Christopher “Criss” Michael Oliva (April 3, 1963 - October 17, 1993) was born in Pompton Plains, NJ. He was the lead guitarist in, and co-founder of, the band Savatage. Criss was the youngest of four children, the next eldest being brother Jon Oliva, with whom he formed the band.
Criss and his brother Jon formed their first band together, Avatar, in 1978, from the ashes of their former bands Tower and Alienrespectively. In 1980, the duo met up with Steve Wacholz and jammed in a shack behind the Oliva home that was dubbed “The Pit” by the band. They also gave Steve a nickname that would follow him throughout his career: “Doctor Hardware Killdrums”, often shortened to just “Doc”, which referred to Steve’s hard playing style.
Criss, Jon and Steve played Tampa (where they had moved with their family in the late-70s) and Clearwater area clubs for many years. In 1981, Keith Collins joined them to relieve Jon of bass guitar duties. In 1982, the band released an E.P. on Par Records. In 1983, “Avatar” were forced to change their name due to copyright issues. Combining the words “Savage” and “Avatar”, Criss and his wife Dawn came up with Savatage. Savatage released their first two albums, Sirens in 1983 and The Dungeons Are Callingin 1985, again on Par Records, exhibiting a variety of musical styles.