TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Paul O’Neill, who founded the progressive metal band Trans-Siberian Orchestra, has died at 61.
University of South Florida police spokeswoman Renna Reddick tells The Associated Press that Paul O’Neill was found dead in his room by hotel staff at a Tampa Embassy Suites late Wednesday afternoon. She says there were no obvious signs of foul play, and a medical examiner is working to determine an official cause.
The band says in a statement that Paul O’Neill died from a “chronic illness.” The band calls his death “a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”
Paul O’Neill was a rock producer and manager who began putting together Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996. The band is best known for its hard rock takes on Christmas staples like “Carol of the Bells.”
Paul O’Neill Career
A New York City native, the second of his parents’ ten children, Paul O’Neill loved music and literary influences, as well as his own artistic visions were well established before he began working full-time in the industry in his late teens.
O’Neill began playing guitar with a number of rock bands in high school and quickly graduated to folk guitar gigs at downtown clubs. O’Neill took his first serious musical steps in the mid 1970s when he took his first progressive rock band, Slowburn, into Jimi Hendrix‘s Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
It was there that he first met engineer Dave Wittman  who had the ability to capture on tape the sounds Paul O’Neill l was hearing in his head. Paul ended up shelving the project because he was not happy with final results. (A habit Paul would repeat over the decades much to the frustration of his accountants.)
However he has credited Slowburn’s initial failure as one of the luckiest thing that could have ever happened to him for it gave him the opportunity to learn the recording and concert business from the inside out.
All the little nuances of how you broke acts in America and Canada, which was different from, Europe, Asia but more importantly how to make your artist success last.
In addition, touring the planet with some of the world’s biggest bands gave him an insight not only to the how the music industry differed from country to country but also a better sense of history, peoples and finance than you could learn from books alone.
In the 1980s, O’Neill became a large rock promoter in Japan, promoting every tour of Madonna and Sting done in that decade, as well the largest rock festivals done in Japan till that time with such acts as Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and Ronnie James Dio.
Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra
“Criss had a feel that was staggering and a sound that was unbelievable. I simply had never heard a better guitar player.”
Among other bands, O’Neill helmed Aerosmith‘s Classics Live I and Classics Live II  albums before beginning a fortuitous relationship with the band Savatage that led to conceptual pieces such as Hall of the Mountain King, Gutter Ballet, Streets: A Rock Opera and Dead Winter Dead. It also introduced him to Jon Oliva, Bob Kinkel and Al Pitrelli, as well as reconnecting him with legendary studio engineer Dave Wittman, who all became key original collaborators in O’Neill’s grand vision – Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
“I wanted to take the very best of all the forms of music I grew up on and merge them into a new style,” O’Neill says. “Basically I was building on the work of everybody I worshipped: the rock opera parts from bands like the Who; the marriage of classical and rock from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen; the over-the-top light show from bands like Pink Floyd…I always wanted to do a full rock opera with a full progressive band and at least 24 lead singers.
Paul O’Neill took the idea to Atlantic Records which, to his surprise, went for it and financed the creation of Romanov which was initially to be TSO’s first release. “We were very fortunate,” he says. “It was one of the only labels left that still did an “old school” kind of artist development.” My original concept was; “We were going to do six rock operas, a trilogy about Christmas and maybe one or two regular albums.”
“Criss could play anything you could imagine. He could work a solo around a vocal without stepping on it, and he was one of the few guitarists who knew how to convey the emotion of the human voice with a guitar. He was a combination of the angst of Duane Allman on “Layla,’ the excitement of Jimmy Page, the emotion of Eric Clapton, the raw feel of Joe Perry and the dexterity of Eddie Van Halen or Allan Holdsworth.”
However, when Romanov got temporarily put on the back burner, the first installment of the Christmas trilogy, Christmas Eve and Other Stories became TSO’s debut album. Fueled by the socially conscious single “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24“, the album went double platinum. More platinum certifications followed with 1998’s The Christmas Attic, and the final installment of the Christmas trilogy, The Lost Christmas Eve in 2004. In the midst of completing the trilogy, TSO released their first non-holiday rock opera the gold certified Beethoven’s Last Night.
But TSO really cemented its following in concert. The group hit the road in 1999, beginning an annual November–December extravaganza that Paul O’Neill takes pride in being “as over the top as we can make it.” “We have, two stages — with pyro, light and lasers — on both sides of the arena, as well as in the crowd and the best sound we can find…There’s no second-class seats at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. I want people to walk out of our shows speechless and…still not believing what they have seen was possible.”
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