The First 20 Years
By: Clay Marshall


As Avatar, brothers Jon and Criss Oliva, drummer Steve Wacholz and bassist Keith Collins build an underground following in the band's home state, Florida.


Avatar records two tracks for a compilation LP by Florida radio station WYNF.


Avatar releases the City Beneath The Surface EP, now a collector's item. For legal reasons, Avatar changes its name to Savatage and releases its debut album, Sirens.


The Dungeons Are Calling is released. Savatage then signs to Atlantic Records.


Power of the Night, Savatage's Atlantic debut, is released. The band embarks on its first tour.


Bassist Johnny Lee Middleton joins the group. Fight For The Rock is released. In addition to the U.S. shows with Ted Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult, , the band tours Europe for the first time, opening for Motorhead.


Atlantic sends producer Paul O'Neill to see Savatage perform in Florida. The label then hires O'Neill to produce the band's new record, beginning a long-term relationship. Hall of the Mountain King, which includes the group's first symphonic instrumental, "Prelude to Madness," is released. A music video - the group's first - is filmed for the title track. Upon the album's release, Savatage tours American arenas with Dio and Megadeth. Rhythm guitarist Chris Caffery joins the band as a touring member. 


The Dio/Megadeth tour continues. A video for "24 Hours Ago" is filmed. The band guest-hosts MTV's "Headbanger's Ball." 


Caffery officially joins Savatage. Gutter Ballet, Savatage's sixth album, is issued.


Savatage embarks on a nine-month world tour, headlining and supporting artists such as Testament and King Diamond. At tour's end, Caffery leaves the band. Two videos - "Gutter Ballet" and "When The Crowds Are Gone" - are filmed.


With O'Neill, Savatage - again a quartet - writes and records its first rock opera, Streets. Videos for "Jesus Saves" and "New York City Don't Mean Nothing" are filmed, but only "Jesus Saves" is ever released. Another world tour begins.


Due to increasing vocal problems, Jon Oliva steps down as lead singer of Savatage, although he continues to write and record with the band. Zachary Stevens becomes the group's new vocalist.


Savatage's eighth album, Edge of Thorns, is released. A world tour commences, but Wacholz and Jon Oliva decide not participate. Music videos for "Edge of Thorns" and "Sleep" are filmed. In October, Criss Oliva is killed by a drunk driver; the last song he records is "Shotgun Innocence."


Deciding that continuing the band is the best way to keep Criss' memory alive, Jon Oliva and O'Neill write and record Handful of Rain, with additional contributions from Stevens (vocals) and Alex Skolnick (lead guitars). A video for the title track is filmed. Another song on the album, "Chance," sees the group experiment with counterpoint vocals for the first time. Although he does not perform on the album, Wacholz officially leaves the band after its release and is replaced by Jeff Plate. Oliva then joins Plate, Skolnick, Middleton and Stevens on a two-month tour. A show in Tokyo is filmed for a live album and video. Meanwhile, the debut album from Doctor Butcher, a side project of Jon Oliva and Caffery, is released in Europe.


With Skolnick pursuing other interests, Caffery and guitarist Al Pitrelli join the group. Savatage's second rock opera, Dead Winter Dead, is released. A video for "One Child" is shot. The instrumental "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" becomes an unexpected radio hit. Also, the live album Final Bell - later released elsewhere as Ghost In The Ruins - is issued in Japan.


Savatage tours Europe (where the compilation From The Gutter To The Stage is released) and Japan. Instead of touring America, the group's members - inspired by the success of "Christmas Eve" - write and record the first Trans-Siberian Orchestra album, Christmas Eve & Other Stories. A "Christmas Eve" video is shot; it's re-released as a TSO song. 


Savatage's The Wake of Magellan is released in Europe and debuts at #11 on the German pop charts. A European tour commences. The compilation The Best and The Rest is released in Japan. 


The Wake of Magellan is released in America. Savatage tours in the U.S., Europe and South America. In Japan, the compilation Believe is released. Also, TSO writes and releases its second album, The Christmas Attic, while Christmas Eve & Other Stories is certified gold.


TSO writes and records its first non-Christmas album, Beethoven's Last Night, and embarks on its first tour, which features Caffery, Pitrelli, Plate and Middleton. A TSO television special, "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve," is filmed and is broadcast nationally.


Beethoven's Last Night is released. For its second tour, TSO splits into two touring companies, with Skolnick joining Caffery on TSO East. On the Savatage front, Pitrelli and Stevens leave the band. With O'Neill, Savatage records a new album as a quartet. The group amicably parts ways with Atlantic Records and signs with Nuclear Blast in America and SPV in Europe. 


Poets & Madmen, featuring Jon Oliva's return as lead vocalist, is released worldwide; it debuts at #7 on the German pop charts. A world tour commences with additional touring members Damond Jiniya (vocals) and Jack Frost (guitars). Meanwhile, TSO's "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve" is released on VHS and DVD, Christmas Eve & Other Stories goes platinum and the group embarks on its third tour (and second with two touring companies).