A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Unsung Heroes

Criss Oliva – Even When The Crowds Are Gone, The Orchestra Will Never Stop Playing

With all the memories and tributes to fallen rockers that have passed away during the internet age, it seems that the ones that passed away tragically previously are more or less forgotten by the masses unless they were part of a superstar act or where the superstar act themselves.

And this brings me to the guitarist known as Criss Oliva who tragically passed away on October 17, 1993 when a drunk driver crossed the road and hit Criss Oliva and his wife head on.

The “Gutter Ballet” LP was my first introduction to Savatage. I actually purchased the album based on the excellent album cover by Gary Smith. The picture of the guitar through the top part of the piano was the initial connection and then the picture of the guitar in the trashcan with a rat climbing on it on the back was the final deal breaker that made me decide that I had to part with my money to purchase the album.

I purchased it from a market stall for $10 which was cheap for Australian standards as the retail shops were selling LP’s for $20. Hence, every Saturday, I would catch a train or a bus to the Saturday markets and stock up on LP’s. A lot of the cases it would be LP’s that I had a copy of on cassette and in some cases it would be a “leap of faith” purchases.

Yes, fans of music pirated back then as well. That is why blank cassette tapes proved to be lucrative business for the manufacturers.

I remember staring at the cover on the trip home, then walking briskly up the hill, getting into the house all sweaty from the hill walk, breaking the shrink-wrap and dropping the needle.

I was immediately blown away.

I found out years later that it was the bands fifth full length album. How many bands in 2014 would stick around for five albums? I was reading the album credits, looking for names I might know from previous albums.

Jason Flom seemed familiar, however it was the name Paul O’Neill that made a connection with me as he was also part of the debut Badlands album.

This album was a true turning point for the band.

It didn’t sell in the millions, but a classic album it is none the less. When I talk about Savatage to people, this is the album I put on. The reason why it is so magical is that it captures the transition that the band was going through perfectly. It still pays its respect to their past sound and it also paved the way for their future-direction. And that is what music is all about, a snap shot of a certain point in time.

“Gutter Ballet” also became a leader for a new genre that incorporated power metal with orchestral/symphonic flourishes.

“Of Rage And War” kicks off proceedings with helicopters and other sounds from the various war machines. The whole intro reminds me of Megadeth. The song is about transforming powerlessness into anger.

Better listen to me you son of a bitch
Better disarm those missiles sleeping in the ditch
You have no goddamn right to do the things you do
The world would be a better place if we were rid of you

It’s progressive and aggressive. It’s thrashy and snarly. It’s melodic and chromatic. It is a metal song of the angriest order and it made the impression on me that I purchased a full-blown thrash metal album.

Wasn’t I wrong.

“Gutter Ballet” is the epic six-minute anthem. It starts off with that melancholic piano intro in the key of D minor and then when the guitars come in along with the head stomping drums, the song transitions into a unique groove of “hard rock” clashing with “classical” and “classical” clashing with “symphonic” elements. It leaves an everlasting memory.

After the brutal power of ‘Of Rage and War’, the quiet piano intro surprised me as well as the subject matter that deals with the reality of the streets.

In the end it is the guitar the drives the song along. Check out the whole section before the lead break, then the lead break itself and then the syncopated parts coming out of the lead break. It’s perfect and the legato phrasing is liquid like melodic.

The title “Gutter Ballet” actually came from a play that producer Paul O’Neill had written in the early seventies, which of course went on to become the basis for the “Streets” concept album that followed “Gutter Ballet”.

Another sleepless night
A concrete paradise
Sirens screaming in the heat
Neon cuts the eye
As the jester sighs
At the world beneath his feet

“Temptation Revelation” follows and it is an instrumental. At one stage it was the original title for the LP. The guitar work from Criss Oliva again makes it. It has this Euro-Vibe style of guitar playing. A favourite of mine at that time was John Norum who in 1989 was the ex-Europe guitarist, who was also moving onto a solo career and in between he worked with Don Dokken, Glenn Hughes and other high-powered vocalists.

“When The Crowds Are Gone” is one of the best ballads, ever. Jon’s melancholic voice carries the song as it is filled with genuine emotion. To explain what the song is about, this is what Jon Oliva told Metal Hammer in February 1990;

“It’s the life story of a musician who has been trying to become successful all his life. In vain, of course and so finally he breaks down. How, that’s not the main issue, because this can happen in many different ways. Suicide, an overdose of drugs…

I’ve seen it happen around me, so I know what I’m talking about. And that goes for our producer, Paul O’Neill, who helped me write the lyrics, as well. He also knew musicians who went down because of the lack of success.

