Savatage Overview

Savatage is an American United States progressive metal band founded by the brothers Jon Jon Oliva and Criss Oliva in 1978 at Astro Skate in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The band has been inactive since the release of their last album in 2001, and have not performed live together since 2002, instead concentrating on the more commercially successful side project, Trans-Siberian Orchestra.


Early days (1978-1986)

Criss Oliva and his brother Jon Jon Oliva formed their first band together, Avatar, in 1978, from the ashes of their former bands Tower and Alien respectively. In 1980, the duo met up with Steve Wacholz and jammed in a s*** behind the Oliva home that was dubbed "The Pit" by the band. Wacholz originally tried out to be part of Jon's band, Alien, but when the first Savatage line-up was taking shape, Jon, who was originally on drum duties, was relieved of them by Wacholz . They also gave Steve a nickname that would follow him through out his career: "Doctor Hardware Killdrums", often shortened to just "Doc" or "Doc Killdrums", which referred to Steve's hard playing style.

Criss, Jon and Steve played Tampa Tampa, Florida (where they had moved with their family in the late-70s) and Clearwater Clearwater, Florida area clubs for many years. In 1981, Keith Collins joined them to relieve Jon of bass guitar duties. In late 2006, footage was released onto the internet of an early performance by Avatar at a gig in a Clearwater, Florida parking lot and was prominent in featuring an early version of the song "Holocaust" , which would later be released on Savatage's first album and a cover of Van Halen Van Halen (band) 's "Eruption" and VH's version of "You Really Got Me" . In 1982, Avatar took part in some heavy metal heavy metal (music) compilations, most notably "The YNF Pirate Tape", a promotion by Tampa rock radio station 95ynf WWRM for local Florida bands. In 1983, "Avatar" was forced to change its name due to copyright issues. Combining the words "Savage" and "Avatar", the band arrived with 'Savatage'.

The first works by Savatage were strongly influenced by bands such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple , with speed metal elements and fast, powerful riffs. Their first two albums, Sirens Sirens (Savatage album) and The Dungeons Are Calling, were released on Par Records, an independent label. In 1985, they signed a contract with Atlantic Recording Corporation and released their third album Power of the Night. Power of the Night, which was produced by Max Norman, who would go on to produce Megadeth's 1992 album Countdown to Extinction, showcased the band's unorthodox approach to metal, which included Jon's liberal use of keyboards on songs like "Fountain of Youth" and Broadway Broadway theatre -style song structures like the kind employed on "Warriors". It was well-received by critics but fell short of sales expectations. Atlantic budgeted to provide funds to make a video for "Hard for Love", on the condition that it be retitled "Hot for Love" for broadcast purposes. The band refused to change the song and consequently a video was not released.

In 1986, after the release of their fourth album, Fight for the Rock, a failed attempt at a commercial approach imposed by the record company which the band themselves called Fight for the Nightmare , Savatage toured with Metallica, KISS Kiss (band) and Motörhead. Many Savatage fans resent the making of the album and view it largely as a disappointment. The band themselves were not happy with the record, with pressure from the label to include two cover versions. Jon Oliva had been retained to write material for other artists on the Atlantic label, such as John Waite and other pop-rockers. Later, the label turned around and demanded Savatage record the material themselves. In a show of youthful naivete, the band agreed. Not only did it destroy them in the press, it nearly destroyed the band and sent Jon into his early alcohol and drug problems. Oliva recently admitted however the album did have strong points, including the band's cover of Badfinger's "Day After Day". During this time, original bassist Keith Collins left the band, and Johnny Lee Middleton joined the band. Since 1987, Johnny has been the only consistent member of Savatage, performing on every album.

"The Golden Era" (1987-1993)

In 1987, Savatage released their first commercially successful album, Hall of the Mountain King Hall of the Mountain King (album) , which became the base for the band being catapulted into a more mainstream arena. The band recorded their first music video for the album's title song, which received extensive air play on MTV's Headbangers Ball and this was followed up a by video for the song 24 Hours Ago. This album introduced a new musical style, featuring symphonic instrumentals strongly influenced by their new producer, Paul O'Neill Paul O'Neill (rock producer) — that would shape the band's future recordings. O'Neill contributed most of the lyrics for the rest of their career, and gave them a more conceptual edge starting with their next album, Gutter Ballet.

