Written by Lonn Friend
Footnote: Wendy Dio called me in the summer of ’02 to ask if I would compose the liner notes to her beloved’s first, true, career-spanning anthology being compiled and distributed by Rhino/Warner Brothers Records. I was honored. Product manager Dean Schachtel rode shotgun on the project, coordinating the road trip to Dallas where I did my thing. Below is the original draft of what I delivered, a portion of which appears in the CD package, DIO, Stand Up and Shout: The Anthology. In lieu of composing a formal eulogy, which gets more difficult as I get less and less formal, please accept the 5,000 words below. I am scribbling down other thoughts, emotions, for possible later dissemination. Horns and halos…
“Fame is — has always been—the sister of giants. It always goes to extremes: monsters or prodigies, abomination or applause.”
–Blatasar Gracian, The Art of Worldy Wisdom
The smoke rises inside the jam-packed Canyon Club in Dallas. These walls bear the scars of true, Texas metal. A collection of local heroes has turned out tonight to pay homage to the man, the myth, the silver mountain master of molten, musical magic. Pantera’s incendiary shredder, Dime Bag Darrell and his skin-smashing big brother, Vinnie Paul, belly up to the massive, horseshoe-shaped bar in the back of the room. With an entourage of friends, lovers, freaks and full-volume fanatics, Dime extracts a Benjamin from his leather wallet, slams it down on the booze-stained acrylic runway, and shouts instructions to the bartender. “Ten shots of Crown Royal,” he barks, “And a double tequila for Lonn.” We raise our glasses in rapturous unison. “To fucking Ronnie,” proclaims Vinnie. Into the gullet, the evil rivers flow as the lights dissolve and the band takes the stage. The crowd roars their approval as the elfin man with the Gulliver pipes strides front and center to do what he’s done for three incredible decades…rock the fucking house!
“You’ve got the power/ Stand up and shout!” Ronnie James Dio isn’t interested in beating around the proverbial bush this evening. He’s telling the faithful, the true blue core that has watched him ebb and flow through an astonishing and diverse career that it’s still about THEM. From the honky tonk beginnings in Elf, to Rainbow, Black Sabbath and the past 20 year remarkable solo run as Dio, the native born New York rocker knows nothing else except performance and requires nothing more than the sweat drenched steam of appreciation that rises off the happy, hairy heads of every fan that’s ever connected with the ethereal force of heavy metal.
When I need to feel it, I hit the road. Always have, probably always will. During the RIP magazine years, ’87 to ’94, Ronnie James Dio was family. I wandered the planet with the monsters of rock at the turn of the loudest, proudest decade heavy music ever knew, and few artists radiated more significant contribution to the genre than the great Ronnie James. When he and his perennial goddess partner/manager/soul mate, Wendy, asked me if I would write the liner notes to this anthology, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Do I possess the Wayne and Garth worthiness to tackle such a yeoman task? The small but mighty inner voice that barks instructions to my psyche on a moment-to-moment basis gargled with holy water and spit out, “Dude, fuck yeah! Go for it!” Cue the road trip.
We picked a city where Ronnie had a day off. He and his awesome band are touring in support of the latest Dio effort, Killing the Dragon. We scanned the itinerary and deadlines imposed by the record label – who’re bending over like an 80s groupie to please all concerned – and decided upon Dallas. Immediately, I thought, “Dallas. All right. That’s Pantera’s turf. The testosterone will be flowing like beer at a Cowboys tailgate party.” Yes, that IS how I talk to myself. As a veteran rock journalist, the empirical experience has always been tantamount to telling the story. If you haven’t lived it, you can’t write about it. Reporters who sit holed up in their no-life small dick cloistered big city apartments waiting for the world to come to them are clueless to what its really like, the tastes, smells and sounds that gurgle within the belly of the beast.
Friday’s show day so I arrive Thursday evening. I call Ronnie’s room. “Hey, man,” I say, “I’m here.” Without question, Ronnie James Dio is one of the kindest, most polite individuals I’ve ever known, on stage or off. The fact that his life has spanned the history of popular music combined with the fact that he practically wrote the book on metal has done little to erode the humility that is as genuine in this man as his God given smoke and bellow voice. “Cool,” he replies. “Well, I’m just hanging out in my room so why don’t you take a rest, get adjusted, and come up around 7 pm.” “Perfect,” I responded. “I’ll see ya in a couple hours.”
