On Dystopia Tonight’s 100th episode we’re celebrating the Holiday Season with Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli!!! These two rock legends were a blast to talk to and we can’t thank them enough for being on the final show or first s...
On Dystopia Tonight’s 100th episode we’re celebrating the Holiday Season with Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli!!! These two rock legends were a blast to talk to and we can’t thank them enough for being on the final show or first season. We talked about their life on the road, favorite places and people they’ve performed with, how they started out, their influences, and of course the legendary Paul O’Neill who started the band and has stated, “TSO is the first major rock band to go straight to theaters and arenas, having never played at a club, never having an opening act and never being an opening act.” Enjoy!
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When Paul O'Neill first conceived Trans-Siberian Orchestra, his goal was as straightforward as it was incredibly ambitious. "The whole idea," he explains, "was to create a progressive rock band that would push the boundaries (of the genre) further than any group before... Way, way further."
With more than 10 million albums sold, TSO has inspired generations of fans to rediscover the multi-dimensional art form of the rock opera. Meanwhile, on the road, they have become one of the world's top acts, with Billboard magazine naming TSO as one of the top touring artists of the past decade -- a $20 million-plus production that has played to over 100 million people in 80+ cities, selling more than $280 million worth of tickets and presenting $11 million to charity.
O'Neill, a New York City native grew up, "with a wide-ranging world of (rock) musical influences." But, O'Neill also soaked up sources such as Broadway musicals, Motown and singer-songwriters such as Jim Croce and Harry Chapin, while authors such as Oscar Wilde and Robert Graves fueled his literary tastes. He began his career playing guitar for touring productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, then went to work in the late '70s for Leber-Krebs Inc., the Manhattan management company whose clients included Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Def Leppard, the Scorpions, the New York Dolls, and scores of others. In the '80s, O'Neill became a major concert promoter in Japan as well, but returned to the States to start writing and producing full-time.
O'Neill helmed Aerosmith's Classics Live I and Classics Live II albums before beginning a fortuitous relationship with the band Savatage that led to conceptual pieces such as Hall Of The Mountain King, Gutter Ballet, Streets: A Rock Opera and Dead Winter Dead. Producing introduced O'Neill to Jon Oliva, Bob Kinkel and Al Pitrelli, as well as reconnecting him with legendary studio engineer Dave Wittman, who all became key original collaborators in O'Neill's grand vision - Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
"I wanted to take the very best of all the forms of music I grew up on and merge them into a new style," O'Neill says. "Basically I was building on the work of everybody I worshipped: the rock opera parts from bands like the Who; the marriage of classical and rock from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen; the over-the-top light show from bands like Pink Floyd... I always wanted to do a full rock opera with a full progressive band and at least 18 lead singers."
O'Neill took the idea to Atlantic Records which, to his surprise, went for it and financed the creation of Romanov, which was initially to be TSO's first release. "We were very fortunate," he says. "It was one of the only labels left that still did an 'old school' kind of artist development. My original concept was that we were going to do six rock operas, a trilogy about Christmas and maybe one or two regular albums."
However, when Romanov got temporarily put on the back burner, the first installment of the Christmas trilogy, Christmas Eve and Other Stories became TSO's debut album. Fueled by the socially conscious single "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," the album was certified double platinum. More platinum certifications followed with 1998's The Christmas Attic, and the final installment of the Christmas trilogy, The Lost Christmas Eve in 2004. In the midst of completing the trilogy, TSO released their first non-holiday rock opera, the gold certified Beethoven's Last Night.
But TSO really cemented its following in concert. The group hit the road in 1999, beginning an annual November-December extravaganza that O'Neill takes pride in being, "as over the top as we can make it. We have, two stages --with pyro, light and lasers-- on both sides of the arena, as well as in the crowd and the best sound we can find... There's no second-class seats at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. I want people to walk out of our shows speechless and still not believing what they have seen was possible."
TSO's latest album, Night Castle, released in October of 2009 debuted at #5 and was certified gold by year's end. A sweeping two-discs of genre-bending epics, Night Castle is an affecting story that takes the listener around the world, through time and to points beyond. O'Neill and company will eventually give Night Castle its due in a live setting just as they have Beethoven's Last Night in spring '10 with a new hybrid form of concert they called "Rock Theatre"-- just one of many multi-media avenues TSO will be exploring in the near future...
