Past Band Members:
- Jon Oliva (lead vocals)
- Criss Oliva (lead guitar)
- Keith Collins (bass)
- Steve Wacholz (drums)
- Johnny Lee Middleton (bass)
- Zachery Stevens (lead vocals)
- Jeff Plate
- Chris Caffery
- Al Pitrelli
- Damond Jiniya (lead vocals)
In 1983, "Avatar" was forced to change its name due to copyright issues. Combining the words "Savage" and "Avatar", the band decided on Savatage.
Their first two albums, Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling, were released on Par Records. 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 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 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. During this time, original bassist Keith Collins left the band, and Johnny Lee Middleton joined the band.
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 was followed up by a video for the song "24 Hours Ago". The album introduced a new musical style, featuring symphonic elements, 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. Since that album, the band has adopted a more progressive style, writing longer songs with more complex melodies and differing vocal styles, rather than the more straightforward power metal style that was 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 was the next album (which even included "Opera" in its title). Again, two videos were made for songs 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, 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 into the mainstream music arena. But a video for "Jesus Saves" was recorded and again got airplay, drawing 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, as well as continuing co-writing Savatage material with his brother Criss and producer Paul O'Neill.
Jon hand-picked his replacement, former Wicked Witch 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. Steve Wacholz hand-picked his replacement as well in ex-Roxx Gang drummer Andy James, after he departed the band following the recording of Edge of Thorns and his decision not to tour. The 1993 Edge of Thorns touring lineup is hailed by most as the best live lineup the band ever had. For the first time, Savatage began to enjoy mainstream recognition, including increased radio play and a world tour which gained international press as "the best Savatage has ever sounded live". However, tragedy struck when Criss Oliva was killed by a drunk driver on I-4 on October 17th, 1993. Jon chose to continue the band, although he 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".
A short while after Criss' death, the band held a tribute show for the late guitarist, with the same line-up as the Streets tour but without 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, as Andy James had left the band following the death of Criss Oliva to pursue other projects. 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 forwent 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.
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. Jon Oliva said that this was a good move, as Nuclear Blast "loved the band and they know our songs and everything!".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 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 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 was once again brought to the band from long-time friend and CircleIICircle manager/co founder Dan Campbell. Damond sang "Edge of Thorns" as his audition song. Damond 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. He 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.
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 September 4, 2006. The band's third album Global Warning was released on April 30, 2008, in the United States and features a guest appearance from Ralph Santolla.
Chris Caffery also recorded solo material, with the MusicMan EP in 2004, followed by full-length albums Faces, W.A.R.P.E.D. in 2005 and Pins and Needles in 2007.
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 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.
In addition to his work with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, drummer Jeff Plate performed with electric violinist Mark Wood (violinist) and joined Metal Church. He also reformed Wicked witch with Zak Stevens, renaming the band Machines of Grace, and releasing a self-titled album in 2010.Steve Wacholz formed a new band in 2010, Reverence, with guitarist Pete Rossi, vocalist Todd Michael Hall (formerly of Jack Starr's Burning Starr) and former Tokyo Blade members guitarist Bryan Holland and bassist Frank Saparti.
Click on the individual thumbnails to enlarge:
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)
Japan Live '94
Final Bell / Ghost In The Ruins - A Tribute To Criss Oliva (1995)
Dead Winter Dead (1995)
From The Gutter To The Stage (1995)
The Wake of Magellan (1997)
The Best And The Rest (1997)
Poets and Madmen (2001)
Still the Orchestra Plays - Greatest Hits, Volume 1 & 2 (2010)
"Hall of the Mountain King"
Hall of the Mountain King
Atlantic Records (1987)
"24 Hours Ago"
Hall of the Mountain King
Atlantic Records (1987)
Atlantic Records (1989)
"When The Crowds Are Gone"
Atlantic Records (1989)
Streets - A Rock Opera
Atlantic Records (1991)
"Edge of Thorns"
Edge of Thorns
Atlantic Records (1993)
Edge of Thorns
Atlantic Records (1993)
"Handful of Rain"
Handful of Rain
Atlantic Records (1994)
Dead Winter Dead
Atlantic Records (1995)