APOCALYPSE “From The Mists of Time”
By Dark Starr
In 1976 I was a prog and metal head living in Rockford, Illinois. I remember finding that there was a regional prog rock presence, and it was rather surprising (in a great way) to me. Here in Rockford we had the band ALBATROSS, and at one time I owned their vinyl. The band PENTWATER hailed from Chicago and I special ordered their album (in 1977 when it was released). Both of those were eventually destroyed in basement flood, but fortunately the PENTWATER vinyl was released and I got it again. Interestingly enough, another prog band was recording in the Chicago area in 1976 and doing gigs. That band was called "APOCALYPSE." Their album was never actually released until now, though. I got to talk to Tom Salvatori about the prog scene of the time, the music he and the others have done since those days, their origins and much more.
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: When I reviewed the new vintage release from APOCALYPSE, I talked a little about the history of the album. Could you perhaps give the readers the story yourself?
TOM SALVATORI: Sure thing.
I’m Tom Salvatori, the bass player from APOCALYPSE and spokesperson for the band.
Our APOCALYPSE line-up in 1976-1977 was:
Michael Salvatori: Band leader, composer, lead vocals, lead, electric and acoustic guitars, recorder
Gail Salvatori: Keyboards/synths, violin, backing vocals, recorder
Tom Salvatori: Bass, second electric guitar, nylon string Guitar, recorder
Scott Magnesen: Drums and percussion
Mike and I grew up in a large family in Elmhurst, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. There are seven Salvatori siblings, three sisters and four brothers. Music among the four brothers was, and still is, the center of our lives. Mike is the older brother of the brood and we all enjoyed watching him play guitar in a popular Chicago-styled horn cover band (STRAPPERJAK) during his York High School years. My younger brother Danny played baritone in a traveling Drum & Bugle Corp and is a fun-loving karaoke singer, and my youngest brother Tony has been a full-time radio Disc Jockey his entire career.
Mike and Gail met in high school (they were in the same 1973 graduating class). They married shortly after graduating. Mike worked after high school, Gail went on to study music and was first-chair violin during her years at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinoia. She also played and taught piano.
Mike & Tom, 1976
When I was in High School, I followed in Mike’s footsteps and played in a rock cover band with my classmates called "PHASE IV" until my junior year, which was when Mike asked me to be the bass player for the evolution of his band AMAZIAH – now called APOCALYPSE. After I joined in with Mike and Gail, we had some difficulty finding a drummer who could handle Mike’s composing nuances. It seemed that a couple drummers that tried out were more 4/4 rock drummers, so Mike’s writing would leave them behind at times.
Scott Magnesen was a classmate of mine, and when he came to try out, Mike was impressed. Scott possessed a crisp tightness and a powerful capability to his playing that became a real engine for the band. His snare was a special part of his playing, especially his quick snare roll into a downbeat. Mike felt like we had a budding Bill Bruford on our hands, so Scott quickly became a key part of the band, and our work really began to coalesce around his energy.
We recorded the five songs that are featured on “The Castle” as a demo of our live show in one evening session at a local basement recording studio in Elmhurst in late September 1976. We played through the songs as a full band, just as if we were performing live at a concert. There are some little blips, buzzes and bloopers here and there throughout, but overall, from initial set-up to play-through to a quick final mix (no overdubs), we were simply in and out of the studio in five to six hours. The intended use of the recording was to be a demo to help get us live concerts. I remember that the session ran past 10:00 p.m., so I got home late. And yes, I was grounded by Dad for a week for missing my school night curfew!
Mike sent copies of the reel-to-reel out to some colleges to help get us booked for concerts. He also sent copies to a couple of record labels, which met with no response.
In the two years that we were together as a band, we played a handful of gigs – at Illinois colleges and then our most memorable gig was being celebrated as seniors (Scott and I) and alumni (Mike and Gail) at York High School in the spring concert series of 1977. It was our last performance - Scott and I were preparing to go to college, and Mike and Gail started their family.
The APOCALYPSE demo was never released and considered long lost – as Mike lost everything music-related in a fire at his recording studio downtown Chicago in 1999. So we thought our Apocalypse master reel-to-reel was gone forever – until he found the original master of the demo in an old basement storage bin in the summer of 2021.
