Fight for the Nightmare

After the "camping trip" the cooperation with the bassist came to an end. Keith, who was ten years older than the rest of the band anyway, never managed to keep pace with the development of his colleagues. Criss played almost half of the bass-tracks on 'Power of the Night', while Keith couldn't cope with some of the songs.

Jon: "Yeah, that was a hard decision. The best guitarist in the world and one of the hardest drummers on this planet let me have the choice: " Either the bassist that cannot play, will leave the band - or we will! " So that was it for Keith. Unfortunately there were a few nasty arguements later on, 'cause he was convinced we were scraping millions of dollars, of which we did not want to give him any, while in reality we were sitting on a pile of debts. And because we were friendly enough to involve him in the credits for the songwriting , he has founded a band called ' Keith Collin's Crunch' that played Savatage songs live - basically he was, or claimed to be, the "songwriter" of these songs. That pissed me off a little bit."

Steve Wacholz had been investigating in the direction of Johnny Lee Middleton two years earlier. He played in the Tampa bay area in a coverband by the name of ' Lefty '- one of the finest hairspraybands ever. In 1983 Johnny was totally dependent upon the gigs with Lefty and was not prepared to change to a band that could not guarantee his life support.
Jon: " I remember going into a club one night to have a look at him. I looked at the stage and there was Johnny: his hair had been backcombed just about seven feet high, he was wearing make-up and hot-pants and I thought to myself: great tip, Steve...But it was a fact that we needed a solid bassist, and in this perspective Johnny was exactly the right person. He was perfect. So he adjusted his outfit a bit and right from the beginning fitted perfectly to us."

Johnny: " Somehow I was fed up with this bar-band-shit, even though it was a good living, getting through the week with $ 250, even if it meant we had to work each night for it. At the time I was only 20, 21 years old. The guys from my band would have loved to have lynched me, when I stepped out. Four weeks later I could't have cared less. I was in London with Savatage - and had a fuckin' great time !"
No wonder, cause as a warm-up for the studio-sessions for 'Fight for the Rock' Savatage played a stirring headlinergig in the legendary "Marquee"- club, that was documented by "Kerrang!" under the headline " Oliva bros, want more! "( good, tough, baaaad stuff!"). The author Silvie Simmons did not only recognize the perfect completion to the line-up in "pretty-boy bassplayer" Johnny Lee, but also rejoiced the band with the following question-mark: " Didn't they have an evil-looking character with them last time, that looked like he'd already eaten Blackie Lawless for breakfast and still had room for Nikki Sixx?"
Even today Jon Oliva will fall off his barstool laughing, when he thinks of the respectful phrase that miss Simmons directed towards him: "Damn, I'm not man enough to critisize a band that has a singer who is built like a brick shithouse and who makes his audience feel through penetrating sparkling eye-to-eye contact, that his favorite pastime during his schoolyears could only have been one thing: dissecting frogs. With his teeth!"

Aside from that kind of fun London turned out to be a medium size catastrophy for the guys. Savatage tumbled into the first serious crisis of their existance with ' Fight for the Rock ', fundamentally referred to as ' Fight for the Nightmare ' between bandmembers. Jon: "We were very young and ' Fight for the Nightmare' provided us with a number of disappointments. The album was recorded under really rotten circumstances. Normally we would never have gone through with it like that, but we had no money and were constantly asking ourselves , what the hell these guys, that were appointed as our management, were up to. It started with the producer. He was no Rock-producer. The studio was in London. Not a very good one. And the atmosphere wasn't the best either. There actually were a few good songs on the album, like ' Hide ' or ' Lady in Disguise ', but this producer was primarely out to run us through as quickly as possible. This guy and our manager wanted to make as much as possible of the budget disappear into their own pockets and spend a minimum on the final product. And the result speaks for itself: the mix was terrible, the production horrible and the guitars sounded like shit."

On the ' Fight for the Nightmare '- tour ( Jon: "Fight for the paycheck") Savatage however consolidated the overpowering impression, they had already left behind on their last guestplay-trip in the USA and Europe as one of the strongest livebands of their days. Until the whole thing ended in the "Stranded in Europe"- tour...

Savatage and Motörhead '86

Jon: " Our then managers took off with the loot in the night before our flight back and left us behind in a hotel in London. I won' t mention their names, but we called them Smith & Wesson. Besides the flight tickets we had nothing, not a single penny to pay our hotel bill or get to the airport. The night before we made sure we had a good time and ordered all kinds of stuff that we let them put upon the room bill. And the next morning we simply threw our bags out of the hotel window, and lowered the heavy drum cases with the bed sheets that we tied together. Downstairs there were three Savatage fans, that tried to catch all the stuff - hahaha! - and dragged it into their car. Then we went downstairs very quietly, and told the hotel-porter : " Hey, chief, wonderful day today, isn't it? We will check out this afternoon, as soon as we've finished our breakfast at McDonalds across the street." Then we marched towards the door whistling, vanished around the corner , into the car and off to the airport. We were really scared that someone had sent the cops after us and we were mad with joy when the plane finally took off. Oh, Smith & Wesson..."

After the second European tour with Motörhead the band was on the road for three or four weeks in the USA with Ted Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult, before they performed in their home country as a headliner.
Jon: " That was the 'stolen car' - tour. Back then we'd taken on a small side project, for which we had to transport a car from New York to Florida. Originally we had to deliver the vehicle within two days. Unfortunately we had to play a number of shows on our way down the East coast. It was a beautiful Cadillac, and we just took it with us on tour for two weeks with the explanation we'd been delayed a few days 'cause of repairs - if you have to replace the oiltank on the way, it is permitted to expand the amount of time a little bit. I will never forget the face of the owner when we finally delivered his beloved piece to him with a little delay. Anyway, the car didn't look quite as nice anymore. Especially the fire on the back seat had left its traces..."

From RockHard Legends, Savatage
Translated by Ellen Bakvis