Twenty-fourth installment in a series exploring very important people in my life.
Let me start explaining how this will work: I listed 65 idols of mine. Every Friday (with the exception of those reserved for the Rock Chain posts) I’ll draw one of the names (following a system that it’s really not important to be explained here) and talk about it.
Therefore, the order in which the names will appear doesn’t necessarily shows where they rank in my preference.
As a final introductory note, this is also not a biography article. I’ll just write how I feel about people represented in it, their talent and their importance in my life.
There are few producers who help bands achieve their signature sound and go on to be considered almost part of the band. George Martin and The Beatles, “Mutt” Lange and Def Leppard and, more recently, Kevin Shirley and Joe Bonamassa, to name just three.
However, I can only think of one who while keeping the band’s integrity, made them evolve their sound in a spectacular way, improving their songwriting and starting one of the greatest musical projects of all time. I’m talking about Paul O’Neill.
Paul O’Neill was born in New York City (NY), February 23, 1956. He was the second of ten children and according to his own description was surrounded by books when he was a kid.
He started working in the music business at 16, as a guitarist of the ensembles of “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”. He then moved to be a sound technician at Electric Ladyland Studios until he switched to management and promotion ending up at vice-president of Leber/Krebs Communications.
With that job he became a tour manager for bands in Japan, managing tours for bands like Foreigner, Whitesnake, Madonna, Sting, Scorpions and Bon Jovi and organizing the first Rock festivals in the land of the rising sun in 84-85. (Actually there’s a classic Whitesnake bootleg DVD recorded in the Super Rock Festival in Japan in ’84).
However it was when Paul returned to work with music directly and started working with a certain Metal band from Florida called Savatage that he displayed his real talent.
Paul was initially called because the band was dropped by Atlantic after the record “Fight For Rock” had a poor reception. The label called Paul and said that if he produced the band they would sign them back. Paul had never heard Savatage before, but as soon as he heard Jon Oliva’s voice he knew he was on to something special.
Working alongside Paul, Savatage was catapulted from a very good Metal band to a wonderful and unique band. The arrangements became grandiose, their lyrics went deeper and the performance was flawless.
But that was not all. Under the guidance of Paul O’Neill, Savatage began a string of historical conceptual records, with enthralling and intelligent stories: “Streets: A Rock Opera”, “Dead Winter Dead”, the masterpiece “The Wake of Magellan” and “Poets and Madman”.
However, Paul still had some tricks up his sleeve. Inspired by the lyrics of Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) on “Dead Winter Dead”, Paul decided to start a more orchestral project with only Christmas songs. It was the beginning of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, probably the mostly well-succeeded Christmas musical project of all time.
And not even the success of the Christmas albums managed to placate Paul’s thirst for innovation. After two Christmas albums, he developed a concept based on how was the last night in the life of Beethoven like. He then returned to Christmas with “The Ghost Of Christmas Eve”, only to create another engaging concept with the next album, “Night Castle”.
The numbers on Trans-Siberan Orchestra December shows are staggering. One band plays on the East Coast and another on the West Coast through the whole month, always with sold-out concerts grossing millions of dollars.
According to Billboard magazine, TSO played for 100 million people in 80 plus cities, selling more than 280 million dollar worth of tickets and donating 11 million to charity, just over the last decade.
“So now before the ghosts arrive is welcome…” to the Hall Of Idols, Mr.O’Neill.
Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal”.
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