Steve Krakow, aka author of the Plastic Crimewave feature in The Reader (Chicago’s insider weekly newspaper), had recently completed an article about Mike’s “Waiting for Autumn” (1982) solo release, and as such, we were in an ongoing dialogue with Steve. When we told Steve that Mike found an old band demo master tape from 1976 that had never seen the light of day, he had a hunch we had found something special and reached out to his friend Alex Carretero at Guerssen Records – the specialists in folk/prog/psychedelic rock and reissue releases.
Alex and his team were immediately interested and will be expert curators of our work. They commissioned Steve’s girlfriend, retro-artist Sara Gossett, to create the artwork to capture the vibe of a 1970s album release. Sara specializes in psychedelic 1960s-70s vintage stylings that are “inspired by the golden age of dreamscapes and nostalgia.” She was also drawn to our work by hearing the album itself while Steve was reviewing it, and she captured the spirit of the "faraway castle" that Steve mentions in the liner notes that he wrote for the LP version of album release.
We are very, very pleased with Sara’s cover art, and feel that it perfectly conveys the era, the spirit of Mike’s songs…especially with its focus on the title song “The Castle.” Visit Sara’s art site (SaraGossett.com. Visit Steve’s Plastic Crimewave website (PlasticCrimewave.com)
WC: How did the name of the group originate?
TS: As mentioned, AMAZIAH was the name of the earlier edition of the band when Mike and Gail were working on music with friends from Wheaton College. When Mike decided to change the line up to include Scott and me, we changed the name to APOCALYPSE, which was something that we probably thought was a bit more definitive, rapturous, and revelatory – ok…and perhaps a touch more dramatic…which seemed to fit better into the prog rock scene at the time!
WC: I know of at least one other prog band of the time from the area - PENTWATER. Was there a thriving progressive rock scene in the Chicago area at the time? If so, could you tell us a bit about that?
TS: We listened to a lot of music growing up in the 1970s, but always leaned way outside of the mainstream. It was a time when disco was popular…which we all disliked because of the incessant cerebral-cortex-pounding beat. Prog rock at the time was new and fresh, and every release by every band we liked was awe-inspiring and such an important mile-marker on the newly paved road to prog rock heaven for us. Mike was the music tastemaker and curator of the family. If Mike liked it, we all followed! GENESIS, YES and RENAISSANCE were our all-time favorite bands, but right behind them were groundbreaking bands like KING CRIMSON, ELP, PFM, JETHRO TULL…I could go on and on, but these were literally our musical heroes.
STYX was local to Chicago, so were the IDES OF MARCH… STARCASTLE was from downstate Champaign, Illinois…KANSAS was from not-too-far-away Kansas, but truth be told, the influences for us came from the UK prog rock scene.
WC: Talking about PENTWATER (sorry, they are a band I really like a lot), they later got back together and created new material after many years. Could you see making new APOCALYPSE music?
TS: We are all still deeply involved in composing, arranging, producing…we are just in our own lanes right now. Could APOCALYPSE ever be drawn back into existence as a band? – who knows? We laugh about it at this point…being in our 60s – let’s just say the bar would be set high for a reunion…and Mike says we’d have to be offered a European tour. He also wants each of us to have our own bus…he says it’s because I snore, but I’ve never heard myself snore, so I think he’s making that up.
WC:You've continued to be involved in the music game since the time of APOCALYPSE. Can you catch the readers up on the history of your endeavors since then – sort of a "highlight reel?"
TS: Mike grew as a composer - from writing for us as a prog rock band, then producing his solo album “Waiting for Autumn” in 1982, then on to commercials to now writing for full orchestra and full choir…first for Bungie’s HALO Video Game Franchise and now currently for the Destiny Video Game Franchise. His soundtrack work is all very powerful and dynamic…but I believe Mike has always stayed rooted and down to earth and somewhat percussive in nature. After all, I still believe he’s a rock star at heart, which is maybe one of the reasons his stylings work so well with video games and connect so well with his intended audience. In addition to the majestic and surreal stylings, Mike can compose ethereally beautiful music too; check out “Never Forget” and “Remembrance” as great examples of works that will just melt the hardest of hearts...Visit Mike’s Composer site (MichaelSalvatori.com)
After APOCALYPSE, Gail was always busy performing professionally, at churches and teaching. After the kids were grown, she became the full-time Orchestra Director at the prestigious Timothy Christian High School in Elmhurst, Illinois and continued to perform violin professionally, with MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER, Tony Bennett and Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, among others. Since retiring from teaching, Gail has focused on creating albums of instrumental hymns. Visit Gail’s Music site (BelleArteStrings.com)
After college, Scott became a Financial Advisor in Oak Brook, Illinois, and has always maintained his involvement in the Musician’s Union, sitting in on drums/percussion for many local Chicago bands. Scott has also become well-known with his wife Lynn in the Competitive Ballroom Dancing circuit.
