Interview with Guitarist Chris Caffery (Trans Siberian Orchestra, Savatage)

By Mick Michaels

COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Chris! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it’s greatly appreciated.

CV: Were you at all surprised at the initial success of 
Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) or did you know right from the start that you were involved in something special with the project?

Chris Caffery: I don’t think I ever got surprised with success when it involved Paul O’Neill. He was a great visionary and artist but also an incredible manager and producer. He always seemed to know how to do exactly what something needed for success.
His ideas for this band had been around for a very long time. That first record was just a great opportunity to launch it. The initial success was exciting…the long term success is mind blowing sometimes just because of how many new fans we keep getting. It’s a great band with great music and a very special live show that’s on a level of its own. So I guess it can be surprising at times just because when you walk on that stage it just seems surreal. Paul was a magical human being. He is missed a tremendously. 

TSO's music has spread across multiple generations and walks of life - young and old, there doesn't seem to be an age limit or standard demographic when it comes to the music's draw and impact. Why do you think that is? Is it more than just the Holiday spirit that the music invokes with people? Has TSO found a way to bridge the generational gap when it comes to musical tastes?
CC: Again this is Paul and his visions and his lyrics. I saw this with Savatage. There was something deep beyond just normal fans. They would state how their lives were changed or even saved by Paul’s lyrics and those songs. With TSO the music has that same ability to affect people. The time of the year that the initial stories were written about is magical. The tours brought so many people together. They have united families and friendships. But they also have helped a lot of hardship and pain. Paul always said to me when I was writing “Chris it’s easy to write a song about a car or a girl but it’s not easy to write a song that will change someone’s life.” He had a special way of writing to your soul. That is a big reason why this music and this band transcended into such a large demographic. It’s something I’m very happy to be able to be a part of. Being able to help his music change lives.

CV: Do you see those same "older" TSO fans embracing your other music endeavors as well? 
CC: Many TSO fans embrace my solo records because I have learned so much from Paul about writing. I do tend to add a bit more humor and go to the edge a bit sometimes with my lyrics but I still try to maintain a certain amount of dignity and intelligence in my topics and lyrics. Savatage music has been embraced by these fans. Mostly because it’s the core writers with Paul and Jon Oliva. That magic exists in that music as well. 

Chris, do you feel that because of the audience diversity, you are a different performer during a TSO show as compared to other performances?
CC: I think all around we all perform different with TSO. We maintain a level of perfection but also intense energy. That is inspired by the fans and by Paul always trying to bring out our best. Plus the excitement of being in front of that many people on a show that incredibly huge is fun. It helps to raise all of us together. There is a combined formula that makes this special. Fueled by the music and energized by the fans.

CV: The passing of time has now solidified TSO as not only the Yuletide musical standard to go by but also as the must-do yearly, family Holiday tradition. With a major niche market share, a loyal and consistently growing fan base and time allowance to pursue other projects, is TSO the ultimate gig in your opinion?
CC: I don’t consider it a gig. It has been too big of a part of my life to be a gig. I grew up and developed myself as a musician, performer and a person with Paul, Savatage and TSO. I think I may have an ultimate life and career. For others maybe it can be viewed as the ultimate gig. For myself, it runs a bit differently in my soul to be considered a gig. I never even ask about money when it comes to TSO. I seriously don’t think I’ve ever asked about what I would be making. I guess that makes it a “gig”. I’ve known people who have turned down or left situations that I have been in because of money. I just never really ask about that. I always assume people will pay you what they can. I know some people will say “That’s BS, I don’t believe that at all.” But I’m not broke and even when I was I didn’t seek gigs for money. I looked for things I enjoyed. I remember one point when Dio had a guitarist leave. I never knew he was making a change in players. I saw him at a show on that next tour. I have been friends with Ronnie since I was 19 and he knew I always wanted to play with him. I think I was in the top three of his choices when he picked Rowan. This situation was at a time when TSO had made it to arena headlining status. I said to Ronnie that I didn’t know he was looking and would have loved to have finally gotten to play with him. In typical Ronnie Dio fashion he had a unique and comically charming answer. “You are too famous now, I couldn’t afford you.” I said “Ronnie I would done this for pizza!”. He of course had to follow with another Dio like answer and said “Wendy can’t afford your type of pizza”. TSO is the ultimate job in my opinion. But I have never viewed this as a gig. 

CV: Only a small number of people ever get to work with the real masters of their craft.  You are one of those individuals as you had the opportunity to connect with the late, great Criss Oliva of Savatage at such a young age.  What was it like working with Criss?
CC: We were best friends first. I think in some ways I have learned more about his mastery as time went on. He was so incredible and taught me so much but when we worked together the most important thing was our friendship. Savatage was and will always be a very special band because of that. The Oliva brothers were a bit addicting. Their energy and light hearted way of just making things fun. And funny! Criss was one of these players who had his own sound. You always knew it was him when you heard a song. That’s rare. Many people can imitate style and riffs. Very few invent it. I was very lucky to have him as my mentor and my friend. 

CV: Family dynamics can be an unbreakable bond or a fire of opposition and confrontation. These dynamics can be a source of creative genius or disaster especially in a band situation.  How would you describe the dynamics, from your point of view, between Criss and his brother, lead singer, Jon Oliva?
CC: There was no disaster in that relationship. They were special. Life has ups and downs and family includes so many levels…parents, siblings, children and relationships. Those elements all add to this cycle of life known as the family! Jon misses his brother every day. This I know. I do too but I know Jon and Criss had a bond that was created by them as brothers and it transcends magically into their music. They had their moments. Mostly butting heads just like all brothers do. But together they were so powerful and magical. The magic will exist forever in their music. 

