By Andrew Catania
I spoke with Chris Caffery about his current project Spirits of Fire, and about Criss Oliva, Paul O’Neill TSO and Savatage!
So how were the TSO shows? Did they go well this year?
CC: It was a great tour. It’s still a shocking and difficult time for me personally to be out
there and to know that we don’t have Paul with us anymore. The shows this year were so awesome
and I know he would be very proud of everything that everybody did right down the line from the
production, the band, the crew, and the singers and just with everyone involved. It was a really
great tour and we are going to keep it going and keep his legacy alive. It was special and the crowds were great. It was a great tour.
Is it safe to assume that this is an extension of Savatage and we won’t see Savatage again?
CC: I don’t really necessarily say that. It’s not something that would make you not see
Savatage again. Whether or not it’s an extension of Savatage; It has a lot of Savatage
members with many of the elements of writing that Paul was doing with us and that Jon was doing with Savatage that got added in. TSO is kind of its own entity and its own vision that Paul had for a very long time by combining the theater, rock and adding all of these different bands and elements that had absolutely no creative limitations. That’s What TSO is. As far as Savatage goes, When the cards all fall together and everybody wants to do it then it’s going to happen. I am just one of these people that have been there as a fan and a member of the band for a very long time, so I would love for it to happen tomorrow. If that’s not what’s going to happen then I just have to look at it as a part of my life that Savatage has been a part of who I am and realize I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am without that band, I cherish everything that happens or what happened with Savatage. If it happens again that will be great and if it doesn’t like I said I was one of these people who was blessed with the ability to be a part of it when it did.
Do you think about Criss Oliva’s legacy is often overlooked, especially by today’s guitarists? His playing isn’t spoken about with other guitar greats as much as it should.
CC: I would say this about Savatage, the music too, it’s not that he’s not respected, or under-recognized, but it’s a matter that a lot of people have never heard it. When they do, it’s like Wow! It’s always been that way with Savatage. It’s a band that just, as time goes, we just get bigger. We say to Oliva, when he’s sitting there talking about Savatage touring, he’s like “I don’t know what we would do.” And I say, “Jon, you just don’t get it. It’s like there are decades and people who are just waiting to see this band. Generations of metal fans that would want to see us and older generations that never had a chance to see us.”
I think Savatage has a little bit of time limit that’s a lot longer than people may think. Criss was
really special, he was one of those like a Van Halen or a Malmsteen or a Dimebag where, when you
heard that record, you knew it was Dimebag or when you heard Van Halen playing, you knew it was
Eddie Van Halen. I could hear fifty different guitar players riff through a riff like Malmsteen, but I still
knew when it was Malmsteen because he sounds like him. The other guys just sound like “Hey, I can
play like Malmsteen.”
When you heard him play, you knew it was Criss Oliva and that was really cool. Regardless of how much people know him, it’s just one of those things where the recognition factor was down low because we just didn’t have that exposure. We didn’t have that chance to get to that exposure. I can only imagine what would happen if he were still alive That’s the way I look at it.
There’s not a lot of video of Criss out there with the exception of Some MTV and bootleg videos.
CC: Yeah, unfortunately, and fortunately, we were able to hit the road when there was no cell
phones, no videos, chats, texts, and all these other things. You miss that part of that. We had
a lot of crazy things that people will never get to see or hear. And that’s perfect, but there are a lot of
things that could have been heard, like his concerts, moments and things that Criss had that could
have been out there that we do not necessarily take advantage of nowadays, Criss was alive at a time
when a lot of those things just weren’t available.
The Internet has truly transformed how bands promote themselves now.
CC: The internet is something that I love and I hate at the same time. I was really influential in the development of a lot of this stuff. I was the first artist in a band, Savatage, to ever have a fan forum, where your fans register and talk to the band and give opinions on the website, where they wanted to be.
Savatage did that for the very first time of any band. I was the first artist ever to do an online tour diary. I was the very first one to ever do that. I was one with this whole new creative thing. And it was like “Oh Wow, the internet, the internet…” When my sites were first airing, and like Savatage’s site, my ChrisCaffery.com had a fan forum, that had a ton of registered users on it, like maybe fifty, sixty thousand registered users, that all of them saw everything I did. When I released singles and they went through my site, they would get five hundred, six hundred thousand listens of these things. Now when you go through Facebook, you get a couple hundred thousand fans that are attached to my page and when I put something in there, Facebook only shows a couple hundred people. You got to pay to get it out to all those other people out there.
