RONNIE JAMES DIO
Classic Rock Revisited Interview
When the opportunity came to interview Ronnie James Dio for Classic Rock Revisited, I became very excited. After all, Ronnie James Dio is one of, if not the most recognizable voice in Heavy Metal. We are talking about the person who was involved with the formation of Rainbow and the re-formation of Black Sabbath. Names mentioned in the same breath as Ronnie James Dio include Ritchie Blackmore, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Vinnie Appice and Vivian Campbell. Ronnie James Dio is a major player in the history of Heavy Metal music. Classic Rock Revisited is proud to present this interview!
I thing the most interesting things about the interview was finding Ronnie to be the opposite of the stereo typical Heavy Metal singer. Dio is intelligent, articulate and polite. He is personally involved in many charitable organizations. He is very much a gentleman. This is a far cry from the media created demon that many of our parents thought he was! Read on to discover what Ronnie has to say about working with Ritchie Blackmore.
Discover the impact he made on the Black Sabbath classic Heaven & Hell. Learn more about the Children Of The Night organization and last of all check out Ronnie James Dio's latest CD's. There is Rhino's The Beast Of Dio. This disk is a greatest hits package that includes a rare live version of Rainbow's Man On The Silver Mountain. Also be sure to listen to Dio's latest studio offering, Magica. This is a concept album that returns Dio to his fantasy based themes that made Holy Diver and The Last In Line true Metal Classics. Special thanks goes to Jen at Chipster Entertainment and to Ronnie James Dio.
Good morning! How are you?
RJD: Good morning to you, pal. Everything is great. The sun is shining. The sky is blue and everything is warm!
We don't want to hear that! We are in the middle of the Heartland, Wichita, KS.
RJD: Oh my God, you guys must have got blasted!
Let's just say the snow is on the ground and it is cold as hell!
RJD: There is nothing surprising about Wichita being like that this time of the year!
First off, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. If you can pardon the pun, you are the last in line of some interviews I have been doing lately. I have recently spoke with Doro and Yngwie. It's great to finally get up to the headliner!
RJD: All right! Thanks.
How did the tour go?
RJD: The tour went great. It was wonderful. Doro is just the best. She is just a great person who really believes in what she does. We had a great time with them and it was very successful. I think it was one of the best I've ever been involved with. Not only because of the people I just mentioned but our band is such fun to play with. They are all such great people and great players. I'm sure that anyone who sees our shows notices how much fun we have up there.
Wichita was not on your list!
RJD: No, it wasn't. I think the last time we played there was a couple of years ago. I don't know what the hell happens. It's got to be a matter of people saying, "Nobody will come to the show because that is Wichita." But that has never been the case. Wichita is a great, great heavy metal area. There is a hunger and nobody wants to seem to feed anybody with it.
We tend to be the forgotten area.
RJD: Not by us. If I could book the tours, Jeb and unfortunately, I don't, we would be going to those places. Unfortunately we hire an agency to do that and the next thing you say is, "How come were not playing Wichita?" You just don't have a chance. Your screwed! (laughter)
I see where you have finally put out a greatest hits in The Beast Of Dio. Why now after all this time?
RJD: Again, this is a thing that was not my decision. I think one of the reasons being that there has not been one at all probably drove the people over at Rhino records to want to do that. They felt that there was an untapped section of people who would buy a product like that. They called and asked if they could begin the process and we said go right ahead. Our control was pretty strong but we really did not need to exert any control. The songs they chose were great. It was just that someone was interested and that it was time to do it.
I'd like to talk about what is going on now but I would also like to jump back in time for a little while, if I could? Let's start with the Vegas Kings. Was that the first band you were in?
RJD: It was absolutely the first. They even had a little sign that I made for that band. I got a little piece of plywood and painted it and got decal letters and put Vegas Kings on it. I made Vegas go in a little arch and put Kings underneath it. I shellacked the whole thing and put it up behind us every time we played. I guess that was a little bit of a childish mentality but you could see that I was thinking big in those days!
If you look back at your history, you had to have a drive and a passion for music. You didn't just show up one day and the spot light was on you. You had developed quite a history before you were big.
RJD: I think that it is important that you have a long career. Longevity is what makes you legitimate. If you are just five years and gone then that does not say much about you. It has been great because I have learned from the ground up. A lot of people do not have the chance to do that. There were lots of places to play and the music was new. Everybody wanted to hear it so you got lots of opportunities. You leaned all the mistakes, all the good and bad up along the road. Those things can't do anything but help you make something better of yourself by the end of the day. It was the most important part of my life. The most important.
Now that I have the man here with me I want to ask how the Blackmore/Dio connection actually began?
RJD: We had done three albums with Roger Glover, who is the bass player from Purple. After we did the first album with him, Roger took it back to the Purple guys and we signed a contract with Purple Records that was a company owned by the band. We became their opening act in Europe. The guys liked it. I don't know why they did but they did! We did about eight world tours with Deep Purple. You get the tendency to rub elbows with someone eventually.
