Born in Horseheads, NY, Jeff Plate was not born a drummer. In fact, he was an enthusiastic sports player, until one day when his hip was popped out of joint. As a result of this injury, he was advised to avoid sports for two years.
In this downtime, around 1975, he caught an airing of a television show called "Midnight Special," on which he saw a performance by Kiss. This was Jeff's inspiration to pick up the drums. "I found I could do it [drumming], and I was progressing enough to do it," he said.
He was still playing when he moved to Boston in 1986. There, he worked on some various original and cover projects, until he met a musician named Matt Leff. The two hit it off, and Matt told Jeff about the band he was in, a local group called Wicked Witch. The singer for this group was some one living in Hollywood at the time, a guy named Zachary Stevens. Zak was flown into Boston in the spring of 1990, and the set place for Jeff and Zak to meet was a downtown club called The Channel. On the night that they were supposed to meet there, a little band called Savatage was playing there.
Jeff joined Wicked Witch, and was with them for about two years. They were making demos and getting a good local response, but no major labels were calling. Then in the fall of 1992, Zak got the call to join Savatage, and Wicked Witch was at a crossroads. They tried to find a replacement, but couldn't, and as a result, the band folded.
Jeff went back to New York at this point, and joined an alternative/ country rock band called Voodoo Rodeo. They played around New York for about a year. "It was different," Jeff recalls, "but it was still cool."
In late 1993, Jeff heard about the death of Criss Oliva, and gave Zak a call because at that point, the future of Savatage seemed uncertain. Zak told Jeff that he had recently spoken to Jon and Paul about him, and that Jeff might have a future with Savatage. Jeff sent the Sava-boys a demo and some pictures, and began learning the Savatage catalog.
All went well, and in the spring of 1994, was flown to Florida to do the photo shoot for the still-in-construction Handful of Rain album. Some of these photos actually mistakenly appear on the European edition of the album. He did not do any drum tracks on that record, but was about to be formally offered the job as drummer when Steve Wacholz came back into the picture. Steve was wanting to phase out his role in Savatage, but apparently was getting second thoughts. Also, there was some political thinking behind the situation, for some thought that there should be a familiar face for the fans to see, following the death of Criss.
For the summer of 1994, Jeff had no idea what his future would be. Instead of sitting around doing nothing, he worked hard on learning the Savatage songs, not wanting to get caught off guard if the phone rang. In August of the same year, Steve decided that Savatage was not something that he wanted to pursue then, and Jeff was given two weeks notice that he'd be wanted in Florida. Four weeks after that, the U.S. tour in support of the album was scheduled to begin.
According to Jeff, everything clicked quickly (he says it only took a week), especially with Johnny. He did the full U.S. tour, and then went to Japan, where he was recorded on audio and video only three months after being offered a job. This was his first major recording, and he recalls, "We had one night to do it, and one night to get it right... I was pretty anxious."
In terms of having a favorite Savatage live song, he says that "everything has its own personality." The new stuff is more progressive and more musical, he says, but with heavier songs at the end of the set, like "Sirens" and "Hall of the Mountain King," "beating the hell out of everything. that's great, too." He did mention how much he enjoys songs like "Taunting Cobras" and "Nothing Going On" at the beginning of the set, though"
The Edge of Thorns album is his favorite. "Criss' playing on that record is amazing," he says. Jeff likes the direction the band was beginning to take with that album, with the music heavy and guitar-based, but still progressive and adventurous.
The Dead Winter Dead European tour was a big highlight for him, he says. "Some of it was just magic," he fondly recalls. He cites a Munich, Germany show as a standout. He also says that the American rock scene is so different than Europe's. There, for example, fans go crazy, he said. "Every show was sold out at first, and the crowd knew every word to every song. It's a whole different thing."
Jeff credits the fans for the success of the band. With so many personnel changes, he says, it's amazing that they stick through it. For example, he was not known by any of the fans on the Handful tour, but says that everyone welcomed him warmly.
In terms of his writing role with the band, with Dead Winter Dead and the TSO project, Paul and Jon already knew what they wanted, Jeff said. He feels he has the freedom to create ("everyone contributes and voices opinions," he said), and that the new album will give him more time to work on drum parts and rhythms.
Jeff believes that there are many similarities between him and his predecessor. "Steve did very well for himself with this band," Jeff stated, and said that there is no animosity whatsoever between the two, and that Steve's always been very complimentary and friendly, even helping Jeff out with equipment. Regarding Steve's departure from the group, Jeff says that everything has seemed to work out. "It gave me an opportunity; I'm just trying to make the most of it."
"The greatest thing about this band is that everyone is a normal guy. We're not brain surgeons; we're not out fighting wars. We're just regular guys."
|Credits||Clay Marshall & The Unholy|