The fruits of the conversation that transpired that cool, clear Dallas evening are the compost of the track by track commentary that follows whatever it is I’m regurgitating here. I suppose it would be customary to get into some history since this is an anthology, a quite enthralling and complete one, if I might say so myself. I mean, we’re not talking about some flash in the pan here today gone later today aren’t my clothes rad? MTV-spawned flavor of the second rock abortion here. We’re talking about Ronnie Fucking Dio, an artist that has forgotten more about riff, lyric, melody, performance and success than 90% of the contemporary poseur acts out there will ever know.
Now understand something: the last time I composed about Ronnie was during the early RIP days, before there was such a miraculous virtual monolith of information known as the world wide web. When tasked with recollecting the life of a living legend, I was not going to dilute myself into thinking I had this shit on the top of my head or locked away in the few dusty back issues of my long-defunct publication. On the contrary, my beloved hair farming faithful, I have done some serious surfing. Behold the fruits of my investigative wave crashing and bid welcome to the online world of Dio hunter-gatherers.
First up, Mr. Tapio Keihanen a Finland-based fanatic of transcontinental stature who maintains the website http://www.dio.net. I would venture to guess that even Ronnie learns things about himself when he checks into this online library of Dio-ology. I’m going to commence our stroll down memory lane by shamelessly glomming the bullet point chronology of the Ronnie James Dio adventure from my foreign nephew, cast (of course) in my own inimitable style.
1957-1958. Five grade school punks from Cortland, New York form a band called The Vegas Kings. Realizing they’re a fucking light year from Sin City, they change their name to Ronnie & the Rumblers until they realize they’re not really into rumbling and alter their moniker to Ronnie and the Red Caps. No real music to speak of is recorded.
1958-1961. After releasing their first single on the Reb label and a slight personnel change, the band becomes Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. It should be noted that in these embryonic days as rock musician, Ronnie played bass guitar as well as sang.
1961-1967. Paying dues like any good east coast rock band; the Prophets jammed around town and spent their humble dimes and nickels not on beer but on demo sessions. Driven by teen angst and front man Ronnie’s dream of rock stardom, the band cranked out several singles but eventually dissolved in the autumn of 1967 when Ronnie and guitarist Nick Pantas forged onward in what became known as The Electric Elves.
1967-1970. With a new keyboardist Doug Thaler – the man who went onto manage Motley Crue in the decadent 80s – the Electric Elves shrunk their handle to the Elves in mid-1969, a heartbeat before the Beatles decided to throw in the towel. In mid 1970, the band was involved in a car crash that killed Nick Pantas but etched nary a dent in Ronnie Dio’s dream.
1970-1973. The Elves further trim to become Elf in late 1970. Doug Thaler was gone after having seen Nikki Sixx’s visage in a St. Mark’s Place street mystic’s crystal ball. Ronnie and the band continue to play clubs and bars searching for that elusive recording contract. Roger Glover and Ian Paice of Deep Purple attend a Columbia Records audition in January 1972 and offer to produce an album for them. In April of ’72 at Studio One in Atlanta, Georgia, Glover and Paice shepherd Ronnie James Dio’s first formal release, Elf. The band opens for Deep Purple over two U.S. tours.
1973-1975. In the summer of ’73, Elf signs a new deal with MGM Records in the U.S. and Purple Records in the UK. In early 1974, the band travels to the Mother Country to record their sophomore LP, Carolina County Ball, with Roger Glover at the dials. But the album is released under the name, L.A./59 domestically. Elf enters the studio with Purple guitar wunderkind, Ritchie Blackmore, to record the single “Black Sheep of the Family.” This leads to a growing relationship between Ronnie and Ritchie that would soon come to fruition in the form of Blackmore’s post Purple project, Rainbow. But Elf has one album left in them, Trying to Burn the Sun, the first LP where Ronnie James Dio uses his second name.
