Years Active:
  • 1979 - 1982

Members:
  • Jon Oliva - Lead Vocals / Keyboards / Drums / Bass (1979 - 1982)
  • Criss Oliva - Guitar (1979 - 1982)
  • Keith Collins - Bass (1981 - 1982)
  • Steve "Doc" Wacholz - Drums (1980 - 1982)
  • Pat Dubs
  • Andy Gmelin
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Avatar in its earliest form was a five-member band led by Jon Oliva (drums/vocals) and brother Criss Oliva (guitar). Jon recalls it being a "kick-ass band" because it had the best equipment of any other band in Florida. Criss and Jon started receiving a lot of attention on the local music scene. This eventually caused the band to start drifting apart from what Jon claims could have been jealousy from the other three members. Criss and Jon were once again by themselves when the band 's members decided to go their separate ways. They both got regular jobs and would meet up together late in the day at a place called "The Pit" to practice and write songs. "The Pit" was also used as rehearsal space by a band named Paradox, that included a drummer named Steve Wacholz. Wacholz was very familiar with the Oliva brothers, who he first met in 1977. He saw Criss play at a local high school and was blown away. Very soon after, he auditioned for Jon's band, Alien. When he got to the audition, Wacholz recognized Criss and Jon as part of the band who had impressed him so much at the high school show. Steve auditioned for Jon, and although he made the mistake of playing "'Rock and Roll' on the ride cymbal instead of the hi-hat," it went well and he began to rehearse with Alien. Other drummers came and went, and Steve continued to hang around, and even when he wasn't playing with the Oliva's and their bands, he would go out to see their shows. Steve would eventually join Jon and Criss to form a new version of Avatar.

Jon, who was playing bass at the time, decided he would prefer to front the band and not have to be restricted by a guitar. As a result, Avatar was in the market for a bassist, a number of whom came and soon left for various reasons. The band rented their PA system from a guy named Keith Collins, a guitarist playing in a band called Solar. He agreed to play bass for the Olivas, so he joined Avatar in 1981. Later that year, a local radio station in the area, 95ynf, was looking for local talent to put on an album. They held a contest with the prize being a spot on the LP. Hundreds of bands sent in tapes, and hundreds of them were disappointed when it was Avatar who opened not one, but both sides of the record (known as The Pirate Album). The songs, "Rock Me" and "Minus Love," were included on the album, and in support the band got a huge amount of airplay from the radio station and played several shows sponsored by 95ynf. Around this time, Jon's writing was starting to take a different turn. The boy-wants-girl lyrics of earlier songs like the ones that appeared on the 95ynf album began to mutate into retellings of strange dreams and nightmares he was having. And as things began to change with the music, they also changed for the band. Avatar was approached by Dan Johnson of Par Records. Together, they recorded and distributed approximately 1000 copies of the 'City Beneath the Surface' 45. Shortly after, Dan Johnson put up another $3,000 and Avatar was back in the studio working on a full-length album.

This recording session lasted all of two days and saw them come up with 15 songs, which would be split up into two different albums. The night before the first, "Sirens", was to go to the presses, the Olivas got a phone call from Johnson. Jon recalls the night: "We changed our name the night before the record was to go to press. (Dan) called... I think it was around 11 o'clock at night, (with) me, my wife, Criss and his wife sitting around the kitchen table playing cards. We're sitting there and all of a sudden I get a phone call and the guy says, 'Listen, we have a problem. There's a band in Europe called Avatar and they're gonna sue you if you guys release the album. You need to change the name, and you need to do it right now cause we're gonna make the record tomorrow.' "So we were like, 'Great.' So, we had to sit there. We wrote out Avatar on a big piece of poster paper... and Criss said, 'Put a big S (like Kiss) in front of Avatar,' and it was like, 'SAVATAR.' I was like, 'That sounds like a really bad dinosaur,' but we liked the way it looked. So then finally, out of nowhere, I don't remember who it was-- it might have been Criss' wife or my wife-- somebody said, 'Take the R out and put a GE,' and we did, and it was 'SAVATAGE.' I was like, 'That was cool,' not 'SA-VA-TAGE,' but 'SAVATAGE,' like 'SAVA' for Savage and 'TAGE' for mystical or whatever. From that moment on we were Savatage."

For more on Savatage, read here.

95ynf - "The Pirate Album" (1982)

City Beneath The Surface (Par Records-1982)  

"Living For The Night" demo (1983) 

 

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