And after college - for me - even though I went to work for an Advertising Agency on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue while I raised my family, by the mid-1990s I had already amassed a large portfolio of nylon string guitar compositions that all came pouring out of me when Mike and I finally started Salvatori Productions (SalvatoriProductions.com) in 1995. Visit my music site (TomSalvatori.com)
WC: If you weren't involved in music, what do you think you'd be doing?
TS: I really did enjoy my career in the ad agency business…but these days I’d trade that for babysitting my grandsons!
WC: Who would you see as your musical influences?
TS: My prog rock heroes (we all idolized) back then were Anthony Phillips, Steve Hackett, and Steve Howe. They were my teachers on nylon string guitar. I would learn every note of their pieces by dropping the needle on the spot in the record when they played nylon string repeatedly until I learned every note. The best teacher in the world is your own ear; and learning to play the guitar by ear has helped me so much over the years.
When I picked up playing the bass guitar in APOCALYPSE, I will share that my influences were Mike Rutherford and Chris Squire. When I doubled with brother Mike on guitar, I would play the bass pedals from Gail’s Hammond M-3, so in my mind I was a bit more like Mike Rutherford of GENESIS than Chris Squire of YES.
WC: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
TS: As Apocalypse, it is something very recent, here’s our favorite quote so far:
“…clever compositions with interesting arrangements, a superb sense of melody, and superb harmonies throughout. The execution is brilliant and flawless.” - Peter Thelen, Expose.org - that’s high praise!
WC: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
TS: For Apocalypse, it would be great to be remembered as melodic progressive rock.
WC: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
TS: I personally really enjoy the nylon string guitar accompanied by chamber string ensemble (cello, viola, two violins), and when I worked with string arranger and cellist John Catchings in Nashville, we achieved some magical moments on our 2010 2-CD release entitled “Ever Ever On,” which was a high point for my guitar compositions in ensemble.
Mike of course moved on to composing for full orchestra and full choir with his works on the Halo and Destiny Video Game scores…which is dynamic, amazing, and exciting; but for me, the nylon string guitar really can’t survive in that full orchestra setting. Small ensemble is a sweet spot for nylon string guitar…I hope to revisit several of my solo guitar pieces and develop chamber string ensemble arrangements for them as we move down the road.
WC: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
TS: It already came to be with early GENESIS. Between Tony Banks composing and keyboard playing skills, Steve Hackett’s inventive range of guitar styles, Peter Gabriel’s brilliant vocals/flute interplay, Mike Rutherford’s skill on both bass, guitar and pedals and Phil Collins on drums, percussion, and vocals – you cannot put together a better prog rock line up. The only thing I might add is to have retained Anthony Phillips as additional guitarist/composer/consultant to the quieter bits and influence the more pastoral side of the band with more acoustic and nylon guitar instrumental interludes.
WC: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
TS: Early GENESIS (up to the “Selling England”... era) including Anthony Phillips, (“Close to the Edge” era) YES, RENAISSANCE (with Annie Haslam), PFM and ELP and GENTLE GIANT!
WC: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
TS: THE GONG FARMERS – “Guano Junction” – my favorite album of 2021
THE VERVE PIPE – “Threads” – tied with the GONG FARMERS for my favorite album of 2021. The harmonies between Brian VanderArk and Channing Lee are stunning.
“The Freeze” on the “Threads” album receives my vote for song of the year.
WC: Have you read any good books lately?
TS:I’m still stuck in the late 1970s enjoying my Ziggy Comic books, which have been featured on my coffee table for 40-plus years. Once you find perfection it’s hard to move on…I promise to update my reading material once I retire!
WC: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
TS: THE MUSICAL BOX – a re-creation of old GENESIS shows. They are truly amazing and offer so much more than a tribute or cover band. We will also be seeing CHICAGO (the band) in April, and then Steve Hackett’s show in May.
