December , 1984
By David Huff
Ronnie James Dio
Dio’s Realm of Reality Finally his Own
Fourteen years is a long time to hold court onstage as a musician. It’s especially a burden when you are subject to someone else’s bidding. Ronnie James Dio should know. Throughout the '70's and into the '80's, the singer was but a prince among the kings in the land of Rainbow, Black Sabbath and an assortment of Elves he found himself attached to. He bent to the will of others until his own power began to overshadow the realms he was in. The man who would be king was banished.
Today Dio rules!
The tale of the elfin King, Ronnie James Dio, has the making of an Aesop's Fable. With words like The Elves, Elf, Rainbow and Black Sabbath sprinkled throughout his musical career, it's easy to see why. And like every fable, there’s a moral to this story as well. If you work hard and never lose sight of your own goals, those dreams will become a reality.
"I have worked hard, very hard, for 14 years to get to where I am," said Dio as he relaxed in his Dallas hotel room. "Nobody gave me anything, but I always knew that I would make it into the major leagues. I would have done it with Elf if the opportunity to work with Ritchie Blackmore hadn't come up."
The Elf that Dio refers to was a band he formed in upstate New York in the early '70's. Since the late '60's, Dio had played with several bands in the New York area that had released a series of singles on a variety of local and national labels. Elf, with its heavy rock sound, caught the attention of Deep Purple's bassist Roger Glover. He subsequently produced three of the bands LP's, signed Elf to Purple's U.K. label, and gave them the opportunity to open for Deep Purple on their national tours.
The rosy coalition between Deep Purple and Elf would end in 1975 when Ritchie Blackmore left Purple to form a band with Dio, whom he had come to admire musically.
"Elf did not break up Deep Purple," insisted Dio, "Ritchie Blackmore decided to leave that band to pursue other interests with me. Since he and I had gotten to know one another fairly well because of our band's association on the road and in the studio, we found out that we both were very compatible musically and we started writing songs together on and off the road. That's how Rainbow got started."
The opportunity working with Blackmore presented Dio, he says, was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"Rainbow was my chance to be heard," insisted Dio. "It was a great period of my life. I looked at the world through great big eyes and toured the globe for the first time. I saw things that I had only dreamed of and read about."
Dio also insisted that Blackmore include the bass, keyboard, and drummer from Elf in the new line-up the two formed. Because of that, rumors were afloat that Blackmore had virtually taken over that band to use as his own version of Deep Purple.
"I don't think that in any way, shape or form that Rainbow even sounded remotely like Deep Purple," offered Dio. "Rainbow sounded like Ronnie James Dio. If you look at those early albums, you will see that Ritchie and I co-wrote all of the songs on those albums. It was not just Ritchie.
"I learned a lot with Rainbow, made some great music, but towards the end, Ritchie and I just couldn't see musically eye to eye anymore. After I left the band and they got a new lead singer, I thought that Rainbow had evolved into another version of Foreigner."
About the time the singer decided to leave Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne was severing his ties with Black Sabbath. A chance encounter between Dio and Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi at the Rainbow on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles led the two musicians to take their initial discussions to another level.
"When I joined Black Sabbath, it was practically a dead band," stated the vocalist. "It was a big challenge for me not only to step into Ozzy's shoes, but to work with musicians who at that period of time didn't think that they were very good. I gave them new life and a new sound, the sound of Ronnie James Din."
Dio stayed with Sabbath through the albums- Heaven and Hell, The Mob Rules, and Live Evil. He says without a doubt those albums there were the greatest pieces of work Sabbath had done since their masterpieces years earlier.
"Black Sabbath's early work,” countered Dio, “had an originality to them that somehow got lost in the shuffle of their later work right before I joined them. Personally, I think the big problem with the Black Sabbath members was that they had played so long together they got stuck and found themselves in a musical rut.
"I pumped new life into Black Sabbath and the three albums that I did with them show it. I loved playing with those guys. The energy that was there was great. Unfortunately for us, towards the end a lot of bad, horrible things were said. I try not to look back on those things. Our accomplishments overshadowed any of that petty stuff."
Dio says that his involvements with both Rainbow and Black Sabbath set precedents in music that can still be felt today.