"We spend a lot of time planning," O'Neill confesses with a laugh, "and people are always telling me, 'Paul, stop writing and start recording!' It's working out great, though. I feel lucky that it's gone this long and that we get to do what we love for a living. The arts have incredible power, and with that comes incredible responsibility. Someone once said that if you want to change the world, don't become a politician -- write a book, write a great song. I believe in that, and that's what Trans-Siberian Orchestra is about."
"I've always believed that music has the power to transport and transform," O'Neill explained. "The original concept of Trans-Siberian Orchestra was how to make music have the most emotional impact. We always try to write melodies that are so infectious they don't need lyrics and lyrics so poetic that they don't need a melody, but when you combine the two together they create an alloy where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Once those songs are woven together into a tapestry they create a story which gives each song a third dimension."
"That was so much in the spirit of Trans-Siberian Orchestra," O'Neill explains. "This is a group --a constantly morphing group-- of extremely creative and talented individuals who are always trying to raise the bar of where a band can take its audience sonically, visually and emotionally. With that as our core ideal, the possibilities are endless."
Musician / Composer
Al Pitrelli is an American guitarist, best known for his work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Megadeth, Alice Cooper, Joe Lynn Turner, Asia and Savatage.
Pitrelli attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the early 1980s (where keyboardist Derek Sherinian was his dorm roommate; they would later work together in the Alice Cooper band). While at Berklee, Pitrelli formed an original 1980s metal band with classmates that included Venom guitarist Mike Hickey. After dropping out of Berklee, Pitrelli worked as a session musician and taught guitar lessons in Manhattan and in Bellmore, Long Island. His first major label gig was performing with Michael Bolton, helping him support his single "Fool's Game". Pitrelli said of the single, "This was when Michael Bolton was still trying to be Sammy Hagar and not Engelbert Humperdinck."
In 1989, Pitrelli featured as second guitar on the song "Uptown" on bassist Randy Coven's first album "Funk Me Tender". He then joined forces with Coven and drummer John O'Reilly as a formal member of the Randy Coven Band to release "Sammy Says Ouch!". This lineup would also release an album under a different band name of Coven, Pitrelli, and Reilly (CPR). The album was simply titled "CPR" after the band. Pitrelli was Alice Cooper's guitarist and musical director from 1989 until 1991 on the Trashes The World tour. He then joined Dee Snider's band Widowmaker for two albums in the early/mid–1990s, and also briefly played with Stephen Pearcy (from the band Ratt) in a band called Vertex. Pitrelli also joined Asia, appearing on their albums Aqua (1992) and Aria (1994). He would go on to be featured on many New York sessions, including for Kathy Troccoli, Taylor Dayne, Randy Coven and Exposé. His songs have been covered by Y&T, Lita Ford and Derek Sherinian. For a month he substituted in Blue Öyster Cult. Widowmaker (w/ Dee Snider) albums "Blood & Bullets" (1994) & "Standby For Pain"
Al joined Savatage in 1995, joining at the same time as Chris Caffery returned to the band; Caffery had previously been part of the band around the release of Gutter Ballet in 1989. Pitrelli played guitar on the albums Dead Winter Dead (1995) and The Wake of Magellan (1997), and performed some lead guitar work on Poets and Madmen (2001), despite being a member of Megadeth at the time. On that album, Pitrelli was responsible for the outro of "Stay with Me a While", the main solos of "Morphine Child" and "The Rumor", the first part of the main solo in "Commissar" and its outro. During his time with Savatage, he was asked by their producer Paul O'Neill if he was interested in joining his side project, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Pitrelli agreed and has played a role in all of their albums to date.
Pitrelli has been a core member of the group since their first album. As well as being the main lead guitarist, he is also the live musical director. TSO's 2007 tour program credits his "edgy playing and vast musical lexicon" with making him a perfect fit for the band's constant boundary-pushing progressive rock stylings. Pitrelli's leads are notable on "Tracers" and the instrumental "Toccata – Carpimus Noctem", the latter being a piece he co-wrote. Both songs form part of the group's fifth rock opera, on their 2009 album Night Castle.
