The unlikely story of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

With the 2018 touring season at an end–there might be a few big gigs left before December 31, but nothing major–we look at which rock acts did the best at the box office. (Via Ultimate Classic Rock)

Take note of number eight on this list. Wow.

1. U2 (7th overall) – $119,203,900 from 840,151 sales across 55 shows
2. Rolling Stones (8th) – $117,844,618 from 750,874 sales across 14 shows
3. Journey & Def Leppard (10th) – $97,095,894 from 1,003,198 sales across 60 shows
4. Eagles (11th) – $93,454,297 from 574,721 sales across 34 shows
5. Foo Fighters (14th) – $77,750,695 from 930,310 sales across 47 shows
6. Dead & Company (20th) – $56,220,873 from 689,783 sales across 42 shows
7. Elton John (22nd) – $55,387,328 from 351,817 sales across 45
8. Trans-Siberian Orchestra (24th) – $50,228,977 from 864,132 sales across 86 shows

The story of Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a strange one. The group rose from the ashes of a semi-successful band called Savatage in the early 90s. Manager Paul O’Neill (d. 2017) noted that the band had a weird hit with an instrumental metal medley of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Shchedryk” that was tacked on to their 1995 album, Dead Winter Dead. The record was a concept album that told the story of a Serbian boy who fell in love with a Muslim girl.

Titled “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24, the song was picked up by a bunch of radio stations during the 1995 holiday music season, becoming a freakishly popular song. Whenever a station played it, they were swamped with phone calls asking (a) who did the song; and (b) could they play it again?

O’Neill was intrigued. He loved both prog metal and the idea of creating some kind of multi-part Christmas opera. Meanwhile, Savatage was struggling and didn’t seem to have much of a future. Was this a chance for the band to reinvent itself?

He took the idea to Atlantic Records who gave him the green light. Several members of Savatage, realizing that they were at the end of their career, agreed to sign on with O’Neill as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. (The name comes from O’Neill’s experiences traveling through Russia in the late 80s.)

From there, things took off with a string of successful albums and, more importantly, a steady series of albums and live shows staged through the latter part of each year. (It should be noted that there were spring tours where they played non-seasonal music.) Billboard and Pollstar both cited TSO as one of the top sellers of concert tickets of the first decade of the 21st century.

They’ve never played a club, either. TSO went from nothing straight to theatres and arenas.

Paul O’Neill died in a Tampa hotel room on April 5, 2017, at the age of 61. His death was ruled an accident, a result of a toxic mix of prescription medication he’d been taking for a myriad of health issues.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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