Trans-Siberian Orchestra co-founder Paul O'Neill prides himself on giving fans more than they expect. So when he decided to honor longtime fan requests for an audio release of the group's The Ghosts of Christmas Eve made-for-TV special from 1999, O'Neill had a little extra to toss into the package.
The bonus track "Music Box Blues (Daryl Pediford Tribute New York 2004)," premiered exclusively below, is an unreleased alternate version of the track recorded with Pediford, a New York singer and guitarist who was part of the group during its early days and passed away in 2004 -- but, according to O'Neill, left a strong legacy in TSO lore.
"Daryl Pediford got involved with Trans-Siberian Orchestra right from the beginning," O'Neill tells Billboard. "We received a tape and found out he played guitar with Kool & the Gang. Then we heard that voice; we had him come down and he sang live and it blew everyone's mind. Daryl just took you to church. His voice was the type that we write songs for. Daryl, like many members of the band, was born in New York City. There is a certain hometown pride that comes from being in the music scene here."
Pediford died shortly before he was slated to make his Madison Square Garden debut with TSO. "We thought it would be a fitting tribute to get Daryl his well-earned moment in the Garden," O'Neill says. "We took his vocal track from the studio and the band played along live to a lone mic center stage in the Garden. We have never done anything like that before or since. So even though he wasn't there physically, his spirit was definitely there and still influences us to this day.
The alternate "Music Box Blues" closes out the 11-track The Ghosts of Christmas Eve album, which comes out Oct. 21. The original TV special debuted on Dec. 14, 1999 on FOX Family, was directed by Hart Perry, and features Ozzie Davis, Allie Sheridan, Jewel and Michael Crawford, as well as songs from TSO's three Christmas rock operas. It was issued on home video during November of 2001, but this marks its first release as an audio package.
"We received so many fan letters from people asking if there is a version that they could buy where the songs unfolded like the live performance," O'Neill says. "As we have always said, Trans-Siberian Orchestra exists for the fans. What the fans want, we try our best to deliver. We never really intended to do The Ghosts of Christmas Eve; FOX [basically] called us up one year and asked us to do 'Beethoven's Last Night' for an hour. I asked why, and they said, 'Well, it's December 2nd [and] we had a show drop out. I said, 'If you give me an hour, I'll give you a movie.' They said, 'Do you have a script?' I said, 'I'll write it tonight.'
"It offered us an interesting angle. It was only supposed to run once and then run again, but it did so well for FOX they ran it multiple times. Then it took off in syndication, and between public TV and all these different stations, it runs pretty much every year."
The Ghosts of Christmas Eve will again be the focus of TSO's annual holiday tour, which kicks off Nov. 17 with its usual two companies playing 105 shows through New Year`s Eve. "Last year was a big experiment," O'Neill says of taking the movie concept on the road. "We weren't sure it was going to work. But it worked so well that we decided to do it again this year." But while the story and music may be the same, O'Neill promises TSO's show will look a bit different -- as he tries to do with each tour.
"Every year we always say the same thing -- 'How the heck are we going to beat this?'" O'Neill explains. "It's a good problem to be having, and it's also one of the reasons why at the end of every tour, we take quite a bit of the production and pretty much cut it up ,which forces us to have to come up with something new, something different. The show that we're doing this year we couldn't do five years ago. The show we were doing five years we couldn't do five years before that... We know all the special effects companies. They all know that if they invent great special effects that's insanely expensive, there is one band that is dumb enough to buy it, and that's us."
This year's tour also coincides with the 20th anniversary of TSO, which O'Neill formed after working with conceptual hard rock band Savatage. He's hardly stopping -- A Broadway musical is next on tap for TSO -- but the two-decade mark does have O'Neill taking a bit of pause to reflect.
"Honestly, it feels like 20 minutes," he says. "It's just like, we blink, and two decades passed. Again, I would love to say that we planned for the Christmas trilogy to resonate like this, but it was just pure luck. Normally you have five or six other platinum albums, then you take on Christmas. Of course, we took it on first, and the rest of the year on later. It's all worked out."