The musician that this song is about spent his whole life composing one song, that was meant to be his absolute masterpiece. Finally, he completes the song, but then he’s too old himself to accomplish anything with it. He’s past the height of his glory.

Then finally when the song gets airplay, it is too late, because it is at his own funeral. The way its written, it is of course purely imaginative, but the reasons to write the lyrics the way they were, unfortunately are very true. It has cost me a lot to sing this song. Because it was so personal, and because I wanted it to carry the right emotion, vocally. Listen to the end of the song, then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”

I don’t know where the years have gone
Memories can only last so long
Like faded photographs, forgotten songs

“Silk And Steel” is another instrumental and it reminds me of “Air” from Jason Becker. Another guitarist that in this case was tragically struck down with a terminal illness. “Silk And Steel” is a highlight as it features Criss Oliva’s at his “Segovia” best. A virtuosic, lively and carefree performance.

Side one ended and I needed to replay it before I moved onto side two. That is how music should be. Replayable over and over again.

“Shes In Love” kicks off side 2. The only song with weak lyrics, however it is important to note its place in the Savatage canon and an ode to the Accept style of Hard Rock/Metal that Savatage also dabbled in.

She likes what she sees
Starts to drop to her knees
Gazing with an appetite
Licks her lips in sheer delight

“Hounds” was an inspiration to me as a guitarist. I used the songs structure as a template for songs that I would write back then. I loved it’s epic feel and under it all there is this doomy technical atmosphere.

The lyrics are pure fantasy, however if you want to attach it to a rock n roll story, look no further than Robert Johnson and the hell hounds chasing him.

Do you hear the hounds they call
Scan the dark eyes aglow
Through the bitter rain and cold
They hunt you down
Hunt you down

“The Unholy” could be from any classic metal album. The whole intro at first reminds me of “Lucretia” from Megadeth.

Another song that deals with fantasy, and about the way evil came to earth.

In distant ages long ago
Before the birth of Christ
Lived a race trapped in soul
Terror on the rise
United beyond the storm
They ruled the astral plane
No one could stop them
They wouldn’t fall
In a while they would soon reign

“Mentally Yours” sounds like an Alice Cooper song. Even the lyrical themes are very shock-rock Cooperish and it kicks off a concept suite, however since I was the owner of the LP version, I never heard the final song until years later.

His tension life
He beats the wife
Doused the cat with gasoline
He’s rather try
The other side
He just has to get away
That’s when it all began
Timmy lost his mind
Was just a matter of time
Before he went crazy

“Summer’s Rain” is another great ballad. In the theme of the concept story, this is how Jon Oliva explained in that Metal Hammer February 1990 interview.

“‘Summer’s Rain’ gets deeper into the relationship between Timmy and his girlfriend from ‘Mentally Yours’ (the previous track on Gutter Ballet). Timmy already is twisted, but when he finds out that she’s cheating on him he totally loses control. In the end, she leaves him and Timmy ends up in a mental institution. Like I said, totally made up, but these things happen all the time here in the States.”

Scars are the wounds that we show
Time only heals
If you’re letting go

Criss Oliva is one of the most emotive and eclectic metal guitarists. The album is littered with so many different guitar techniques.

– Emotive guitar leads on “Temptation Revelation”
– Acoustic Fingerpicking on “Silk And Steel”
– Thrash, angry snarly riffs on “Of Rage And War”
– Classicalisms and hard rockisms on “Gutter Ballet”
– Melodic harmonies on songs like “Summers Rain” and “When The Crowds Are Gone”
– Epic progressive metal on “Hounds” along with a bit of Black Sabbath doom.
– Classic power metal on “The Unholy”.
– AC/DC meets ACCEPT style of hard rock on “Shes In Love”

All in all, if metal is your taste then you need to hear this album. If you are a genre hopping musical fan, then this album is a must for the metal genre.

Standard
Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, Unsung Heroes

High Wire – The Streets Cry Badlands, Till The Day That I Die

With Jake E Lee excommunicated from the Osbourne camp no one was sure what he would do next. In 1988, Badlands formed however the connections that made this happen go back to the years that Jake spent with Ozzy.

The original Badlands line up was Ray Gillen on vocals, Eric Singer on drums, Greg Chaisson on bass and of course Jake E Lee on guitar. And we will never be able to see the band that cut the self-titled debut album reunite. Ray Gillen has passed and Eric Singer said in an interview on the Daves on Tour website that his memories of Badlands aren’t good ones.

“I saw a lot of potential with really talented people turn into a sad situation.”

Eric Singer auditioned for Ozzy back in 1985 and he didn’t get the gig. Greg Chaisson also auditioned for Ozzy around the same period and he also didn’t get the gig. Both of them lost out to Randy Castillo and Phil Soussan. The outcome for both Singer and Chaisson was that they got to meet Jake E Lee and have a jam with him. That is the Jake E Lee connection.