CV: What kind of impact has the experience, working with Criss, had on both your guitar playing and your overall career? How influential was it for you?
CC: Incredible…influential…Almost too difficult to put in words. Let’s just say I was blessed with an incredible teacher and friend that has given me the opportunity to live my dreams through his music, his brothers and Paul’s. Those three guys are the ones that I can personally say I owe so much in my life and career. I dedicated my life and my craft to working with them and being a part of their lives and their music. So in reality I was just a part of their family and will always be. Savatage and TSO are families.

CV: Given schedules and project loads, along with the unfortunate passing of producer Paul O'Neill, when could fans expect to see a new Savatage album?
CC: This question I can’t really answer…my crystal ball isn’t working that well at the moment! You need to ask Mr Oliva that one...

CV: Is the prospects of a new Savatage album a bit of an overwhelming and emotional endeavor considering the absence of Paul? Or do you feel his Spirit has touched the band to the core in such a way that the essence of his personal musical stamp is forever encoded on the group's genetic songwriting make-up at this point?
CC: His spirit will always be in all of us. His influence is so deep inside each one of us as writers, performers, musicians and people. Of course things will be emotional. You can’t avoid that. No matter what we do for the rest of our lives someone like Paul will never leave. He definitely in embedded in all of our writing that is for sure!!! We know we have a high level to reach in anything we do. We wouldn’t want to let him down that is for sure!

CV: Chris, you have worked with so many great artists over the years including Tim "Ripper" OwensDoro PeschJoe Lynn Turner and Ronnie Monroe just to name a few. In addition to your work with Savatage and TSO, you have also been with MetaliumDoctor Butcher and Circle II Circle as well as releasing a number of solo albums. In your opinion, is it valuable for an artist to stay busy and have their musical imprint left in as many places as possible? Or could too much be a detriment to the artist’s relevance and bankability in the business? 
CC: Well I don’t really know what bankability is exactly. So I’m not sure what has affected me. I had the opportunities to work with these people. I never used any of that as a job or something to affect my career. I did some of those things for fun. I did something like Butcher because at that time it was my only band. Something like Circle II Circle I was writing and helping a friend. Doro is an icon that I’m always happy to perform with and help out whenever I can. So I do things, some people can possibly do too many things at times. But for some it’s their livelihood. For others it’s their passion. Some just love to work and play so much that they can’t stop and take more gigs because of that passion. It’s all a matter of opinion in that matter. Like the critics I tend to take a lot of views on things like this with an ocean of salt! I am just fortunate to have a pretty cool history in my books. Some great records and a lot of great memories.  

CV: Are there other particular artists you would like to work with if given the opportunity? Who would they be?
CC: Unfortunately, some have passed. Like Ronnie Dio. I always wanted to do a Dio record and he always wanted me to do one with him…we just never had the timing right! I work with so many great musicians and singer so I’m already answering your question in a lot of ways. There are actually guitarists I’d love to work with. Ones to do something like, Pat Travers type of album…Fun guitar rock. Both Al and Joel would be two players I’d love to do something like that with. Players I don’t work with or really know I’d like to do that with I would say Richie Kotzen. He’s brilliant. I’d like to do something one day with Mile Portnoy just because I admire him so much as a writer, musician and his overall energy! 

Singers I’ve worked with so many but I did start writing a record with Blitz from Overkill a while back I’d love to finish and release. Maybe another Butcher record!!! It would be fun to write something for Bruce Dickenson just because I’m a huge fan of him as a singer and of his music. 

CV: You are now working again with Ripper Owens in Spirits of Fire, which also includes Fates Warning's Mark Zonder and Testament's Steve DiGiorgio. Does being in such a super group cause any level of expectation or anxiety or is it business as usual for you?
CC: I don’t think there was anxiety other than trying to get us all done with the record! When working with busy people comes other schedules, so it was difficult in that way. But it was fun to make that record with those guys. I just wanted to make something that the fans would enjoy and I’m happy to say they have! 

CV: Aside from being a world renown musician and songwriter, you are also a successful entrepreneur with clothing and jewelry lines as well as a variety of hot sauce flavors. What do you feel is the driving force of your success? Is it an attitude or belief that keeps you swinging for the fences?
CC: I am an artist. These other things are all just a part of my art…also my love to entertain people. I love to see my work be a part of their lives. Music, hot sauce, my sea glass art and jewelry…even Metalphant itself…it’s all part of me as a person and an artist. My essence is a bit more dimensional than just the music but the passion and creativity come from the same soul. Or perhaps multiple souls! 

CV: You followed your dreams and they came true. But if music wasn't the path you choose back then, what do you feel would have been the future for that young boy from Mahwah, New Jersey?
CC: Luckily for me it did happen. A very difficult question to answer. I suppose I would probably be in computers or possibly making movies. But who knows, I may just live on an island! Like I said I’m lucky it did happen. 

CV: What can fans expect to see next for you?
CC: I’m writing now for Spirits of Fire 2. I’m also doing some live shows with The Jimmy Sturr Orchestra. I believe I have a cruise to do with him in September. I’m expanding the Metalphant product line and always looking for more sea glass for my art! I’m physically preparing for another TSO tour. I will do another solo record but I will do that when I have the time and other writing finished. I have a few other things I’m working on musically. I will have more hot sauces released. I started releasing a lot of my own new merchandise which includes clothes, household items and even a watch! I’m trying to get a lot of work done on my home as well!!! It is summer and there is always something that needs to be done there! One day I actually would like to possibly rest! 

CV: Thank you again Chris for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. It was a pleasure. I wish you all the best and continued success.
CC: Thank you for the interview and I wish you and all of the music fans out there the best as well! 

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My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

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