Al Pitrelli returns and lays down some wisdom from his rock star rebel beginnings as a kid growing up in Long Island (which he stresses, birthed some of the best names in Rock and Roll) his time spent touring with Alice Cooper, Asia, Savatage, Joe Lynn T...
Al Pitrelli returns and lays down some wisdom from his rock star rebel beginnings as a kid growing up in Long Island (which he stresses, birthed some of the best names in Rock and Roll) his time spent touring with Alice Cooper, Asia, Savatage, Joe Lynn Turner, and the Trans Siberian Orchestra which he just ended one of his best tours with the group coming off the Pandemic which has affected us all. We also talk about his son’s passion for musics, why he likes to get away, loving the no wifi life in PA and the need to still perform and do what he loves. 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.