Pitrelli was a member of Megadeth from 2000 to 2002, replacing Marty Friedman. Megadeth bandleader Dave Mustaine asked him to join after hearing good reviews from their then-current drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, with whom Pitrelli played during his days with Alice Cooper in the early 1990s. Pitrelli joined the band after an impromptu "audition" in front of a live crowd in Vancouver on January 16, 2000. Two nights after Friedman played his last show with Megadeth, Pitrelli was asked to play fifteen minutes before the show and was shocked by the prospect as they never rehearsed. He was present during the recording of Rude Awakening, a live CD/DVD that was released in 2002. Pitrelli performed on their 2001 album The World Needs a Hero, which has the song "Promises" which was co-written by Pitrelli and he played most of the guitar solos. When Megadeth entered hiatus after Mustaine injured his arm, Pitrelli rejoined Savatage on April 9, 2002, but did not tour with the band. He also continued his work with TSO, which he's still a member of today.
Christopher Caffery is an American musician, best known for his work as a member of Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Recently, Chris has been pursuing a solo career, releasing four albums since 2004.
Raised in Mahwah, New Jersey, Chris began playing guitar at age 11, but some of his earliest memories include performing the Beatles song Help! for a show and tell in kindergarten. Chris' favorite bands growing up included the Beatles, Kiss, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Rush among others. He has cited guitarists such as Ted Nugent, Rik Emmett, Ace Frehley, Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker as influences throughout the years as well.
After only 13 months, Chris grew bored with guitar lessons and decided to teach himself. He was part of a band called "Blitzkrieg" in middle school and played a few shows, the first of which was at a bar in Ridgewood, New Jersey when Chris was only 13. At the age of 14, Chris and his brother formed a band called "Anti". Chris graduated from Goshen Central High School in 1984 and went on to become a professional musician, teaching students during the day and playing shows in the night.
Chris recorded his first demo tape at age 14 and his second at 17, which got him his first national gig. Chris was in New York City one night, hanging around in a club in the middle of Times Square, when he met the lead singer of a band called Heaven named Allan Fryar. They were looking for a guitarist and Chris asked if he could give Allan a tape. A week later and Fryar called, and it turned out that the band also needed a drummer, so Chris's brother Phil joined. The band was managed by David Krebs and a certain Paul O'Neill, who Chris would maintain close ties for most of his career.
Paul O'Neill was later introduced to the Oliva brothers, Jon and Criss of Savatage by an Atlantic Records rep and O'Neill left Heaven to work with Savatage. Eventually, Paul invited Chris to New York, where they recorded the CD and introduced Chris to the band. But, Chris soon learned that a second guitarist may be needed in Savatage, so he learned all of the Savatage songs he could in time for Savatage's 1987-1988 tour with Dio and Megadeth. Savatage hired someone else, which left Chris very upset and he flew himself down to the audition. Chris was given the opportunity to perform, played 2 songs before the band stopped and hired him on the spot. The band went on tour, but Chris was kept on the side of the stage, hidden from the audience. Chris was only 20 years old and playing arenas and was happy, but miserable. He left Savatage after the arena tour.
Chris bounced between bands for a couple of years until he came into contact with the Oliva brothers once more. They asked Chris to join them just as the Gutter Ballet album was finished; despite the fact that he never played on the album, Caffery was credited with guitars and keyboards and is pictured in its booklet "both to prepare the fans for the line-up they'd see on tour and confirm his permanent member status". He agreed to join Savatage, but the road took its toll on the band. With outside pressure to finish their dreams of a band together Chris regretfully quit Savatage at the end of the tour and formed Witchdoctor, with his brother Phil on drums, Hal Patino of King Diamond on bass, and future TSO West member Doug Kistner on keyboards. The band played all over America however the brothers were not clicking musically and the band disbanded. Chris was contacted to perform on Savatage's Streets tour, but issues meant this did not happen. Chris soon learned that Jon Oliva had left Savatage. Chris called Jon, who invited him to Florida, and over "10 bottles of Jack Daniels", their project Doctor Butcher was born.
