Interview with Chris Caffery  

Aardschok Netherlands, May 1996
by Robbie Woning
translated by Yvonne Kluitman
corrected by Bob 'Lek' Lekich

   

AT THE END OF MAY SAVATAGE CAN BE.........admired for the second time on Dynamo Open Air. In issue 12/95, Jon Oliva gave a full report on the newest CD "Dead Winter Dead" which drew the remark from our editor Onno Cro-Mag: "he isnít even playing in that band anymore". Therefore, especially for Onno an interview with guitarist and "long time" fifth wheel on the wagon: Chris Caffery.

Chris begins by telling when he actually started being a part of Savatage.

Eight and a half years ago I joined the band for the first time. I just turned 20 and played on the "Hall Of The Mountain King" tour in the States. After that tour I was hired on permanently. Although I was very glad, I was sick of it at the same time because up till then I played in a band with my brother and he hated Savatage for they were the band that stole me away from him.

The following year I toured the world for "Gutter Ballet", meanwhile watching my brother languish. At a certain point he just lost his lust for live. At the end of 1990 for that matter I only saw one solution: I left Savatage, at a time when there was some kind of magic with which we could have gotten far. I often even think that I am partly to blame for Jon Oliva leaving later as well. Stupid decision also because I never ever played with my brother again. At first I did nothing, and Jon also left Savatage after "Streets". After a few months he rang me asking what I was doing. I said: "Iím in New York city with a bottle of whisky. "Jon answered: "well, Iím hitting the bottle here in Florida so why donít you come over?" We both kinda let down our brothers and sat on the couch at Jonís house watching sports all day with the bottle in our hands. Shortly after we started writing music again. We werenít thinking of a career. We just were two heavy metal fans, making heavy metal music for heavy metal fans. For that matter Doctor Butcherís music is meant to be far less serious, especially as far as the lyrics. The Doctor Butcher record wasnít understood at all in Japan, contrary to a concept album like "Dead Winter Dead". Japanese metal fans like listening to the music while reading such a concept.

When did you get back with the band?

Initially it was planned that I would tour again on the "The Edge Of Thorns" tour, which never happened, and shortly after Criss Oliva died. The End! At least that was what it looked like, except that immense numbers of fans wrote us asking us to please let the memory of Criss live on. Would we simply have released a tribute album like "Final Bell", it probably would have ended there. But we continued and Criss is now being valued more than ever, starting to become kind of a legend.

Next the band made "Handful Of Rain", which turned out to be kind of a strange album. I think they felt Criss watching and thinking: "So you guys are gonna fuck up my band now?" Thereís a simple riff from me on "Handful Of Rain" but officially, because of legal restrictions, I was not a member yet, because of Doctor Butcher being on another label. However on "Dead Winter Dead" I threw myself completely. Criss never had to tell me how to play because we mainly had the same influences.

Isnít it hard to write on in the Oliva style?

Of course Jon is still writing music for Savatage, heís a workaholic and a good rhythm guitarist. I was a fan of Savatage but got an even bigger fan being in the band. Meanwhile I got completely familiar with the style. When watching Alex Skolnick playing "Handful Of Rain", I realized I was more suitable for the job. I heard Alex play and it was like a teacher was asking: "Is there someone else in this class who thinks he knows the answer?" For me there was one condition before re-joining the band. Live I wanted to start all old songs and play their guitar solos as well. Fortunately they agreed. I never could have played rhythm parts while watching someone who never played with Criss, screw up the leads. Nothing against Al Pitrelli though, because heís an unequalled guitarist on the new album. Another problem was to find the right equipment. To produce the specific Savatage guitar sound you need an amplifier that mainly sounds very good clean, without effects. Because Criss made his sound with his effects and did not distort his amplifier, the transparent tone of his guitar was well kept. After Crissí death, his equipment lay around for quite some time. When it was eventually divided amongst his family, I politely asked for his effect appliances. Simply because I wanted his sound to live on.

Lately several Savatage live albums have been released. Recordings from different periods and the CD "Japan Live Ď94" only is available as an import in Europe and therefore very expensive...

On something like that we donít have complete control, but I donít see it as a problem because the albums are okay. Just them being released this short apart from each other may be confusing to new fans and business people.

Jon Oliva leaving you to do this interview may be called remarkable. Is this faith in you a result from your cooperation on Doctor Butcher?

Some people look at Savatage as a company. Maybe not the right word, but in a way it is. Jon is the helmsman and has gathered quite a few very motivated people around him. And not all of them are on the band pictures.

How do you look back on the recent European tour?

The faces of the people..... Just impressive.

No wonder, you finally showed up!

Yes, the tour for a change was not canceled. Believe me, we never could do anything about that. At the first gigs on the tour I was very nervous, more nervous than ever before, sometimes I even forgot that I had to do the leads as well. I felt like someone was watching and thinking: "Yeah, it may sound like my riff, but youíre screwing it up completely".
In the months prior to his death, Criss explained various riffs to me. He even took over a part of "Sirens" at a Butcher show. Which was the only thing I could not play at that time. Three months later he perished. Kind of bizarre, like he felt something coming.

Did you play in the States yet since the release of "Dead Winter Dead"?

We did a few shows but luckily left for Europe very soon. The American audience is very confused at the moment. I watched Iron Maiden play in a club not even a beginning band would want to play in. And thereís plenty of work for us in Japan and Europe.

What kind of material can we expect on Dynamo Open Air?

We play a series of festivals this summer, also in Germany. For the occasion we made a set list which next to the "Dead Winter Dead" material will also contain lots of stuff from albums like "Power Of The Nigh" and "The Dungeons Are Calling". Songs I grew up with, and I am looking forward to it!

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