It’s like I said, I love the internet and now at times, it gets pretty aggravating. It’s like how you
have to deal with things as an artist. And especially with me doing things like my solo records. If I was to release these solo records in 1980, ’85, or 1995 when there weren’t the internet or people stealing your songs. If you were in a band that was selling millions of records, your solo records were selling hundreds of thousands. It was just the way the tide came in from being that person that
was in that band. Now the bands are not even selling, these bands that were selling millions of
records, and now I’m looking at their sales and their selling 20 – 30 thousand copies. The worlds changed.
How did Spirits of Fire come together?
CC: Frontiers had approached me and speaking to some of the other people I played in bands with and we just started and they asked me about would you want to do a record with Ripper? They mentioned the other band member names and I was like “Hmm…” I was always kind of parted away from doing the project band then because there was so many of them going on. But Ripper was such a good friend of mine and we toured together with Priest and I toured, wrote and recorded with him as a guitar player in his solo band. I was like, “yeah,” This was a really good opportunity to do something I always wanted to do a record with one of my best friends.
When they mentioned Roy Z was producing, this guy to me is like a modern metal master. He’s worked with some of the greatest singers I knew as an artist and a fan. I was really excited about the opportunity to be able to work with him. And so, when that was all put into me, saying, “Hey, you got DiGiorgio and Zonder and Ripper and Roy Z. Two years ago I started writing and now two years later now we got the record coming out and we’ll see what happens. I hope people like it to the point where it’s going to be like, Hey, let’s put these guys in this festival and that one.
What’s your rig look like these days, on the road and in the studios?
Caffery: You know, with TSO, I’ve been kind of keeping it the same. The way the TSO tour works, and
with the way, the schedule I, a lot of the times we can’t even get to a sound check because of the drive might be longer, there might be some weather and the crews are going and we got to get to that stage. I trust using the digital rigs because my hearing’s just not where it was when I was a little kid. So, I have a sound that I know is what my sound engineer wants and what Paul had wanted and that’s there. So, I just keep it at that. I went to see Queensryche concert. I was really into
Wilton’s stage sound and he told me about it and he had actually hooked me up with the DigiTech people and I got with them. That’s what I’ve been using for ten years. The funny thing is that Wilton’s using something different and switched to Kemper which I really like the Kemper’s too.
If I was to ever make a switch, that’s the unit that I would switch too because I just really think that they capture the genuine real amp sound a lot better than a lot of these other ones. Some of these other units will get a sound that they say you can put this record in and we’ll recreate the same thing. But to me, it still doesn’t sound like the wood and the speakers and it doesn’t have that tone that
when you’re playing it you feel like you’re playing into an amp. I still think it kind of feels like some of
the original versions of some of that stuff that just didn’t capture the real amp feel. And that’s what I
liked about the DigiTech ones because they had this virtual speaker mod that when you went out on the XLR unit, it gave you the sound that, I could hear wood. It sounded like somebody was playing a speaker through a cabinet of wood. And I couldn’t hear that out of other things. I carry that (DigiTech) GSP1101 with me everywhere I go. I’ll stick it in my airplane bag. It’s a nice, straight, real clean metal sound. I don’t have to worry about my deaf ears hearing something that I think is great one day, and the next day it’s just not that great.
Is there one thing that Paul O’Neill gave you, any great advice over the years that stuck with you?
CC: There’s a lot of things that he did that gave me great advice about. I mean there’s technical
things as far as what to do when you’re playing an acoustic guitar in a studio that wouldn’t make your
hands squeak. It’s little things like that when you listen to other recordings. I was like. “Ah, these people don’t know Paul’s secret”. I think that Paul, he always wanted you to be really nice to people. To whomever, you saw in the arena, whether it was the guy mopping the floor or the guy owning the building. Everybody you meet, everybody you deal with, everybody on the street, people you see, he was like he wanted you to be able to put a positive reaction into people’s lives when you saw people. And that was one of the main things.
The other thing was, you know, he always wanted you to walk up on to that first show of that tour like it was your 20th. He had us rehearse and play at a point to where we were basically taking that thing to live before, we played live. When we walked on stage, the people who bought the tickets for the very first concert saw the show as tight and together as the people who would see it two weeks later.
In one situation in particular, where that really came to effect, was when Savatage and TSO played together at that Wacken Festival in Germany. We rehearsed for that for almost a month and we had no chance to play that before. We only had one chance to get up on stage and do it, because there was no rehearsal. When we went up and did that show and pulled it off, it was kind of a really special
thing and that kind of technique, and work ethic was something that I learned from Paul.
For more info on Chris, please visit his social media:
Spirits Of Fire: