From a childhood in California to being an adult in Tampa, Florida during his young years, Criss found a niche in music as a guitarist. Having influences such as Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Lommi, Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker, his music career would start up from there.
With four brothers in the family, Criss was the youngest. And with the second youngest brother Jon, they both were musically talented, Criss on guitar and Jon on vocals. The two would then form an influential metal band.
In 1978, the two brothers created Heavy Metal band Avatar when their two other groups, Tower and Alien disbanded and went separate ways. It was after then that they found Steve "Doc" Walchoz, a drummer that then later played for Crimson Glory. In the humid air of Florida, Keith Collins came in to relieve on bass so Jon could focus on vocals more. It was then the Sunshine state had another Avatar line-up.
1982 came by and Avatar was signed onto Par Records Company. Before releasing their first E.P Album in 1983, Par Records told them that they cannot have the name Avatar due to copyright issues. So they (Criss, Dawn (Criss' future wife), Jon, Marie (Jon's future wife) put two words together, "Sabotage" and "Avatar" to create Savatage.
Releasing two albums under Savatage, their debut album of 1983 was Sirens and in 1985, it was The Dungeons Are Calling.
1984 was a special year for Criss and Dawn. The two got married in Florida after dating since middle school in the Tampa-Clearwater area.
After breaking away from Par Records Company, Savatage then came around to sign with Atlantic Records in 1985 releasing 6 more albums, Power of The Night, Fight For The Rock, Sirens/The Dungeons Are Calling (Re-issue), Gutter Ballet, Streets: A Rock Opera and Edge of Thorns.
Hall of The Mountain King is considered to be Savatage's Golden Age, since it gained high popularity with the famous Heavy Metal band, Megadeth. Savatage was asked to tour with them and they graciously accepted it thus pushing their careers even further as their many styles such as, Progressive Rock and Metal, Power Metal, Symphonic Metal, Hard Rock and Arena Rock.
Criss' guitar licks were unlike anyother groups out there. quick guitar screeches, scales and just plain melody, it was an instrument that was meant for him.
Criss' biggest dream was to have the album Streets to be a mainstream success in 1991-'92, but that fell short as Jon and "Doc" then departed from the band in 1992-'93. To replace them, Criss got info on Zachary "Zak" Stevens from his friend Campbell and respectively got Jeff Plate to fill in on drums.
After reforming the band, Savatage then released their 1993 album Edge of Thorns. This is the first album that "Zak" and Jeff appear on for Savatage and the first time Jon and "Doc" weren't on their album.
On October 17 of 1993, Criss Oliva and his wife Dawn drove their way to Livestock Festival when a drunk driver crossed over the median and struck Criss' vehicle head-on. Dawn survived the crash, but Criss was killed immediately at the young age of 30.
Buried at Curlew Hills Memorial Gardens, Florida, a concert memorial service took place on Nov. 23, 1993 for Criss with the original members of Savatage. Jon back on vocals with "Doc" back on drums, they played without their only guitarist Criss to have a white Charvel Predator (Criss' favorite guitar imaged on banner above) wrapped with roses on the stage where he would be playing.
Brought onto Earth: April 3, 1963
Passage to Heaven: October 17, 1993
Awards, Memorials, Recognitions
Tribute album by Vicious Rumors, Low
Tribute album by Testament, Word of Mouth
Jon Oliva continued Savatage for Criss
Savatage created albums and a song in honor of Criss,
Albums: Ghost In The Ruins: A Tribute To Criss Oliva, From The Gutter To The Stage: Best Of Savatage 1983-1993, Still The Orchestra Plays
Song: Handful of Rain
Dedicated page on the official Savatage website.
Criss Oliva Quote
"No, there's no mystery. And if any, then it's hidden between hands, heart and soul. It simply must be the way I play."
Author Notes: R.I.P Criss
Keep on Rockin'!