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – named for the infamous Sunset Strip Bar in Hollywood that Ritchie, Ronnie and your humble narrator steady patrons of since the mid 70s – emerges in the summer of ’75 with the lineup that includes Gary Driscoll on drums (later replaced by former Jeff Beck skin basher, Cozy Powell), Jimmy Bain on bass and Mickey Lee Soule on keyboards (later replaced by Tony Carey).
1975-1978. Rainbow tours the world and releases two successful LPs over this period. Ronnie croons and wails while Ritchie shreds. But personality conflicts and financial considerations typical of rock bands, marriages and sports teams point to the end of the colorful Rainbow and a chapter in Ronnie’s career he would forever look back on with great fondness and reverence. Little did he know the hues would soon change from red and orange to deepest black.
1979-1982. Okay, enough of the structured chronology. Shit, you can find this boilerplate info on your own. I’m here to and toss in some seasoning, pepper the beef and fuck with the formula. How about some first person recollection? By the way, bravo to my Finnish compatriot whose excellent sense of detail is to be highly commended. But he didn’t sit in a hotel room in Dallas for three hours with the icon himself. We’ve entered the Sabbath period, let there be dark, and some choice, organic commentary from the man himself.
“The lover of life’s not a sinner
The ending is just the beginner
The closer you get to the meaning
The sooner you know you’ve been dreaming
And it’s on and on and on, Heaven and Hell”
Ronnie James Dio was well into his professional musical journey when he wrote that prophetic verse. The song represents a profound moment in rock history. Black Sabbath was parting ways with its founding vocalist, Ozzy Osbourne, and guitarist Tony Iommi wasn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. A chain of cosmic events results in the former Rainbow and Elf front man finding himself at center stage, along side the British born fingers that birthed the metal sound. I’ll let Ronnie tell you the story, because it’s a classic.
“Wendy said that Tony Iommi had been asking about me after hearing that I wasn’t in Rainbow anymore. So we talked on the phone and he said ‘I love what you’ve done, would you be interested in putting a band together?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll think about it.’ So I went out and got the last two Sabbath albums. Of course I knew all the other things, “War Pigs” and what not, but I wanted to see what he was up to. There was “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die” on those albums and I listened to them both and said this is awful stuff. That band was dying a slow death and Tony had no impetus to do anything, because nobody in Sabbath seemed to care anymore.
“We went to the Rainbow Bar and Grill one night and Tony Iommi was there. He was a very affable guy and he said to me, ‘Would you like to come up to my house in Bel Air where we’re writing the next Sabbath album?’ I said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘Well, I’d just like to introduce you to Bill and to Geezer.’ It was like 1:30 am and the Rainbow was closing. Wendy and I and Sharon Osbourne (Sharon had not married or had anything to do with Ozzy at that time) drove up to the house together. They had built a studio in the garage, in this lovely home in Bel Air. I met with Geezer Butler and Billy Ward and liked them both a lot. Ozzy wasn’t there, which I was glad about even though I wasn’t there about a job, you know. I was there for a drink. It can’t be bad; this is Black Sabbath after all. So Tony asks me if I would you like to see the studio. ”
Okay, that’s all you’re going to get right now because the story picks up in Ronnie’s first person analysis for the Sabbath tracks included in this Anthology and seasoned professional writers like myself would rather sit through a Christina Aguilera Behind the Music than be redundant. What you need to feel through Ronnie’s words and mine is how HUGE that night was. You’re at the Rainbow, eating the best pizza in Hollywood, swilling high proof beverages served by the hottest waitresses in the world, and the Universe throws two rock entities together that will resurrect the holy name of Black Sabbath and birth some of metal’s most memorable tunes.
Ronnie James Dio’s authentic love of music is what’s driven him forward, year after year, decade after decade, in umpteen band configuration, through styles and smiles and frowns and ups and downs and towns in a thousand burgs from New York to Nuremberg. He is a classic rock chameleon that has seen his name and face on some of the most important and precious metal ever disseminated. In Black Sabbath, he filled the enormous shoes of a tattooed crying crazy man. Ozzy’s a sitcom star now. Ronnie is still belting it out to the hordes of metalheads that won’t let him go. Retirement? Not a chance, no matter what Tenacious D says!
Dio has rocked for a long, long time,
Now it’s time for him to pass the torch.
