A tribute to one of Metal’s finest voices and talents, Ronnie James Dio 1942 – 2010
It is with the saddest and heaviest of hearts that the recent news of Ronnie James Dio’s death has touched every metal and music fan across the globe. With a career spanning the better half of five decades within the music industry, the metal and rock and roll world has lost one of its great champions and will be very, very much duller without. Here we pay tribute to his life and career.
Born Ronald James Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA, Ronnie was immediately bitten by the performing and musical bug having started his first bands in his early teens with other members of his school classes. After stints amongst various high school and college bands, and after changing his stage name to Dio from the notorious mafia member Johnny Dio, Ronnie found stability and fame in 1969 when he formed the band Elf who would open for Deep Purple.
Although moderately successful it would not be until Deep Purple’s virtuoso guitarist Richie Blackmore left the band and convinced Dio to do the same that his success would become apparent. The product of this borderline super group was Rainbow, a typically 70s blues inspired pop rock band that gave listeners such hits as “Stargazer” and “Long Live Rock n Roll”. Although their impact on rock and metal history will probably only be a footnote at best in the tattered, ruined history books of the genre, this incarnation of the second division band will always be important for bringing about the attention of recently frontman-less Black Sabbath of Dio.
As was heavily featured in the recent album review of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell here on Moon & Back Music, Sabbath’s recent fall out with Ozzy Osbourne meant that Tony Iommi and the others were on the prowl for a singer to front their godfathers of metal act. Dio was the answer and provided a much needed regeneration and almost reinvention of the band as they pulled themselves from the drug and booze filled rut of the late seventies and rejoined the emerging New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the early 1980s. Dio would go on to record one more studio album, The Mob Rules in 1981 and Sabbath’s first live album; Live Evil, released in 1982. Although he never truly matched the popularity of Ozzy, an almost impossible task, it would be here that Dio would enjoy his most success and gain his reputation as a commercially viable and reliable member of heavy metal. It also helped of course that he popularized the “devil’s horns” hand gesture, a throwback from his youth, that is now enjoyed by every single person who loves heavy metal, that and anybody on MTV or Cribs pretending to be rock and roll.
In 1982 Dio left Black Sabbath with replacement drummer Vinnie Appice to form his own band, Dio. Throughout the remainder of the 80s and early 90s, apart froma brief return to Sabbath to record Dehumaniser, Dio and his eponymous band enjoyed mediocre success, constant bookings and a large fan following assuring him and the rest of the group a constant presence within the metal community. In 2006, Dio and Appice teamed with Tony Iommi once again and with former Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler formed Heaven&Hell. Producing one album, The Devil You Know, the group performed a world tour that saw fans and a new generation be introduced to some of the finest and traditional heavy metal personnel and music.
Heaven&Hell were due to perform a string of dates this summer but had to cancel due to the diagnosis and ongoing treatment of Dio’s stomach cancer. The long haired metal magician eventually succumbed to his illness on May 16th, 2010, a statement from his wife Wendy read on Dio’s official website: “Today my heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7:45am 16th May” he was 67. So the world begins to move on from the tragic news, now only left with the memory of one of metal’s great heroes and contributors. With his screaming, perfectly pitched vocals that described the most epic and fantastical of landscapes and worlds, Ronnie James Dio was for many their first introduction into metal and what a metal frontman could and should be. He will be sadly missed by all.
Dio Must Listenables:
“Stargazer” – Rainbow: Rising
“Children of the Sea” – Black Sabbath: Heaven and Hell
“Neon Knights” – Black Sabbath: Heaven and Hell
“Turn up the Night” – Black Sabbath: Mob Rules
“Rock and Roll Angel” – Heaven&Hell: The Devil You Know
Check out Dio’s personal website for a fitting tribute to the man: www.ronniejamesdio.com