Apocalypse | Interview | Unreleased 1976 album, ‘The Castle’
A few days ago we premiered a track off the 1976 lost album by this fantastic UK early 70s inspired prog-rock band from Chicago. Today we are sharing their second track together with an interview.
Travel back in time with the Salvatori family. Way back to 1976, when he was in high school, Tom Salvatori teamed up with older brother Michael Salvatori, Michael’s wife Gail Salvatori and Tom’s classmate Scott Magnesen. As Apocalypse they recorded an album of pure progressive rock magic called ‘The Castle’. Although the 5-song, 38-minute demo was an amazing showcase for their collective progressive rock leanings, The Castle remained an unreleased artifact until 2021 when the reel-to-reel master tape of the presumably long-lost relic was rediscovered by Michael in a dusty old basement storage bin. Music fans can be thankful that Michael’s rediscovery of the Apocalypse master tape has now led to a vinyl-only reissue of The Castle, a March 2022 release on Guerssen’s Out-Sider Records.
What led to the formation of Apocalypse? Tell us about the members’ backgrounds and what other bands were you part of at the beginning? What kind of music did you play?
Tom Salvatori: Hello Klemen, thank you for the opportunity to tell the story about Apocalypse and our new (46-year-old) prog rock album release entitled ‘The Castle’.
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 Clarinet in a traveling Drum & Bugle Corp and is a fun-loving karaoke singer and my youngest brother Tony has been a Radio Disc Jockey his entire career.
Mike is the one who taught me my first guitar chords when I was just 12 years old, suggesting that if I really wanted to learn to play that I should listen to my favorite guitarists on their records and try to learn every detail of their parts. And after seeing how much fun Mike was having in his band…I was hooked. I learned to play the guitar (and bass) by ear as a result; dropping the needle countless times on albums in our collection during my formative years and learning to play everything I could.
Mike met Gail in High School and they married soon after graduation. In addition to being an excellent pianist, Gail, who was classically trained, was first chair violinist in the orchestra during her years at Wheaton College.
While Mike worked to help support Gail’s collegiate music experience, he was also composing original prog rock-styled songs and started a band called Amaziah with Gail and friends from Wheaton College to really focus on his original music.
By the time I entered 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 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.
Apocalypse line-up in 1976-1977:
– Michael Salvatori, Band leader, Composer, Lead Vocals, Lead, Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Recorder
– Gail Salvatori, Keyboards/Synths, Violin, Backing Vocals, Recorder
– Tom Salvatori, Bass, 2nd Electric Guitar, Nylon String Guitar, Recorder
– Scott Magnesen, Drums and Percussion
The music you played wasn’t very typical for your surroundings. What are some of the most important records that influenced your band’s sound?
We listened to a LOT of music growing up in the 1970’s, but always leaned way outside of the mainstream. 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, Jethro Tull…I could go on and on, but these were literally our heroes.
Our favorite Genesis album was’ “Selling England by the Pound’; for Yes, it was ‘Close to the Edge’; for Renaissance, ‘Turn of the Cards’. We would also admit to PFM’s ‘Per un Amico’ as an influence. Mike’s composing at the time seemed to fuel a travelogue of sorts through the prog rock landscape, including the above mentioned bands, but also including Kansas…because of Gail’s violin, perhaps, and Gentle Giant, as well, with the recorders.
Mike composed to the strengths of each player in the band. He recognized and optimized all the tools he had at his disposal from the individual talent and interests of each band member; Gail’s wide ranging keyboard prowess and her fluid and sensitive violin skills…along with my interest in nylon string guitar and strong desire to learn the bass guitar. Mike’s composing always seemed to bring the best out of all of us.
Where did you record it? Were they sent to radios or labels?
We recorded the five songs that are featured on ‘The Castle’ 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 5 to 6 hours. The intended use of the recording was to be a demo to help get us gigs. I remember that the session ran past 10:00 pm 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.
