One Year On And On And On: Remembering Ronnie James Dio
Band Photo: Black Sabbath (?)
There are some individuals in their field of music that are so important, they seem like they'll live forever. In many ways these legends do, as people will continue to listen to their music for years to come, but the lack of their physical presence on Earth can always be felt. Jazz lost a king when Miles Davis passed away in 1991, hip-hop lost one of it's most respected artists five years later when Tupac Shakur was murdered and heavy metal suffered from one, if not it's greatest loss this time last year, when Ronnie James Dio succumbed to stomach cancer.
The importance of this heavy metal titan who stood only at 5' 4" can never be exaggerated. this is the man who is credited with introducing the "heavy metal horns" hand gesture, which is used worldwide to this day by metal fans signaling their love of music, their approval or simply to acknowledge each other. As a singer, he was an influence to countless heavy metal vocalists and even at the age of sixty seven, he was still being credited as one of the best in the business, a title backed up by his winning of the Best Metal Vocalist Award at the 2010 Revolver Golden Gods Awards. Perhaps most importantly though, Ronnie James Dio was known for being one of the true gentleman of heavy metal. Unlike a number of other rockers, Dio wasn't known off the stage for excessive partying, violent encounters or a gargantuan ego, he was known for his honest love and respect for his fans and his undeniable intelligence and philosophic nature.
Ronnie James Dio was born Ronald James Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Italian parents in 1942 before his family moved to Cortland, New York shortly afterwards. His first musical endeavours came when he learned how to play the trumpet and the French horn, the latter of which he would later suggest was the reason for his breathing technique and thus, his unmatchable talent as a singer. He performed in a number of rockabilly bands and released his first single in 1958 through Reb records, as part of the band Ronnie & The Rumblers. He continued to perform rock music for the rest of his life and took up the moniker "Dio" in the early sixties, in homage to the mafia member Johnny Dio.
His break seemingly emerged when his band Electric Elves shortened their name to Elf and attracted the attention of British hard rock legends Deep Purple, who gave the band supporting slots and whose members Roger Glover and Ian Paice produced the debut Elf album. Following the dissolution of Elf, Dio found himself fronting the new band of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, Rainbow. With Rainbow, his voice was spread to the ears of rock fans all over the world and to this day, people consider the music he made with the band to be some of his finest work, a claim which is hard to refute considering this catalogue contains such anthems as, "Kill The King," "Man On The Silver Mountain" and "Stargazer."
After leaving Rainbow in 1979 due to creative differences, Dio found himself being offered the role of Black Sabbath's new vocalist, as they had recently parted ways with their singer, John "Ozzy" Osbourne. Although a number of Sabbath fans initially met the replacement with contempt, ignorance and distrust, they were proved wrong when the band released, "Heaven And Hell," which revived the band's flagging interest after the "Technical Ecstasy" and "Never Say Die" albums and is now considered to be one of the best records in the Sabbath repotoire. Although it featured only eight songs, it was loaded with classic songs, from the opening thrill of "Neon Knights," to the epic title track, to the haunting, "Children Of Sea," "Heaven And Hell" contained musical highs that most bands could only dream about. The creative juices were clearly still flowing on the next Sabbath album, "Mob Rules," which, while not as acclaimed as "Heaven And Hell," it still features some absolute belters in the form of, "Turn Up The Night" and anthemic title track.
Following an argument over the live Black Sabbath album, "Live Evil," Dio left the band, taking drummer Vinny Appice with him and formed a new band, naming it after his own moniker. Having delivered sheer brilliance with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, many metal fans expected great things from the newly birthed Dio band, and great things is what they received when the group released, "Holy Diver" in 1983. Once again, the title track was one of the standout features of the record, with it's pounding rhythm and memorable lines, as well as a true classic heavy metal guitar riff, it was destined to become a staple of heavy metal for eternity. "Holy Diver" instantly cemented the band as one of the great acts in metal music, one to look up to and to be used an example of intelligence in it's genre. A number of other albums were able to confirm this claim, such as "The Last In Line" and "Dream Evil" and the band was regarded as one of the biggest draws in eighties heavy metal.
The Dio band never really stopped, even when Dio reunited with his Black Sabbath bandmates for the 1992 album, "Dehumanizer." A minor hit in an era dominated by the grunge scene, the album was able to enter the Top 40 in the United Kingdom and barely missed out on the same reception in the United States where it peaked at number 44. The album received mixed reviews from critics but did contain some real stompers in the shapes of "I" and "TV Crimes." The reunion was to be short lived however, as Dio decided to return to his own band after his contract with Sabbath ran out, fueled by his desire not to take part in the band's wish to support Ozzy Osbourne on his farewell tour. After releasing a slew of new albums with his namesake band, including the ambitious, "Magica" (which was planned to be part of a trilogy) and "Killing The Dragon," (a warning about the dangers of technology,) Dio eventually got back together with the "Mob Rules" era of Black Sabbath. This time however, they made their selected legacy their own by using the name, "Heaven & Hell." The group toured all over the world, releasing a live album and DVD before deciding to record a new studio album, which emerged in 2009 under the guise of, "The Devil You Know." The album was a smash hit and the band delighted fans both old and new with their live performances, not least when they took part in the Metal Masters tour with Judas Priest, Motorhead and Testament.
Little did we know however, that this would be the final gift from Ronnie Dio to the world. In October 2009 he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and instantly, messages of support poured in from ardened fans and those who respected him for his influence and talent, two areas he was very rich in. Although everyone from fans to the man himself was convinced he would pull through, this tragically turned out not to be the case, as on May 16th last year, the world received the heart breaking news that Ronnie James Dio had passed away.
It may have been said many times throughout this article, but Dio really was a king amongst men in heavy metal. His voice sounded as good in 2009 as it did thirty five years prior. He is credited by an innumerable amount of fans as an influence on them as musicians and perhaps better yet, as people. With one or two exceptions, it seems that not a bad word can be said about Dio as a person. He would sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans, take support acts under his wing and look out for them and would shed wisdom and open mindedness in interviews that made him worthy of being one of the most respected people in all of music. The last song he recorded was called, "Metal Will Never Die," which is fitting in that neither will the legacy of Ronnie James Dio. You can view videos of Dio performing below or check out Metalunderground.com's look at Ronnie Jame Dio in our "Sunday Old School" column, which was written after his cancer diagnosis but before his passing, at this location.
Ronald James "Dio" Padavona
1942 - 2010
Rainbow - "Kill The King"
Black Sabbath - "Neon Knights"
Dio - "Stand Up And Shout"
Heaven & Hell - "Eating The Cannibals"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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