maintained his overseeing presence as main writer. 'Edge Of Thorns' would be SAVATAGE's last with drummer Steve Wacholz. Once again Jon Oliva sessioned on drums too, featuring on tracks 'He Carves His Stone' and 'Degrees Of Sanity'. This record, of which Japanese issues added two extra tracks in 'Forever After' and 'Shotgun Innocence', collected together many of the riffs and song ideas culled from the previous record original concept.

Bereft of the core membership of Jon Oliva and Steve Wacholz, SAVATAGE set out on tour drafting two new members, Wes Garren to handle rhythm guitar and keyboards with Andy James of ROXX GANG on drums. The year would be overshadowed though by the death of Criss Oliva. Travelling home from the Livestock Festival in Zephyrhills, Florida on the night of October 17th Oliva's car was hit head on by a truck that strayed into his lane. The guitarist's wife Dawn would eventually recover but the 30 year old guitarist was killed outright.

Jon Oliva resolved to pursue SAVATAGE with renewed vigour following the death of his brother. 1994's 'Handful Of Rain', with keyboard and songwriting back in the hands of Jon Oliva, saw a SAVATAGE line-up of Middleton, Wacholz, vocalist Zachary Stevens, previously with Boston band WICKED WITCH, and former TESTAMENT guitarist Alex Skolnick. The latter was merely on loan from his own project, the Funk Rock flavoured EXHIBIT A, but did fulfill tour dates appearing twice a night as EXHIBIT A were the support band. These shows would witness the induction of new drummer Jeff Plate, another recruitment from WICKED WITCH. The very last show of the world tour, on November 13th, 1994, in Tokyo, Japan, was recorded for a live album.

As a diversion from their priority act Oliva and Caffery would issue an album from their side project DOCTOR BUTCHER, a record that surprised many with its unbridled heaviness. During 1995 Metal Blade Records issued promotional copies of a live SAVATAGE album, entitled 'Live Devastation'. However, upon an objection from the band this proposed release never saw the light of day.

Skolnick upon his departure from the band joined OZZY OSBOURNE's band although his stay was fleeting - one secret gig at Nottingham's Rock City venue. SAVATAGE meanwhile pulled in ex C.P.R., TALAS, ALICE COOPER, ASIA and WIDOWMAKER guitarist Al Pitrelli, a man whose past credits were both an indicator of his versatility and his demand.

The 'Dead Winter Dead' album, released in October 1995, would give the band its biggest seller in Europe. The group roster now included Jon Oliva and Zak Stevens operating as co-lead vocalists and a formal re-introduction for guitarist Chris Caffery. Themed on the Balkan wars, the storyline mixed an historical saga with the tale of Christmas. This festive ingredient served the band well, with a single, 'Christmas Eve, Sarajevo 12-24', reaping major radio airplay. This success would provide the catalyst for a second, parallel chapter of the SAVATAGE family.

In late 1996 O'Neill and SAVATAGE members Oliva, Pitrelli and Middleton were involved in the Christmas rock album 'Christmas Eve And Other Stories' under the name of TRANS SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA. The album includes 'Christmas Eve- Sarajevo' lifted directly from the 'Dead Winter Dead' sessions. This outside venture would go on to evolve into a highly successful touring operation in its own right and quite spectacularly go on to sell over a million albums.

The SAVATAGE live release 'Ghost In The Ruins', although initially only a Japanese release, was issued in Europe after it flooded into the European market by import. The recordings, dating from between 1987 and 1990, amply displayed Criss Oliva's undoubted talents. Metal Blade Records re-release of 'The Dungeons Are Calling' in 1997 adds an extra "lost" track 'Fighting For Your Love' as well as a live version of 'Sirens'. The same year's re-issue of 'Sirens' is rounded off with two further archive cuts 'Lady In Disguise' and 'The Message'.

Pitrelli made time during 1997 to contribute to the FLESH AND BLOOD blues project band assembled by former DRIVE, SHE SAID mainman Mark Mangold and TYKETTO vocalist Danny Vaughn. SAVATAGE undertook a mammoth European tour during late 1997 supported by fellow Americans VANDERHOOF. Caffery found downtime in SAVATAGE's schedule to record the METALIUM project band's first album 'Millenium Metal'. SAVATAGE issued a fresh studio album, 'The Wake Of Magellan', in April 1998. Impressively, their dedicated fans in Europe put this album into the German national charts at number 11.

By early 1999 Pitrelli was performing live work with BLUE OYSTER CULT. 2000 found Pitrelli leaving for fresh pastures in MEGADETH.

SAVATAGE, newly signed to SPV in Europe and Nuclear Blast in America, spent the bulk of 2000 recording a new concept album 'Poets And Madmen', it's proposed release date being put back many times due to work on the third TRANS SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA album. Meantime a tribute album 'Return Of The Mountain King' surfaced.

In November it was announced that Zachary Stevens had departed the band. Meantime the holiday period was taken up with TRANS SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA dates novelly splitting the project into two to satisfy demand. Johnny Lee Middleton anchored the 'East' version of the act whilst the 'West' variant had Caffrey alongside SAVATAGE drummer Jeff Plate and erstwhile six string colleague Alex Skolnick.