Tom's favorite album of 2022
WC: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
TS: Of course! Mike and Gail took me to see YES during their “Close to the Edge” Tour at the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago in 1973 – And I was immediately blown away by them – walking out on stage to Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird Suite’ and then jumping right into ‘Siberian Khatru.’ Quite an amazing first concert for a 15-year-old kid!
I do have a pre-first-show memory of Mike attending a concert in 1971 that my parents wouldn’t let me attend. It was an outdoor show at our YMCA ice arena in Elmhurst, Illinois in the summertime so the ice was gone, and a stage was erected for – ALICE COOPER. They had just released “Love it to Death”, and I was lucky to be in the way back of the family station wagon when my mom drove there to pick up Mike. We arrived a few minutes before the show ended, so through the back window I was able to see ALICE being dragged out in a straitjacket to end the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” and thrown into a hearse to end the concert! It left an indelible impression upon me as a 13-year-old kid, which I revisited later in life - in 2017.
WC: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
TS: I’m not much of a gear head! I have played, composed, and recorded on the same 1972 Hernandis Classical guitar my entire post-Apocalypse musical career! Between Ziggy comics and my Hernandis guitar I’m pretty much a one-trick pony.
WC: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
TS: Actually, yes. I hate the name but love the music - New Age…but not the synth stuff. There are tremendous all-acoustic (real piano, real acoustic/nylon guitar playing) new age/contemporary instrumental composers that your readers should check out…Ludovico Einaudi, Eric Tingstad/Nancy Rumbel, Denise Young, SECRET GARDEN, Paul Cardall, Karen Marie Garrett, Laura Sullivan, Michelle McLaughlin…to name a few. These are seriously talented composer of compelling and gorgeous instrumental music.
WC: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
TS: A crazy idea that started as studio banter between Mike and me over the years. I had always joked that someday I would take a song that represented the “least likely piece of music to ever be played on a nylon string guitar” and really try to interpret that piece of music. We joked about “The Gates of Delirium” by YES…but “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” by ALICE COOPER was considered by both of us to be the standard bearer of this “least likely” challenge… it stood as a formidable example of an epic hard rock song likely impossible to interpret for nylon string guitar because ALICE winds up going nuts in the song and is put into a straitjacket and is dragged kicking and screaming into an insane asylum against his will. The joke was…go ahead Tom…try interpreting that on a nylon string guitar! Challenge accepted.
I was finally determined to tackle this impossible project in 2017 right after I completed producing “Parlour Favorites” (2016). I was in a reflective mood at the time - paying homage to my favorite composer/players from the 1970s…so the feeling of nostalgia carried me into the unlikely project.
I decided on a trilogy of songs: “Second Coming,” “The Ballad of Dwight Fry,” and “Sun Arise” from side two of the band’s “Love it to Death” (1971) release. I wove the three rock songs together as a thirteen-minute nylon string guitar suite that took over three months and 45 separate recorded guitar parts to accomplish – all performed on my 1972 Hernandis guitar (the perfect period instrument). I worked on it every day for those three months, drawn deeply into the darkness of the storyline every time I dropped the needle on each section of the songs. I interpreted all parts…everything; from ALICE’s vocal melody line to the power chords to the percussive elements (that I tapped onto my guitar’s soundboard with my fingers), to the screams of ALICE going insane to the nausea of a purposefully out-of-tune Michael Bruce guitar solo…right down to the detailed cadence of the little girl’s haunting spoken-word section asking “Mommy…where’s Daddy? He’s been gone for so long…do you think he’ll ever come home?” – all parts were recorded 100-percent on my Hernandis guitar.
Suffice it to say it is the loneliest, strangest and most misunderstood EP release in my entire catalog…with folks on all sides of the rock spectrum likely shaking their head in confusion and wondering why I would even begin to undertake such a bizarre project. I will admit it no doubt falls in the weirdness category…right next to Nigel’s “Lick my Love Pump” song from SPINAL TAP.
Ultimately, I will admit I did it for an audience of one - Mike. And I am glad I did it.
I proved to myself (and to Mike!) that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. I do still worry that my straitjacket is being made…and I do hope someday I will actually sell a copy of the EP or a download to some adoring fan who “gets it!"