He has soared on the wings of a demon.
It’s time to pass the torch,
You’re too old to rock, no more rockin’ for you.
We’re taking you to a home,
But we will sing a song about you.
And we will make sure that you’re very well taken care of.
You’ll tell us secrets that you’ve learned. Raow!
Your sauce will mix with ours
And we’ll make a good goulash baby
Dio, time to go!
You must give your cape and scepter to me.
And a small one for KG
Go! Go! Dio! Dio!
— “Dio” by Tenacious D, 2002
Canonization on the wings of irreverence dealt out in brilliant presentation by Hollywood’s most endearing modern misfit, Jack Black (excuse me, but his performance in Saving Silverman was Oscar caliber). It is a most hailing gesture to Ronnie the immortal and he took it as such, commenting to the blabbermouth.net website in July 2002, “I think it’s great.” Why wouldn’t he? I guess it’s time to reiterate how polite and kind Ronnie is to those who enter his space for whatever reason. You can’t imagine how many assholes have crossed my path, blinded by the momentary light of their impermanent glory. Ronnie James Dio’s ride has been long, very long, its paths, diverse and unpredictable. Humility and devotion to art and fan has kept the engine purring. Ronnie is a classic to be cherished, admired, frequently polished and proudly spun around the block when the spirit hits.
It was during the first Sabbath foray that another legend was born, or so the story goes. At a show somewhere, no one quite remembers, even Ronnie, our playful front man made a gesture with his two hands whereupon the index finger and pinky launched skyward off creating the figure of horns. What was this? An unconscious manifestation of Satan expounding his wicked control over this evil new form of music emanating from the black smoked warehouse districts of New Britannia? Or was the American lead singer fucking with the formula that put him front of center of heavy metal’s archetype institution?
“It was a more serious thing at the time, when I was in Black Sabbath,” he told Kerrang! Magazine. “That was a band that was very dark, and that’s what I wanted it to be. It was a symbol of the darkness of that band, and not something to be passed onto Britney Spears. An invention is an invention, I guess. It’s become so damn polluted now. The people who are doing it don’t know what it means and they have no idea that they shouldn’t be doing it.”
Heavy. Or is it? Ronnie has always played with our sense of reality, what’s right and wrong, black and white, high and low, alive and dead, wizard or weirdo. In Black Sabbath, he and Tony Iommi were the balance in human metaphor. Tony was dark, serious, foreboding, intimidating, rigid and exacting. Ronnie was ethereal, lyrical, flexible, non-confrontational, emotional and devoted. Their chemistry built Heaven and Hell and summoned the mob to action. Oh yeah, Ronnie mocked the Devil when the horns went up. He still does because Lucifer represents fear and there is no fear in this tiny giant. Whatever you can dish out from down below, Ronnie James Dio will inhale it and spit it back with a howl and a growl that’ll ice the hottest cavern in the deepest pit in this world or the next.
So we’ve tossed and turned our way to The Mob Rules period, sophomore Sabbath, round deux, sloppy seconds. Back to the web and I find a breathtaking piece called “The History of Ronnie James Dio” by Curt Jensen and Jim Scheet. I’m now going to pass the narrative torch in to this dynamic duo of Dio dudes in an effort to keep this lengthy, almost Biblical liner note treatise at least modestly informational.
“Mob Rules was an extension of the great hard rock songs from Heaven and Hell. Mob Rules should be in the musical library of every heavy metal fan. Once again, there isn’t a weak song on the album except for the fourth track, which is just a minute and a half guitar playing sound effects cut. Favorites on this include Falling off the Edge of the World, The Sign of the Southern Cross and Mob Rules. The Dio Sabbath era was slightly harder than the Rainbow era. The songs were darker and more sinister. It’s hard to say which Dio is the best. There are five distinct Dio eras. There is the Elf era, the Rainbow era, the Black Sabbath era, the old Dio solo era and the new Dio solo era (1989 to present), which would have to include the album Dehumanizer. Dio left Sabbath soon after the Mob Rules tour. At the studio recording of Mob Rules, Tony Iommi accused Ronnie and drummer Vinny Cappice of breaking into the studio late at night and turning the volume up on the drums and vocals, while lowering the guitar mixes. Later, Iommi said this didn’t happen. Ronnie and Vinny never really got along with Geezer and Tony because of severe personality differences. Warner Brothers released a live album of the Mob Rules tour in 1983 called Live Evil. On this album, Ronnie sings both Ozzy songs and his own material. Funny thing about this album, when it came out nobody in the general public knew about it being released. Perhaps Warner Brothers had a contract to put out so many Sabbath albums. Another factor is that only two months earlier, Ozzy released his own live album called “Speak of the Devil.” The post Dio Sabbath albums with Tony Martin and Ian Gillan didn’t sell well and were even more hated by the critics than the ‘classic’ Sabbath releases.”
