Billy Joel’s song, “Only the Good Die Young” is a light-hearted call for a young woman to lighten up and join the party. It’s a song that points out that life is short and should be enjoyed. While the expression has been around for ages, at times, it is eerily true. From this writer’s perspective, too many gifted musicians burned out much too soon. In the next few articles, I will highlight a few gifted musicians who died too soon, but left a treasure trove of music behind.
Criss Oliva: The Intro Begins:
On April 3, 1963, Christopher Michael Oliva was born into a family who had a love for music. This passion provided the framework for his future. When the family moved to California, he and his older brother, Jon, formed a band that started off playing cover songs. In time they started an original band called, Avatar. After losing a legal dispute over that name; Savatage was born.
Guitar God Arises
Jon Oliva was the voice, keyboardist and main lyricist for the new band. Criss was a gifted musician and guitar virtuoso who supplied the foundation for the band’s heavy guitar-driven metal sound. Over time, the band garnered a solid underground following. Their albums were unique on the metal scene and supplied fans with several anthems. Criss’s playing was the distinct hallmark that perfectly complimented his brother’s vocals that alternated between pure metal screech and soul-moving crooning.
Once the band paired with renowned producer, Paul O’Neill, the group found a niche. These gifted musicians excelled in creating story- driven albums. These concept albums were the beginning for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The most beloved, among fans, was Streets: A Rock Opera. This record was a showcase for what Criss could do with his beloved guitars.
Still the Orchestra Plays:
While Savatage developed a huge following overseas, they lacked heavy promotion here in the States. However, to his fans, Criss’ guitar playing was more than just notes and chords. His music touched the hearts and soul with a passion that was clearly palpable. He was recruited, albeit unsuccessfully, by Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, for his amazing shredding ability.
On October 17, 1993, Criss and his wife, Dawn, left a post-show celebration to run an errand before driving on to a scheduled event. Sadly, a driver with a history of drunken driving convictions, was also on the roads that night. The collision caused by that driver killed the guitarist. His wife suffered injuries that eventually contributed to her death years later. Before Criss’ untimely death, he wrote several pieces that were incorporated in songs for the highly-successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra. As a tribute to his late brother, Jon Oliva compiled an album of previously unreleased music and dubbed it, “Still the Orchestra Played”. While Criss is gone, his legacy plays on.