Infobox musical artist
Background = group_or_band
Name = Savatage

Img_capt =
Origin = Tarpon Springs, Florida USA
Years_active = 19782002
Genre = Heavy metal, symphonic metal, progressive metal, power metal
Label = Combat, Atlantic, Nuclear Blast, SPV/Steamhammer
Associated_acts = Doctor Butcher, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Circle II Circle, Jon Oliva's Pain
URL = []
Current_members = Jon Oliva Damond Jiniya Chris Caffery Al Pitrelli Johnny Lee Middleton Jeff Plate
Past_members = Criss Oliva Zachary Stevens Alex Skolnick Jack Frost Steve Wacholz

Savatage was a progressive heavy metal band founded by the brothers Jon and Criss Oliva in 1978 at Astro Skate in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The band is known for recording many concept albums.Fact|date=August 2008 Although they were known mainly as a progressive metal band, their origins could be attributed to classic heavy metal and power metal, as expressed by their debut album, "Sirens". The band has been inactive since the release of its last album in 2001, and have not performed live together since 2002, instead concentrating on their more commercially successful side project, Trans-Siberian Orchestra.


The Early Days

Criss Oliva and his brother Jon 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 shack 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 cite web
url =
title = Jon Oliva biography
publisher =
accessdate = 2007-03-17
] . 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 (where they had moved with their family in the late-70s) and Clearwater 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" cite web
url =
title = Avatar performs "Holocaust" from 1981
publisher =
accessdate = 2007-03-17
] , which would later be released on Savatage's first album and a cover of Van Halen's "Eruption" and VH's version of "You Really Got Me" cite web
url =
title = Avatar performs "Eruption" and "You Really Got Me" from 1981
publisher =
accessdate = 2007-03-17
] . In 1982, Avatar took part in some heavy metal compilations, most notably "The YNF Pirate Tape", a promotion by Tampa rock radio station 95ynf 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 PurpleFact|date=February 2007, with speed metal elements and fast, powerful riffs. Their first two albums, "Sirens" 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-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 FAQ, part 1] , posted at] , Savatage toured with Metallica, KISS 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"

In 1987, Savatage released their first commercially successful album, "Hall of the Mountain King," 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 — 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" 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 "", 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-bound musical "Romanov" [ [ Believe liner notes] , written by Clay Marshall, accessed on] , 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 lead vocalist Zachary Stevens and 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 [Tony Green, "Associates mourn Savatage star", St. Petersburg Times (Florida), October 19, 1993, p. 6B] . 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" .

Life After Criss

Alex Skolnick temporarily joined Savatage in 1994 for the release of their ninth album "Handful of Rain", written by Jon Oliva and Paul O'Neill. Although the album is technically a Jon Oliva solo album, with Jon handling all instrumental duties except for vocals and lead guitars, the album was released under the Savatage moniker with bass and drum credits given to Middleton and Wacholz, respectively. The song "Chance" was the first Savatage song to contain the usage of counterpoint vocals, a style which they continued to use on following albums. The album's final track, "Alone You Breathe", was a tribute to Criss Oliva. A live CD/VHS entitled "Japan Live '94" (in later releases it has been retitled "Live in Japan") was released at the conclusion of a very short tour in support of the album with Skolnick's three-piece band Exhibit-A and power metal band Tempo Tantrum. After the tour, Alex Skolnick left the band to pursue other interests. His replacement would once more be former Savatage member, Christopher Caffery, who himself pays tribute to his late bandmate and friend by playing Criss' solos as he would have played them. Atlantic Records, however, wanted another, more well-known guitarist to join the band, and Al Pitrelli was chosen. Pitrelli was known for his previous work with Alice Cooper and Asia, among others.

In 1995, Savatage released their second rock opera "Dead Winter Dead", an even more ambitious undertaking than its predecessor, Streets. They also achieved cross-over success with "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24", which received heavy rotation on multiple radio formats during the Christmas season. While they toured Europe and Japan, the group forewent an American tour to work on their new project, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories", recorded by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO), comprising Savatage and a large orchestra. Jon Oliva has since admitted that he was annoyed to see the success of TSO with what was originally a Savatage song, leading him to believe that the biggest barrier to success as Savatage was the name.

Their eleventh album, "The Wake of Magellan", was released in 1998 after a break to deal with the huge success of TSO, and dealt with such concepts as the worth of a life, suicide and drug abuse, drawing on real-life events such as the Maersk Dubai and the murder of Veronica Guerin. Savatage parted ways with long-time label Atlantic after this release and eventually signed on with a much smaller organization, Nuclear Blast (although Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums would in the future remain on the Atlantic/Lava imprint). Jon Oliva said that this was a good move, as Nuclear Blast "loved the band and they know our songs and everything!".