Okay now, take a deep breath. Was that a beefy paragraph or what? Prose born of sincere and uncorrupted fan adulation jam-packed with factorial gems. Our future Lester Bangers are so sincere, they even attempt to profess knowledge of the industry’s inner workings, but they do so with such genuine naiveté, it’s truly quite brilliant. You guys know I’ve been in a hundred recording studios. It’s pretty boring most of the time, unless like James is making fun of Lars because he’s in his fourth month of drum tracking, a scene I personally witnessed during the Black sessions in ’91. Whether the Mob Rules scenario truly took place as our intrepid scribes conveyed only the players in the room know for sure and even if I called them up today and said, dude what really went down, the tale would not be the same as it was 20 years ago and 20 years from now it will be even more morphed and twisted. Truth is perception. It’s individual and illusory. But without truth, we’re smoke machines with no dry ice, Devils without horns, metal without Dio.
In the midst of composition, it finally hit me why Lonn Friend was summoned for this most honored assignment. It’s not so much about being a rock journalist or having edited RIP or even that silly but splendid two-years on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball or all those VH1 documentary interviews. Hell, veteran metal scribes like Jon Sutherland, Steffan Chirazi, Frank Meyer or Screamin’ Lord Duff could have paid proper literary respect to the life and times (and horns) of the great Ronnie James with equal passion and more detail than I. The answer was under the surface, between the notes, cradled in the molecules of awareness. I got the gig because I have the power to pass it on; pay forward that priceless fifteen minutes I’ve been blessed to experience so many times over the past 20 years.
Tapio, Tenacacious Jack and Kyle, Curt, Jim and those who’ve yet to make an appearance but will, it is MY honor to fulfill an undeniable dream of yours. Your name and your words are now etched to pages of bonafide Ronnie James Dio product. And what could be more exalting than this, the lifetime, front- to- back, earth, wind, fire, brimstone, heaven and hell anthology? Dudes, I honor you as Ronnie honors me. By the way, Curt and Jim, it’s Appice. I know, spell check misses the formal names sometimes. An entirely human error.
Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, the first Dio era, as foretold in the novella above: Holy Diver and the grand high, exalted mystic mascot, Murray. Yes, Dio’s fantastical animated alter ego with the given name, Murralsee has an entire lore of his own, much like his cousin Iron Maiden Eddie. Those of you interested in the comic book biography of Murray I hate to disappoint you but I won’t be painting the complete picture here. I will, however, sight Mr. Mike Kibby’s 1987 essay, “The True Story of Murray,” as it was published in the Dream Evil tour book because this particular passage is ball sack -shaking hilarious.
“Ronnie James Dio was a singer in a rock’n’roll band who held a great fascination for the magical myths sprung from the Earth’s past. On this particular day, he jumped into his car and set off in search of a myth or two. The sun was still high when he pulled the car off to the side of the road, and then began to walk deep into the forest. That’s when he stumbled upon the gigantic creature, Murralsee. At first, Murralsee figured that this Human Being creature would run away in horror as all the others had done. But this one did not; in fact, Ronnie James Dio was the first Human Being creature who DIDN’T run away.”
Beyond classic. I mean, priceless. Look, I watched every episode of Star Trek when it aired in 1966. And I didn’t miss it in ’67 or ’68. But when it was over, that was it. Oh, I enjoyed the re-runs for a few years but I was never a collector or a trader or a Dungeons and Dragons kid so I cannot appreciate the mindset from that special space only you (and you know who you are) can. But my love of wizardry and magic and otherworldly delights is just as profound from the cosmic, meditative, astral projected neighborhood where I keep the drool buckets filled and splashing. We are goof offs. We are rockers. We are one.