Gutter Ballet, which was released in 1989, could be considered the band's true turning point, as since that point, the band have turned into a more progressive outfit, writing longer songs with more complex melodies and differing vocal styles, rather than a more straight forward Power Metal style that seemed apparent in earlier works. The change to a more progressive, operatic style was also precipitated by Jon, after seeing a performance of Phantom of the Opera The Phantom of the Opera (1986 musical) in Toronto. The songs "Gutter Ballet" and "When the Crowds Are Gone" are examples of this influence from that album and their next album would follow a more operatic style, saying so in its title. Again, two videos were made from the album, When the Crowds Are Gone and Gutter Ballet, which received airplay on MTV.
Chris Caffery, who had been playing with Savatage on their 1987 tour as a second rhythm player offstage and out of audience sight, was introduced as a new band member in 1988. A message to him appears in the liner notes for the album Streets Streets: A Rock Opera , wishing him "luck in whatever roads in life he goes down." He left after the Gutter Ballet tour (prior to the recording of Streets), but would later return to the band.

In 1991, the band created their first rock opera, Streets. The record did not do as well as the band would have liked however as it was released around the time that grunge exploded onto the mainstream music arena. But a video for Jesus Saves was recorded and again got airplay and got a new audience to appreciate the band. However, after a tour in support of the album, Jon Oliva left the band to concentrate on his side-projects Doctor Butcher and his Broadway Broadway theatre -bound musical "Romanov" , as well as continuing co-writing Savatage material with his brother Criss and producer Paul O'Neill. However, as of 2007, "Romanov" remains uncompleted and unreleased.

Jon hand-picked his replacement, former Wicked Witch Wicked Witch (band) lead vocalist Zachary Stevens who was discovered and introduced to the band by Criss's best friend and guitar technician Dan Campbell. The band recorded their follow-up to "Streets", Edge of Thorns in 1993. For the first time, Savatage began to enjoy mainstream recognition, including increased radio play and a world tour. However, tragedy struck when Criss Oliva was killed by a drunk driver on October 17, 1993. Jon chose to continue the band, although has since admitted that the band was pretty much over after Criss's death, but only kept going because of his memory and to "keep his music alive" not recording a new album in almost 5 years .

TSO continue with their releases, with two companies now touring the US. Their latest release is Night Castle, released on October 27, 2009.

Jon Oliva formed his own band, Jon Oliva's Pain and released their first album in 2004 entitled 'Tage Mahal. In 2006, the band signed with AFM Records and a second record called Maniacal Renderings was released on 2006-09-04. The band's third album Global Warning Global Warning (Jon Oliva's Pain album) is due for release on 2008-04-30 in the United States and features a guest appearance from Ralph Santolla.

Lead guitarist Chris Caffery also recorded solo material, with the MusicMan EP in 2004 followed by full-length albums Faces Faces (Chris Caffery album) and W.A.R.P.E.D. in 2005 and Pins and Needles in 2007.

Former front man Zak Stevens was approached by long time friend and Savatage stage manager Dan Campbell to co found a new band, Circle II Circle in 2003 and their first record entitled Watching in Silence was released in 2003, and produced by Jon Oliva and featuring a guest appearance from Caffery. After a dispute with the management during the tour, his entire band left and joined Jon Oliva's band. Zak regrouped with new members and release a second album, The Middle of Nowhere The Middle of Nowhere (Circle II Circle album) in 2005. A third album entitled Burden of Truth based on "The DaVinci Code" was released on "Black Friday", October 13, 2006. A fourth record, Delusions of Grandeur, hit stores in 2008.