By this time, Savatage was taking as much fire for their "Broadway-Metal" aspirations as they were praise; while there was no doubt that Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums had found an audience, many older, more long-term Savatage fans complained of a lack of any real difference between the sounds of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Savatage. Many members of the fanbase felt alienated due to a lack of extensive Savatage touring in America (often Savatage played only a handful of shows on the east coast, with European fans also feeling alienated due to their lack of shows in that area) and the turn from a decidedly metal approach to a more symphonic base. Reviews of their material either praised their genius or berated their pretentiousness; there seemed to be no middle ground, and to this day the fan base and critics are still split.

The Mountain King Returns

Savatage continued to focus on their Trans-Siberian Orchestra project for a while, releasing "The Christmas Attic", but the release of "Poets and Madmen" in 2001 was highlighted by Jon Oliva's return as lead vocalist, replacing the departed Zak Stevens, who left the band citing family reasons, and the departure of Al Pitrelli, who accepted an offer to join Megadeth in 2000. Pitrelli did record some solos for some songs prior to his departure. Another very limited US tour followed, supported by Fates Warning in the early shows, and then Nevermore for the remainder. Around this time, Jon chose Zak's replacement in the form of Damond Jiniya Diet of Worms, who performed Zak's parts on tour, with Jon having an increased vocal role in proceedings. Jack Frost auditioned for the role of rhythm guitar player, and got the gig, and played with the band for a majority of the tour, but was mysteriously asked to leave the band after the tour, although it could be said that Frost's commitments elsewhere drove him from the band. For Summer festival appearances in 2002, the band was joined by Annihilator's Jeff Waters.

Savatage have remained inactive since the tour, with band members concentrating on other projects. This has not pleased everyone, with Chris Caffery in particular citing his anger at Savatage [ [ interview with Chris Caffery] , August 2004.] not recording a new album in almost 5 years as of 2006.

TSO continue with their releases, with two companies now touring the US. Their latest release is "The Lost Christmas Eve", and they are working on another TSO release, "Night Castle", which is due to be released in the late fall of 2008, but due to TSO's notorious perfectionism, this could be delayed further. 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" is due for release on 2008-04-30 in the United States and features a guest appearance from Ralph Santollacite web
url =
title = JON OLIVA'S PAIN: 'Global Warning' Samples Available - Feb. 8, 2008
publisher =
accessdate = 2008-02-10
] .

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

Former front man Zak Stevens formed 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" in 2005. A third album entitled "Burden of Truth" and based on "The DaVinci Code" was released on "Black Friday", October 13 2006.

Possible Return?

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 [BLABBERMOUTH.NET: [ CHRIS CAFFERY Reveals Plans For SAVATAGE DVD] - Oct. 9, 2006.] . In a November 2006 interview to Greek 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 cite web
url =
title = Interview with Jon Oliva
publisher =
accessdate = 2006-11-09
] . 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 cite web
url =
title = Interview with Zachary Stevens
publisher =
accessdate = 2006-11-13
] . 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."cite web
url =
title = Interview with Jon Oliva
publisher =
accessdate = 2006-11-28
] 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".cite web
url =
title = JON OLIVA Issues Statement On Future Of SAVATAGE
publisher =
accessdate = 2007-12-19



* Damond Jiniya – lead vocals
* Jon Oliva - vocals, guitar, keyboards (drums on "Handful of Rain")
* Chris Caffery - guitar, backing vocals
* Al Pitrelli - guitar
* Johnny Lee Middleton – bass guitar, backing vocals
* Jeff Plate – drums

Previous members

* Criss Oliva – guitar (1978-1993)(Deceased)
* Steve Wacholz – drums (1980-1993)
* Keith Collins – bass guitar (1981-1985)
* Zachary Stevens – lead vocals (1992-2000)
* Alex Skolnick - guitar (1994)
* Jack Frost – guitar (2001-2002)

Guest musicians

* Robert Kinkel - keyboards (1987)
* John Zahner - keyboards (1991) ["" touring member]
* Wes Garren - rhythm guitar, keyboards (1993) ["Edge of Thorns" touring member]
* Andy James - drums (1993) ["Edge of Thorns" touring member]
* Jeff Waters - guitars (summer 2002) ["Poets and Madmen" touring member, replacement for Jack Frost]
* Michael Reynolds-drums fill in (1988)


tudio Albums

* "Sirens" (1983)
* "Power of the Night" (1985)
* "Fight for the Rock" (1986)
* "Hall of the Mountain King" (1987)
* "Gutter Ballet" (1989)
* "" (1991)
* "Edge of Thorns" (1993)
* "Handful of Rain" (1994)
* "Dead Winter Dead" (1995)
* "The Wake of Magellan" (1998)
* "Poets and Madmen" (2001)


External links

* [ Official website]
* [ Interview with Alex Skolnick 1/2 hour interview with music on the show]

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