Somewhere In Time
"Dr. Killdrums" Steve Wacholz

From "The Unholy," Winter 1996 copyright (for the website)
written by : Clay Marshall
photo by Lori Cressia

 

Even though ex-Sava drummer Steve Wacholz has separated from the Savatage world, he is far from forgotten. He was part of Savatage (and its earliest incarnations) for 15 years, and played on the group's first eight studio albums. His work was also showcased on the "Final Bell/Ghost In The Ruins" live import album, and his playing is heard on all but three of the greatest hits tracks. As a result, he remains closely linked to Savatage in the minds (and ears) of its fans.

Steve, known to the world as "Dr. Killdrums," had that nickname originate when he was about 16. "We were playing back then as Avatar, and a friend of mine... I broke something when I was playing, and at the end of the song, he just yelled out, 'Dr. Hardware Killdrums!'... it was just too cool and it kind of stuck." Steve was more than willing to detail the history of the band. "There was Tower. Tower was Criss Oliva, Tony Seore on bass, and Jon Oliva filled in on drums. Then there was Alien. Alien was Jon Oliva playing keyboards and guitar, singing, and a whole other group of musicians. I got a call from this guy saying, 'Hey, man, I need a drummer. Can you play?' And I'm like, 'Well, I guess I can play.'" After finding out that they lived within a half-mile of one another, Steve was driven over to the guy's house by his dad (Pa Wacholz?). "That tells me I wasn't driving at the time," Steve recalls. "I pull into the back yard, and I go, 'I know you guys. You guys are Tower!' The guy goes 'No, we're Alien. But I play for Tower too.' The night before, I saw this band Tower play and was blown away. This guitar player (Criss) was just smoking, and he was only 14."

After auditioning, Steve found out that the job instead went to this guy with "this green, awful looking drum kit because he played rock 'n roll on the hi-hat and I did it on the ride cymbal-- I'm 14. I got back into my band (it was called Paradox) and we ended up practicing where Alien and Tower practiced. We all shared." One night, Criss and Jon invited Steve to practice with them. "I come back, and they're like, 'Hey, man, you've really improved.' This is a year or two later now. During that time period, Alien and Tower came together and formed Avatar. So I came and auditioned, and I was like, 'Hey, this is working.' So we had a show two weeks later... that's how it all started." Many fans are still not sure about the official story behind Steve's leaving the band, and he wanted to set the record straight. "Back when we did 'Edge of Thorns' in '93, Jon was already sidelined, writing for the band, doing his own thing... around the same time we were in the studio doing the album, I opened up a business [a radio controlled hobby shop]. The business just started booming, and there was no way that I could even tour that year. "I called up a friend [Andy James], and said, 'Hey, man, why don't you fill in for me, cause I'm making too much money doing what I'm doing-- it just makes more sense for me to stick with it. I just can't leave, because it's a brand new business.'

"After that obviously, Criss got killed... to me, that was it. In '94, there was 'Handful of Rain'... it didn't even have the same feel, and that year, I chose not to tour. I felt that the spirit of the band was gone without Criss." Steve also believes the new material and the direction in which the band was headed contributed to his departure. "If you listen to Dr. Butcher... that's Savatage. That's the essence of Savatage. That's the Savatage album we never did... that we should of done. That's the direction I always felt we should have stuck with-- the heavier [material], where we all came from." Steve has been quite busy in the last few years. "I've changed in a lot of ways; I got a lot of good things going for myself. I did the hobby shop for two years; I worked at Thoroughbred Music, one of the largest music stores in the world; I've always taught [drums] and promoted; right now, full time, I'm promoting family events-- more family shows than rock 'n roll shows. I'm also an investment specialist in the state of Florida-- I have my license for that. I also have my record company [Spybat]; that's my attachment to the music business. I have a band called Lame out on it, and Dr. Butcher's signed to it." Steve now works in the drum department of Tampa's Mars Music. Spybat also was the label that re-issued the "Sirens"and "The Dungeons Are Calling" albums two years ago. "Metal Blade always had an interest in the older Savatage stuff, and they were re-releasing a lot of old albums. It was a perfect marriage." When asked if the first Dr. Butcher album was going to be released in America in the near future, Steve said that it was ready, but that he was waiting for a legal release from Atlantic Records. "We're going to release the album with three or four new tracks." The tracks that may appear on the domestic issue of the album include "Born of the Bored," "Freaks," "Help? Police!," and "Bridges." He also said that there is a possibility that he might play with Dr. Butcher in the future. Steve was also involved with aviation for a time. "I went to school for about 12 months for working on airplanes. When I got out of school, I was the first one in the class to get a job, and I hated it.

He also had some positive comments about Jeff Plate, the man who is now sitting where Steve sat for long. "Jeff's pretty good... he's a good kid. I probably listen for my parts, and make sure the guy's not adding his own stuff in." Back in 1994, when Steve and his mother were running the Legion fan club, Steve decided to put out a compilation video featuring all the band's videos. "There was no documentation of the videos. Nobody has ever seen half of those videos because MTV didn't really support them." He said that the band thought it would be a good idea to issue the video, and give the fans something to enjoy. Steve said that other than Spybat and maybe playing with Dr. Butcher, he doesn't foresee too much happening in the future on the music front. "I'm happy doing what I'm doing [now], which is working for myself."

Steve has many fond memories (and great tour stories) regarding his time with Savatage. For example, back in 1990, Westwood One was broadcasting a show live from the Hollywood Palace, but the P.A. system caught on fire that night. The night before, in Seattle, there were more P.A. problems, and the set was cut short after five songs. There was a riot that garnered front-page coverage the next day. "I hopped in a car, and they dragged Jon onto the bus, because he was about to get in a fight... I'm leaving, 'cause I'm usually carrying the cash, and then like 20 cop cars came. "The funniest show was what we call 'Jon's moon over Blue Moon' in Bonn, Germany. We were playing this circus tent opening for King Diamond [on the Gutter tour]. Their bass player kept handing Jon a bottle of Jack, and Jon's getting wasted... Jon pulls his pants down, and moons the crowd. After the show, I'm sitting down, changing my shoes. Criss is in front of me, and Criss says something smart to Jon, and Jon goes to slug him, and Criss moves, and Jon hits me. I thought he was provoking me and I just jumped on him. We about went through a window, and we were in a trailer. King Diamond and those guys run out-- they think we're going to knock the trailer over." A half-hour later, Steve says, the two had made up. Looking back on his tenure with Savatage, Steve says that his favorite albums were "Gutter Ballet" and "Streets," with "Hounds" and "Of Rage and War" cited as some of his favorite tracks. "We're just ordinary people who have honed a skill a little better than most people." Their fans would wholeheartedly agree.

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