Possible reunion (2006-present)

In an interview to Aardschok, a Dutch Magazine, in June 2006, Jon Oliva announced that he wants to record one more Savatage album, with a live CD and DVD to follow it, before ending the band. He did not specify a release date to a new album, however. Chris Caffery then said in an interview in October 2006 that if a new Savatage album was to be recorded, then it's likely that Alex Skolnick would be involved, as well as original drummer Steve "Doc" Wacholz.
In a November 2006 interview to Greek Greece website,, Jon Oliva himself shot down all rumours of the return of Savatage, claiming that it never made him any money, but instead it cost him one million US dollars to keep the band going over the years
. Jon also said that his new band, Jon Oliva's Pain, is basically Savatage reincarnated, so it could co-exist with the more successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He did however state that a one-off anniversary tour featuring Skolnick, Wacholz and other past Savatage members is being planned with Paul O'Neill as a final send off to the band. Zachary Stevens has made it clear that he will participate in a 25th anniversary festivities with the band . Jon Oliva then said about the band "Well, it's over but it's not over, you know what I mean? It's over right now because no one's doing anything. We haven't disbanded or anything. We have plans to do something in the future."
Jon also announced that he is doing "some video compilation stuff, and editing old things for a bonus DVD to go with it, that has a ton of live Criss stuff in concert, a lot of backstage frolicking about, and going to castles in Europe".
In 2007, Oliva denied any rumours of a Savatage reunion and tour, as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become a year round commitment, adding that Jon Oliva's Pain is "as close to Savatage as you can get". Despite Oliva's earlier denials, in October 2008 the band launched an , hinting that 2009 would see some activity under the Savatage banner. The line-up listed on official MySpace is: Jon Oliva, Zak Stevens, Chris Caffery, Al Pitrelli, Johnny Lee Middleton and Jeff Plate; signalling that Stevens would return as lead vocalist in a reunion. In December of the same year, a brand new was unveiled. However, Jon Oliva has since denied these reunion rumors saying
"There has been some news floating around about a Savatage website update and other things Sava related. I just wanted to clarify that this news is strictly limited to the re-release of the entire Savatage catalog as well as merchandise from prior tours that will be made available soon. But just to be 100% clear there are no plans in the future for any Savatage recordings or shows! JOP is currently hard at work in pre-production for the 4th release, as well as preparing for the Euro-Festivals and South American tours in 2009."
Current line-up

* Jon Oliva - vocals, guitar, keyboards (drums on "Handful of Rain") (1978-1992, 1994-)
* Zachary Stevens – lead vocals (1993-2000, 2008-)
* Chris Caffery - guitar, backing vocals (1987, 1989, 1995-)
* Al Pitrelli - guitar (1995-2000, 2002-)
* Johnny Lee Middleton – bass guitar, backing vocals (1985-)
* Jeff Plate – drums (1994-)

Previous members

* Criss Oliva – guitar (1978-1993) (Deceased)
* Steve Wacholz – drums (1980-1993)
* Keith Collins – bass guitar (1981-1985)
* Alex Skolnick - guitar (1994)

Guest musicians and touring members

* Robert Kinkel - keyboards (multiple recordings)
* Ray Gillen - Backing vocals on the song Strange Wings from the album Hall of the Mountain King
* Michael Reynolds - drums fill in (1988)

* John Zahner - keyboards (1991) Streets Streets: A Rock Opera (touring member)
* Wes Garren - rhythm guitar, keyboards (1993) (touring member)
* Andy James - drums (1993) (touring member)
* Jack Frost Jack Frost (musician) – guitar (2001-2002) (touring member)
* Jeff Waters - guitars (summer 2002) (touring member)
* Damond Jiniya – lead vocals (2001-2002) (touring member)* Sirens Sirens (Savatage album) (1983)
* The Dungeons Are Calling (1984)
* Power of the Night (1985)
* Fight for the Rock (1986)
* Hall of the Mountain King (1987)
* Gutter Ballet (1989)
* Streets: A Rock Opera (1991)
* Edge of Thorns (1993)
* Handful of Rain (1994)
* Dead Winter Dead (1995)
* The Wake of Magellan (1998)
* Poets and Madmen (2001)


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