Zachary Stevens replaced Jon in Savatage, but Jon continued to work with his brother Criss on the record. Chris was again asked to re-join the band, but, he stayed loyal to Jon and Butcher. Some initial demos were recorded with Hal Patino and Gene Barnett for Butcher, but bad press over Jon's health lead Atlantic Records to make a decision - Doctor Butcher or Savatage? Atlantic chose Savatage. Chris was left disheartened. Caffery went to work with friend Ray Gillen of Badlands fame, but Gillen died shortly after the project began. Around this time, Criss Oliva was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver on October 17, 1993. Chris was asked for the fourth time to join Savatage, but Atlantic Records suggested Alex Skolnick join the band instead. Chris would later work with Alex on the TSO East touring company. Butcher was signed in Europe and their debut was recorded in 1994. Jon Oliva left to do the Handful of Rain tour with Savatage so Butcher never toured. Chris, this time, enquired about joining Savatage on a more permanent basis with Jon Oliva, as a close friend and student of Criss Oliva he felt he could pay respect to Criss "spiritually" on stage. Jon agreed, and Chris was joined by Al Pitrelli, a good friend of his from New York. The two formed a steady partnership for almost 6 years, recording both 1995's Dead Winter Dead and 1998's The Wake of Magellan together.
During this time, Chris recorded with Joe Lynn Turner, TM Stevens, as well as produced and recorded for Metalium. Chris was featured on Tribute CDs for Guns N' Roses, Accept and Iron Maiden. The Maiden tribute was recorded with Savatage drummer Jeff Plate and his "long time and newly re-acquainted best friend", TSO member, John West. Savatage was stalled a bit in the recording of a follow up to The Wake of Magellan, due to the tremendous success of the then "side project", Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Caffery considers himself the "ring leader" of TSO East when they tour, and he enjoys performing live with the ensemble. In 1999, Caffery also was a member of the German band Metalium. He is featured on their album Millennium Metal: Chapter One, but left after the album and the following tours.
Al Pitrelli left Savatage in 2000 when he accepted an invitation to replace Marty Friedman in Megadeth. Zak Stevens left shortly after, citing family reasons. Chris was left as the only guitarist in Savatage and Jon Oliva took up lead vocal duties for the first time in ten years. Chris played the lead parts with Jack Frost (ironically, who replaced him in Metalium) playing the rhythm parts on a short tour with Fates Warning and Judas Priest in support of 2001's Poets and Madmen. After Megadeth "disbanded" (it later reformed in 2004) in 2002, Al Pitrelli was invited to re-join the band since "he never left the family anyway".
Caffery playing with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 2014
Since the release of Savatage's most recent CD, Chris has recorded on releases records of Savatage alumni, including Zak Stevens's Circle II Circle and on Jon Oliva's Pain records. Chris himself released solo EPs and albums in 2004 and 2005, with a follow-up full-length album, Pins and Needles released in 2007. Chris is also worked on TSO's new album Night Castle, released on October 27, 2009.
In 2011, Chris released his first commercial hot sauce called "Tears of the Sun". It was released through a small hot sauce company he is a partner in with Steve Seabury and his wife called "High River Sauces". The sauce won major awards including "The Hot Pepper Award" for best overall Hot Sauce in 2011. A second release called "Grapes of Wrath" was released in 2012. The sauces are gaining a lot of attention world-wide as the venture continues to build. Including. Featured article in the "New York Post" highlighting Chris's sauce and the first ever New York City Hot Sauce Expo!
Musically Chris recorded on several releases as a guest musician. He also toured as the guitarist for the legendary German Metal vocalist Doro as well as a solo tour supporting Heaven and Hell with Tim "Ripper" Owens' band in Europe. He co-wrote and played the guitars on the song "The Shadows Are Alive" on Tim's first solo release entitled "Play my Game".
TSO continues its yearly Winter tours and also performed three tours for its Beethoven's Last Night CD. The second tour saw TSO cross overseas to Europe for the very first time.
In addition to several more guest appearances and collaborations Chris also appears regularly with 18 time Grammy award winner Jimmy Sturr. He also starred as a guest on two episodes of his national TV show.
Other current ventures include personal and online guitar instruction, additional culinary adventures, book writing, painting/sketching, photography, musical production and public speaking.
Chris is currently writing new material for an upcoming solo release, with songs co-written with Jon Oliva as well as several other musical projects.
According to his social media, Caffery has been in a relationship with Sky Sav since 2021 and lives in Goshen, New York.