Eric Singer also did a stint in Black Sabbath during the Glenn Hughes/Ray Gillen era. That is the Ray Gillen connection. Music is a relationship business and it was these relationships, albeit small ones once upon a time, that ended up getting together to create one hell of a debut album.

In an interview with Kerrang from May 1989, this is what Ray Gillen had to say on the bands beginnings;

“I was particularly keen on the project because I had to pick myself up off the floor after my involvement with the Blue Murder project had gone sour. I was basically asked to leave the band due to outside record company pressure. John Kalodner, one of the top people at Geffen Records, simply said that I couldn’t sing!”

John Sykes’s search for a singer for his post Whitesnake project was legendary and in the end it was John Kalodner who decided it.

By 1989, metal music needed a re-invention. The answer was a new breed of bands with guitar gods as their centrepiece. Enter, Badlands, along with Blue Murder, Mr Big and Lynch Mob.

Wearing their Seventies classic rock influences on their sleeves and very cleverly merging the minor key riff remnants of the mid-Eighties heavy metal sound, Badlands hit the target. Each song was unique. Engineer James A. Ball mentioned in a Guitar World interview from July 1989, that the album was recorded in about ten studios. Each studio brought its own sound to the songs and you can hear it.

This is what Jake E Lee had to say on the band in an interview with Guitar World from July 1989;

Badlands is purer because I didn’t have to filter my ideas through Ozzy. Ozzy encouraged a flashier, trick-oriented style. Badlands is definitely more blues-based. When we got together we started by playing old Cream, Free, Led Zeppelin—the things we all grew up on. When we started writing songs, it carried over. I naturally went back to my pre-Ozzy approach. Our bassist, Greg Chaisson, says he’s relieved. He used to see me in my club days when I was playing in Ratt and Rough Cutt, and said I was his favourite. When he heard “Bark At The Moon”, he was disappointed.

Paul O’Neill was also the producer and was also their manager. He is well-known today with his work with Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. One thing that Paul O’Neill does not credit for, is his song writing skills. He didn’t have mainstream hits like Desmond Child or Jim Vallance or Max Martin, however he was involved in writing some hard rock and heavy metal classics.

The standout song on the debut is “High Wire” and that song is a Jake E Lee and Ray Gillen composition. It cemented Jake’s reputation. You can’t keep a super star down and what a great way to open the album.

How good is that opening riff?

If anyone has heard the song “Transatlantic Blues” from The Night Flight Orchestra, you will hear this riff re-used. It is a hidden gem and a piece of kick ass hard rock. Adrenaline Mob also covered it last year on “Coverta” and paid tribute to the original in a damn good way.

The beauty of the song is the simplicity. It is a simple A to C, A to D riff, the cornerstone to all classic blues/classic rock songs.

“Winter’s Call” is written by Jake E Lee, Ray Gillen and Alex Gonzalez. It is the most Zeppelinesque song on the album, especially in the verses, combining Middle Eastern drones with Celtic modes. It is also one of the oldest songs on the album, as the song’s roots go back to 1983.

“Streets Cry Freedom” is the next gem and the song is written by Jake E Lee, Ray Gillen and Paul O’Neill. What a great way to close off side one. When vinyl was king, albums got sequenced by having a great opening track and a great closing track.

“Till the day that I die”.

The comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie and Bad Company are prevalent in this song. The song’s verses are a typical 12 bars blues. Instead of playing it in the standard way, Jake E Lee shows his guitar smarts by arpeggiating the verses.

Again, the song sounds complex, however it is simple, especially the way it picks up towards the end.

“Seasons” is a gem on the second side. It is another song by the Jake E Lee, Ray Gillen and Paul O’Neill song writing team and man, it reminds me a lot of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.

This was 1989 and MTV ruled. Bands needed a hit to get recognition. So while “Dreams In The Dark” did the video rounds, as the record label decided it had the most “hit” potential, songs like “Winters Call”, “Seasons” and “Streets Cry Freedom” slipped under the radar. This is Jake E Lee at his best. He soars on these songs, like a free bird. And Ray Gillen made John Kalodner eat his words.

Then there are the stories about how “Hard Driver” reminds me of “Death Alley Driver” from Rainbow. How Jake E Lee used a black Les Paul Custom originally owned by Carlos Santana for “Rumblin’ Train” and how the song was written while Jake E Lee was tuning up his guitar.

The self titled album is brilliant. While other artists went with the one hit single per album and the rest as filler, Badlands delivered an album strong from start to finish. I sort of forgot about these albums and it was Jake’s re-appearance last year that re-awakened all of these memories.

Standard