It may be a coincidence, but the fact remains that after Robert Haagsma's visit to Phoenix, Arizona to discuss the past and present, the future of Sepultura has become very uncertain after Max Cavalera's departure. To challenge faith, we dare to publish an article of the same kind on Savatage. It's being told on the basis of observations by me and memories of singer/bandleader Jon Oliva and Paul O'Neill, who has become their permanent producer since the succesful album "Hall Of The Mountain King".


The history of Savatage starts somewhere around 1975 when the two brothers Jon ( 15, leadguitar ) ,and Criss ( 12, bass ) Oliva formed the coverband Black Diamond. The material exists , as the name shows, of Kiss-covers, with some Black Sabbath-songs. It won't take long before they stop this, because in 1976 the Oliva Family moves to Florida. In Palm Harbor, a small town at the Westcoast of Florida, the two start again. A chicken-shed is rebuilt into a practice-room (The Pit) and the new band is called Metropolis. They got to record a single "Let's Get Rowdy", which is being launched by an admirer of the band, Steve Wacholz. Yes, the same person who would take place behind the drum-kit with drumsticks the size of broomsticks! When Jon finishes highschool he quits Metropolis and takes place in a professional coverband. Steve and Criss form an other highschool band.

The threesome meets again in Avatar and in the first instance plays music inspired by Rush. The Avatar-songs "Rock Me" and "Minus Love" are put on a compilation of the local radio-station YMF in 1980, and that music has little to do with Rush anymore. In Keith Collins they find a new bassist in 1982. Jon about the choice:"Keith had his business on the right tracks, he even had his own PA and four-track recorder. We couldn't care less that he was way older than us and actually played guitar!" Not much later, Avatar, including Keith, performs on a free, much frequented festival in the parking lot of a supermarket. A certain Dan Johnson got so impressed by the band that he offered them a contract. The guys in Avatar laughed him in the face, but signed it eventually on Johnson's Par Records. The name Dan Johnson will is pretty well known, from Crimson Glory or Death records for example.



Avatar -
City Beneath The Surface
(Par Records '82)

In august 1982,within less than 12 hours, the Avatar EP "City Beneath The Surface" is recorded. Of this 7'' single with only three songs, no more than 1000 copies are made and it has become a serious collector's item over the years. Only a small part of the edition ( a hundred according to RockHard, fifty according to our chief editor ) has been manifactured in yellow vinyl.The reactions, especially from Europe, are overwhelming and the four get together in the studio to record a complete album.


( Par Records '83)

Because another band has the exclusive rights of the name Avatar, another name needs to be chosen before the release of this record.
Jon Oliva:"While the cover of 'Sirens' was already at the printers' we had to come up with something new. We didn't want to change a thing a came up with Savatar. But because that reminded us of some kind of monster in a bad Japanese horror movie, we eventually chose for Savatage. Which is actually a mixture of Avatar and Sabotage"

During a two days-marathon session in the newly opened Morrisound Studios in Tampa they record sixteen songs, of which only nine are being pressed on the "Sirens"-LP. The record is released in oktober 1983 and only gets good recensions. It's a for the time being, very hard record, on which the band distinguishes itself from it's contemporaries by beautiful and sinister interludes. For the mix Dan Johnson only has one day available. Taking these circumstances into consideration, this debut is certainly a mark of an enormous amount of talent that this band has! The Par-edition of "Sirens" is very difficult to get in Europe ( Especially the blue vinyl-edition, only one thousand! ) and this contributes to the cultstatus of this new hardrock phenomenon from Florida. Slowly the big record companies get interested in the new band and in the end they sign with Atlantic in 1984. In Europe "Sirens" is being released some time later by Music For Nations with a different cover. There are two different covers: the rare Par one with a sailship running over into a womans face and the welknown 'Killer Children'-cover. All official CD's have the 'Killer Children'-cover.


The Dungeons Are Calling
(Par Records/Music For Nations '84)

The Par-contract is being redempted by Savatage thanks to the "The Dungeons Are Calling"-EP, where we find the six other "Sirens" songs. At this time they release the maxi-single ( On which not only the title track, but also "Midas Knight" are remakes of old Avatar songs ) Savatage are in the Bearsville studios in New York with producer Max Norman. In 1985 Combat released 'Sirens' and 'The Dungeons are Calling together on one CD. Two years ago, Metal Blade did the same. Now the two are re-released by Metal Blade but this time as separate records. On both of the CD's you'll find bonus-tracks. On "TDAC" those are :"Fighting For Your Love" ( Later released as "Crying For Your Love" ) and a live version of "Sirens" recorded in Germany in 1990. On "Sirens" the bonus tracks are the ballad "Lady In Disguise", which is a bit the same as the one on "FFTR" when it comes to the lyrics, but it is a whole different song. The other tracks is "The Message", is a less exclusive Sava-rocker. It is rumoured that the bonus-tracks have been mixed after Keith Collins had left the band, and that Jon Oliva redid all the bass tracks. But he's not willing to admit that.


Power Of The Night
(Atlantic '85)

The first record for Atlantic is being released almost at the same date as "TDAC". The record is less commercial than the constantly growing legion of fans had feared and is being launched as 'Best Record so far '. Indeed there are a lot of great song on this major-debut and Max Norman's production for that time is very well. After the recordings Keith Collins leaves the band, because he can't cope with it musically. On "POTN" a lot of the bassriffs are played by Criss Oliva.

Collins is being replaced in the fall of 1986 by the way younger Johnny Lee Middleton, a bass-player who had been playing in the glamrock band Lefty until then. Middleton still has second thoughts about giving up his finacially secure position in Lefty, but when he hears that he will be going to Europe that same week to tour as support for Motörhead, he decides to join the band.

Jon , about the only bandmember who was born in Florida: "Johnny is the most underestimated Savatage-member. Like most bassist he stays in the back-ground, but he has been very important for the band throughout the years. He was always there to make new band-members feel at ease and showed a lot of devotion during hard times. Besides that, he takes care of the basis of our sound."

Formerly bassist Keith Collins publishes the magazine "SPIKE" nowadays and has been involved in the yearly Tampa Bay Metal Awards. Nowadays he's on good terms with the band, but that has been different.
Jon: "Keith started his own band 'Keith Collins' Crunch' and besides his own also played Savatage songs. And he wanted to see money from us. We were said to be keeping his part of the royalties, but we only had debts in those days."


From: Aardschok Savatage History

Translated by Patrick van der Horst and Ellen Bakvis