"There were a couple of instances,” pointed out the New York born artist, “in my past with Rainbow and Black Sabbath that were turning points for the way a lot of hard rock and roll music was made. I don't want to sound egotistical, but the album Rainbow Rising was a little bit classical in nature and other bands picked up on that. And then there was Heaven and Hell. I think it paved the way for a lot of resurgence of the heavy metal explosion that occurred two years ago."
After beating his brains out on the road for over a decade, Dio finally decided he’d had enough fronting other bands. It was time to strike out on his own, but before he could move forward on the idea, three was the difficult task of finding the right musicians. Drummer Vinnie Appice had left Sabbath when Dio had. Those two were committed to continuing their relationship. What the singer wanted in a guitar player and bassist where musicians he felt comfortable performing with, could rest on their own laurels and not allow themselves to be overshadowed his onstage presence. .
"I was very concerned with finding people that I could be comfortable with,” replied Dio. “They needed to believe in themselves and the direction I was heading in. I wanted musicians that could be recognized for what they could do individually and be stars in their own right."
With Appice on board, Dio went back to his days with Rainbow and asked former bass player Jimmy Bain if he would be interested in joining his group. Bain agreed, and suggested Dio take a look at a 21-year guitarist he had head on the Northern Ireland club circuit. His name was Vivian Campbell. Dio's initial offering to a heavy metal starved public was the album, Holy Diver. The album contained two international hits, “Rainbow in the Dark” and the title track that gave proof to Dio’s claims that musical contributions with bands in his past had indeed set milestones future bands would draw from.
The Dio camp just recently released the follow-up to Holy Diver entitled The Last in Line. Two cuts from the recording, the title track and “We Rock” have received substantial airplay, with “We Rock” becoming something of an unofficial anthem for the band. This album also introduced former Rough Cutt keyboardist Claude Schnell to the band.
"I am not a hero or a spokesman for today's youth," stated Dio when posed with the question. “I am a musician that performs a job people just happen to like, that’s all. I am not associated with evil and I am not heavy metal. I am a member of a rock and roll band that just happens to bear my name. I understand what you ar3e saying when you refer to the enormous influence I may have over people. But what you must realize is that that influence occurs in the concert halls, not in the streets. Our music and the show are for entertainment.
"There have been some isolated incidents in the past where our influence or power as you call it, as a band has overwhelmed people. For instance, this father put his 10-year old son on a plane in Los Angeles for one of our shows back the East. This kid came to the concert, bought everything in sight that had Dio on it, and then flew back home. I personally think the father should have been shot for allowing and assisting his son to do that foolish venture.
"I don't discourage people from falling in love with this band, but carrying it to extremes is another matter. When it can become dangerous for people, then the very essence of enjoying music is threatened, then no, that’s not being a fan. It’s simply being ludicrous.”
Dio says that from the day beautiful notes came out of his mouth, his success in music was assured. He never doubted his ability to make a mark in the music business. He was on his way to accomplishing those goals with Elf before Ritchie Blackmore sidetracked those plans. Black Sabbath was another instance he just could not ignore.
"I am occupying a time and a space right now that was meant to happen for me, replied Dio. “I have never been interested in having my music live on forever. During one's lifetime, there is a single path that is set forth for you that has its little side trails you can go off onto. Now, even though you may wonder off the path onto these trails, ultimately your lead back to the original journey you set out on. That is what has happened with me.
"This is not a heavy metal band. Dio is a rock and roll band. That distinction is hard for people to understand. The five of us are first and foremost musicians. The heavy metal tag is something we have to live with. I guess you could describe our situation as being a flower in the middle of a patch of weeds.”
The singer takes a practical view of life. For instance, he’s a firm believer that one’s destiny is weighed and balanced in one’s own hands. The life lines that crease one’s palms, depending on whether they favor the right or left hand, have outlined a person's fate. All you have to do is know how to read them he says.
"Your fate," offered Dio, "basically rests in the palm of your hands. My involvements with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, though they weren't necessary, were slight diversions I chose to take from my set path. What you see today is a culmination of the past put in a present day situation. I am not denying that this band and our music are not going to have some sort of effect on people. However, I want that effect to happen today, not somewhere in the distant future after I am dead.”