Ronnie has changed his axe regularly but the music never suffered. That’s amazing because the chemistry between front man and guitarist is essential to the success or failure of a real rock band. Developing that inexplicable rapport in writing and performance demands miles and years and smiles and tears. What does that say about the man, about the artist? It says this: The music is first, foremost and front page. Everything else, every BODY else, takes a seat in the back and acquiesces to the process that produces the elevated rhythms and rhymes that touch us where we live, where we play, where we eat, sleep, fuck and dream.
Blackmore, Iommi, Campbell (John Sykes auditioned but Viv got the gig), Goldie, Robertson (as in Rowan, who barely shaved when he entered the band), Tracy G and Doug Aldrich make up a veritable noodling knights of the round table. Each man is a six-string craftsman, unique in technique, blazing in firepower, guitar heroic in stature.
I don’t have to wax eloquent on the merits of Holy Diver, The Last in Line or Dream Evil. If you’ve got THIS package in your hand, you’ve long since internalized the metal and the message of those ephemeral efforts. What intrigues me is that decade of near silence between Lock Up the Wolves in 1990 and Magica in 2000. Think about that for a moment. With the exception of the partially -successful Sabbath Dehumanizer reunion, Ronnie crouched in the shadows, stalking the sidelines, waiting for the grunge, rap, techno and hip hop/metal parade to pass, or at least, creep off into the sunset far enough so he could whip up the bombast and volume again.
Welcome the new millennia and welcome back Ronnie James. The reflective time away did you good, did your art good, for it birthed a masterpiece. Magica is an encompassing work, a conceptual hard rock opera in the tradition of 80’s metallic opus’s like Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast, Powerslave’s Somewhere In Time, Savatage’s Gutter Ballet, Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian, and Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime. It’s Dio doing Tolkein, narrating the fantasy in word, filling the sky with some of the most powerful musical thunderclouds ever conjured.
Okay, one more gem from the Internet before my big wind up. Ronnie went to Cortland Junior/Senior High School, in Cortland, New York. This is a letter I found written by the school to a Dio-loving alumnus named Terry Mingle in response to a letter Mingle sent, the content of which will be clear in a moment. It’s dated January 15, 2002.
Dear Ms. Mingle:
On behalf of the Cortland Jr. Sr. High School Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame Committee, we would like to thank you for your nomination of Ronnie James Dio for consideration. We had many fine candidates, all of whom made the members of the Committee proud to be graduates of Cortland High School.
The committee had a difficult task narrowing down the field of all these well-qualified candidates. I regret to inform you that although the Committee recognized the special qualities that your nominee possesses, Ronnie James Dio, was not selected for induction into our Wall of Fame this year. The Committee will retain the information for two years to be considered for future induction.
John J. Pilato, Sr.
William (Mike) Doughty
Here you have a microcosmic example of the enduring unacceptability of metal. Chalk this up with Alice Cooper, KISS, Ozzy, Rob Halford AND Ronnie’s absence in the rock n’ roll hall of fame. Halls of fame, awards, all institutionalized accolades are anathema to the balls to the walls ethos that has been and will always been heavy metal. We don’t need your stinkin’ plaques or platitudes. We got the music and the brave men who make it.
Which brings us to the here and now. Ronnie has stated that Magica was the first of a triad of records that will play out the work’s ambitious theme. And his 2002 release, Killing the Dragon, bristles with cataclysmic strains that scream classic Dio. So what’s going on here? Is it possible that in his sixth decade of corporeal existence, Ronnie the artist has found the mythological fountain of youth? When we were sitting in that small hotel room in Dallas, I stared into the man’s eyes, examined his hairline, one that still appears authentic. Ronnie has miraculously escaped the follicle Armageddon that claimed the scalps of other veteran rockers The man ages gracefully while his music continues to kick and shout like a paranormal banshee. If Ronnie James Dio is, indeed, the last in line, than please, book me a spot at the dead-fucking end so I might witness the coronation of a true hero. Okay, NOW, show me your horns!