An announcement in early March 2001 saw the inclusion of Florida native and ex-DIET OF WORMS man Damond Jiniya as the bands new lead vocalist with second guitar in the hands of Jack Frost. The latter had been a member of Caffery's METALIUM project as well as spreading his talents over such acts as SEVEN WITCHES, SPEEED and BRONX CASKET CO.

'Poets And Madmen' would finally arrive in April, it's debut at number 7 in the national German album charts providing ample proof of SAVATAGE fans patience. Touring in America had FATES WARNING as support act.

SAVATAGE toured Europe putting in festival appearances at the Italian 'Gods Of Metal' event, Germany's 'Bang Your Head' show and the infamous Dutch 'Dynamo' gig prior to supporting JUDAS PRIEST on their Spanish dates. These Iberian shows proved more memorable for guitarist Chris Caffrey than he would have liked though as the musician was struck with severe food poisoning. Soldiering on with the tour Caffrey was eventually hospitalised in Holland.

Headlining gigs in Brazil found native act HANGER as support. A run of American headlining shows beginning in San Francisco on the 5th of September would roll out with NEVERMORE as opening act. However, in light of the terrorist strikes on New York and Washington SAVATAGE pulled their projected European return dates. They would later be re-scheduled for early 2002 announced with VICIOUS RUMOURS and BLAZE as opening acts.

Caffery would take time out to act as session guitarist for erstwhile 24-7 SPYZ bassist Rick Skatore's new BLOCK 16 project debut. Along with Jeff Plate the guitarist also weighed in with ROYAL HUNT vocalist JOHN WEST's EARTHMAKER project album. Frost dived straight back into action with both SEVEN WITCHES and BRONX CASKET CO. Meantime it would be learned that ex singer Zachary Stevens had re-emerged touting a fresh venture entitled CIRCLE II CIRCLE. This project signed to the German AFM label for a debut record 'Watching In Silence'. The record included four song-writing collaborations apiece shared between Stevens and erstwhile SAVATAGE colleagues singer Jon Oliva and guitarist Chris Caffery. Oliva and Stevens would also duet on the track 'Forgiven'.

In early April fans would be surprised to say the least at an official announcement that Jack Frost had been fired with SAVATAGE re-recruiting Al Pitrelli from the recently disintegrated MEGADETH. However, before taking up this post Pitrelli would undertake live work with former SKID ROW vocalist SEBASTIAN BACH. In an odd twist of events Jeff Waters of Canadian Thrash veterans ANNIHILATOR would end up joining SAVATAGE for their summer European 2002 dates. The only recently re-inducted Al Pitrelli was unable to make the tour due to "prior commitments". Within 24 hours it would be announced that Pitrelli and forged a fresh band union with former MEGADETH alumini guitarist MARTY FRIEDMAN, bassist David Ellefson and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso.

The Green Parrot Pub in Largo, Florida played host to the Criss Oliva 10th Anniversary Memorial concert on 17th October 2003, which witnessd the first time in eight years that bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve "Doc" Wacholz had shared a stage with vocalist Jon Oliva and guitarist Chris Caffery. The following month CHRIS CAFFERY signed a deal with Greece's Black Lotus Records for the release of his debut solo album 'Faces'. By December Jon Oliva was out on the solo trail billed as THE JON OLIVA PROJECT, gigging with a band of musicians, guitarist Matt Laporte, bass player Kevin Rothney, keyboard player John Zahner and drummer Christopher Kinder, that had only just exited under acrimonious circumstances from former SAVATAGE singer Zak Stevens CIRCLE II CIRCLE project. In February of 2004 Oliva's endeavour had taken on the new guise of TAG MAHAL. Acting in a guest capacity on recordings for a debut album would be former SAVATAGE drummer Steve Wacholz. Subsequently this venture evolved into JON OLIVA'S PAIN due to the discovery of a long standing European Blues artist laying claim to the former title.

Damond Jiniya would also announce the formation of THE NEGLECTED, a creative union with DIET OF WORMS and LOVER OF SIN guitarist and producer Juan Gonzalez. The duo's debut album, simply entitled 'The Neglected', was written and recorded in February at D.O.W. Studios in Mango, Florida. September saw two SAVATAGE related projects out on the road as JON OLIVA'S PAIN and CHRIS CAFFREY's solo band united with ex-JUDAS PRIEST vocalist Tim 'Ripper' Owens band BEYOND FEAR for US live dates commencing 9th September in Cleveland.

Drummer Jeff Plate joined METAL CHURCH in February 2006, replacing mainstay Kirk Arrington who was forced out due to diabetes. In March former SAVATAGE guitarist JACK FROST enrolled into the ranks of cult British Heavy Metal band MARSHALL LAW, this tenure proving fleeting. CHRIS CAFFERY hooked up with the reformed SPREAD EAGLE for US live dates in August. JON OLIVA'S PAIN's second album 'Maniacal Renderings' arrived in September. Whilst in promotion for this outing Jon Oliva admitted that SAVATAGE was no more and that the JON OLIVA'S PAIN albums contained material originally intended for use as SAVATAGE.

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