Did you do a lot of shows? What were some other bands that you shared stages with?
We played concerts at just a handful of local colleges in the Chicagoland area during the Fall/Winter of 1976 and the Spring of 1977 and never shared the stage…we were just happy getting bookings on the college circuit and giving our own concerts back then.
“Everything is possible for a 17-year-old kid!”
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
Rehearsals were so much fun – probably because it was family, but the music was very interesting and required a lot of preparation and hard work. Mike set the bar high. He was without question the leader of the band, the main composer, the lead guitarist…the lead vocalist and lyricist. He knew what he wanted to hear, and everything was simply in his head. We had creative freedom within the context of our instruments, but the song structures, transitions, themes, lyrics and harmonies were composed by Mike.
I guess there’s some innocent naivety to being 17 and being a younger brother, because no matter what Mike asked me to do on bass and guitar, I just did it without any consideration of whether I could accomplish it or not. Everything is possible for a 17-year-old kid!
Some passages in Mike’s composition introduce themes and very patiently would combine with other themes and build and then build some more to climactic crescendos that make it hard to believe they can all be parts of the same song. ‘All the People’, ‘Only the Children Know’ and ‘The Castle’ are good examples of song endings that have strayed extremely far from their song beginnings.
‘The Spirit’ always acted as a good introduction to our music as it showcased us instrumentally. It also showed some boldness by jumping right into Mike and Gail’s harmony vocals after the song’s instrumental introduction.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
The highlight of the band for me was making great music that was fun, intricate, challenging but very rewarding to play.
And every time we played the song ‘The Castle’ live, I quietly held my breath during Gail’s violin solo – she had the talent to mesmerize and completely silence our audiences when we played that song live. You literally could hear a pin drop. Her violin solo section in ‘The Castle’ is the highlight of the album for me…and I don’t even play an instrument during that part!
Mike will probably be embarrassed when he reads this interview because – and I’ll say it –I’ve always felt that his lyrics to ‘The Castle’ were among the best lyrics in the entire history of rock music (O.K., well…at least second best behind Warren Zevon’s ‘Send Lawyers, Guns and Money” [Laughs]).
As a special gift for your readers, Klemen, feel free to post Mike’s original hand-typed lyrics for ‘The Castle’!
I think of all the songs Mike composed back then, this one stands the test of time, and its lessons can apply just as easily to today’s world as the world we lived in 46 years ago.
“Let us waste not the efforts of man, but to use them wrongly is a sad thing”. So simple, yet so profound.
I do also stand proud of my bass playing when I look back upon it, because learning the bass was a new challenge for me (my focus was on the nylon string guitar even back then) and I really enjoyed performing my parts live on my 4/6 double neck. When I would switch from bass to guitar, I would play the bass pedals that we had separated from Gail’s Hammond M-3 when we cut it down. Needless to say, I was inspired by Mike Rutherford of Genesis and also Chris Squire of Yes!
Our most memorable gig was in the Spring of 1977, during Scott’s and my Senior year. Apocalypse was invited to play a concert in York’s Alumni Hall and it was special because all of us were alumni (or soon to be!), and it just seemed that everyone came out to see us…and we played a great show. Gail was 6 months pregnant with her and Mike’s first child and Scott and I were both preparing to go to college in the Fall of 1977, so it was a bittersweet show; as we all knew it would be our last show together as a band.
When did the band stop and what did you and other members do? What currently occupies your life?
In mid-1977, Mike and Gail got caught up with the responsibilities of family life. But Mike still had a burning focus on his music and started to build out his own recording studio in the basement of his home. He was already composing new music for his 1982 ‘Waiting for Autumn’ solo release…so Apocalypse as a live performance band was set aside as Scott and I headed out toward college.
Even though Apocalypse was short-lived, none of us really stopped music when the band stopped.
After releasing ‘Waiting for Autumn’ in 1982, Mike teamed up with friend Marty O’Donnell and they started a business together called O’Donnell-Salvatori TotalAudio- writing original music for commercials, which became a successful venture based upon the popularity of a jingle they had written for Flintstone Kids Vitamins. They eventually moved from Mike’s basement studio into a recording studio in the River North part of Chicago.
The next time we even thought about the Apocalypse demo recording was in 1999 when the TotalAudio studio in Chicago suffered a complete-loss fire. When we surveyed the remains after the ordeal, all the reel-to-reel tapes that Mike had stored in the studio looked like a box of Milk Duds left on a car dashboard on a hot summer day. We all were certain our Apocalypse demo was lost in the meltdown because Mike had hundreds of his reel-to-reel tapes stored there and all of those were lost.
Mike grew as a composer – from writing for a rock band, 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)
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, IL 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, IL, 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-1990’s 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 in 1995. Visit Tom’s Music site: (TomSalvatori.com)
Salvatori Productions today has grown to five recording artists and thirty album/EP releases resulting in over 90 million streams/plays/downloads through international streaming and digital distribution. Visit Salvatori Productions Music site (SalvatoriProductions.com)
It must feel incredible that you’ll have a proper vinyl release after all these years…
Not just incredible, but it is almost a miracle that it even came to be. During a 2021 house move, Mike unearthed an old storage bin full of old CDs and tapes of various sorts in his basement, and while rummaging through them, he discovered our original Apocalypse reel-to-reel master demo, which as fate would teach us, was NOT lost in the fire!
When Mike found the Apocalypse master demo reel-to reel, it sat on the kitchen table in his home for about six weeks before we even touched it. I kept driving over to his house and we would just stand there and look at it. We were afraid to play it because we were so concerned about the condition of the tape. We even talked to some experts about what to do. All agreed that we should digitize it immediately during the first play of the tape in case playing it caused the tape’s quality to deteriorate.
So, six weeks on, we held our collective breath as we sat and prepared to digitize the tape on the first pass not knowing what to expect. We were still wondering if the tape would even play back at all after 46 years.
But once we heard the master quality was intact and we settled in to just enjoy listening to the music for the first time in decades- it brought back a flood of many good memories, not only of the songs we produced in the studio that day but also the experiences of playing the music live in the handful of shows we performed at the local colleges.
A secret highlight for me in hearing the music again…it was well known in our family that I used to make Gail laugh all the time being Mike’s little brother (in all of that glory) and I was always the funny guy in the band. After we listened more closely to the tape in headphones, I realized that I made her laugh perhaps one too many times because while she was performing her ‘I am the spirit…I am the dove’ harmony part on ‘The Spirit’ – the fact that I can hear a little laugh on her vocal take 46 years later is extra special for both of us.
Tell us what were the circumstances around the material we are hearing today via Guerssen Records?
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’ solo release, and as such we were in an ongoing dialogue with Steve. When we told Steve that Mike found an old band 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 1970’s 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 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).
Guerssen and their several sub-labels are a retro-vinyl company and out of respect for them we agreed to stay true to their mission of presenting our work as originally intended – a vinyl-only release.
We may announce a CD release down the road, but for now we are looking forward to hearing it as originally intended – a vinyl LP – which fulfills a dream of ours from back then.
Is there any unreleased material left?
There were a dozen more songs Mike composed that we had been performing live in our concerts, but there are no studio recordings of them. Mike also found a couple fan-recorded cassettes of our concerts in the storage bin but they feature a lot of tape hiss, airplane sounds and audience chatter, which will never pass the test to be even remotely release-able content…so the answer is no, sorry to report.
Apocalypse recorded just the five songs in the studio in 1976 and those are now (very thankfully) preserved on ‘The Castle’ album release.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Thanks to you for the opportunity to tell the story behind the music, Klemen, we love your website and your in-depth interest, professionalism, and enthusiasm for our music! Keep up the great work!