Ritchie was hard to rub shoulders with. It took a long time for Ritchie and I to get to know each other. I think we did two tours with him before he even said hello to me! That was okay. I understood where he was at. We were the opening act and I wasn't looking to stick my nose up Ritchie's behind and get something out of it that I did not deserve. Eventually, Ritchie came up to me and he said, "Your a great singer" and he walked out and that was the end of it. From then on, he would say hello and we would start to talk a little bit. He then invited me to work on his first solo single that he was going to do but it turned out to be the first Rainbow album.
Did you find that you both shared an interest in Medieval themes?
RJD: I think maybe Classical music, even more so than that. He liked Bach and I liked Bach. I liked Beethoven. He didn't like him as much as Bach but we really liked most of the same Classical themes. I think that was reflected in the writing as well. That is one of the reasons that we were able to come together. We thought the same way musically. We thought in big melodic orchestral terms. That was our point of contact.
Was Glover pissed when you left Elf to form Rainbow. He had invested a lot of time with you and Purple.
RJD: Roger was not in the band anymore. He was there when Ian was the singer. Then David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes came in. We did about 4 more tours with them after that. One day Ritchie came to me and said, "I'm leaving Purple and I would like to know if you would put a band together with me." I said, "If you want to take the guys in my band then no problem." Roger was hurt because Roger, my keyboard player Mickey Soule and I were going to put a band together. Then I got the offer from Ritchie and I went to talk to Roger.
I said, "All I can tell you is thank you so much for what you have done for me and I would have loved to play with you but this is an opportunity that I just absolutely can't say no too." Plus, I was bringing the rest of the guys from the band with me. At least I was honest with him and he understood. He was very hurt by it. All these years later, Roger is one of my best friends. He is the greatest person on earth. It hurt him but he understood. These things do happen in life.
Is there any truth to all the stories about Rainbow and the mysterious dealing with the occult?
RJD: Well, they are all true. The are very, very true. I don't bother to dabble in that anymore because we had some rather scary experiences. I've given it up. Once you invite the devil into your house he doesn't go away! We did all those things and they were sometimes scary and sometimes they were really interesting. But we weren't demonic. We weren't trying to converse with the devil or anything. As soon as the devil popped up we all got away pretty fast!
What was it the happened to end your time with Rainbow?
RJD: Ritchie wanted to go in a different direction. He wanted to be more of a pop band. After I left they did one or two songs written by a guy named Russ Ballard. That was not the kind of band that I wanted to be in. I wanted to be in a band that wrote it's own material and invented itself and carried on with that. At that particular time, Ritchie felt he wanted to be connected to a pop audience so we just went, "Okay.. see ya!"
You are known for being very loyal. Was it difficult to be in a band with such a revolving door?
RJD: Anymore it doesn't. Once I was able to do what I wanted on my own, which was to have my own band that I had some control over, then it all stopped. When you know that if it were done a different way that it could be better and it never does get done a different way then it becomes frustrating for you. It is hard not being in control when you think that you know what you are doing.
In the case of Rainbow, it was Ritchie's band and that's the way it should have been. In Sabbath, it was all of us and it was pretty democratic. Sometimes it is hard to be democratic. You don't always make the right decisions when three people want to do it and one person doesn't want to do it. I'm not saying that is what happened in Sabbath. We were always very democratic but it was hard to be that way.
Right after you joined Sabbath you did a project that not everyone knows you did. You actually played on Kerry Livegren's solo album Seeds Of Change in 1980.
RJD: That was great. I loved doing that. I loved both the songs. I enjoyed Kerry so much. He is a great musician and he is a great person. It was really special to me. If you look at the back of that album you will see that it gives credit to whatever person was with that band. For instance it says, David Pack from Ambrosia. The bass player from the Atlanta Rhythm Section says the Atlanta Rhythm Section. But if you look, mine just says Ronnie James Dio. If you remember, I was in Black Sabbath and this was a Christian album! I didn't know it was a Christian album until after I sang the songs and Kerry told me that's what it was.
I read an interview with Kerry where he says you actually came and stayed at his house. I just love the irony behind that story!
RJD: Exactly! Kerry is such a great guy. His Wife is a great person. They just open up their house to you and you don't want for anything. They are just great people. I love Kerry and I think he is so talented. I hear he is playing with Kansas again.
Did Kerry Ever tell you what it was that made him want to record with you?
RJD: He said that he had gone to a show we were playing at in Kansas City in Chiefs Stadium. It was Deep Purple, J. Geils Band, us and somebody else. Kerry was in the audience. We played as Elf and then all those years later he told me that he turned and said to who ever he was with, "Someday I'm going to do a record with that guy." He just chose people that he wanted to work with over the years. People he thought would be good for the project and that he admired. That was very flattering for me.
I am impressed how your impact was felt immediately when you joined Black Sabbath. Especially in the songwriting.
RJD: I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I am so much different than Ozzy. Being so much different and being more of a writer than Ozzy is, I helped shape that band into a little bit more of me. It was still Black Sabbath. I think that Martin Birch, who produced that album, made an incredible difference. The sounds that he got were really wonderful. It was a real joint effort. It wasn't just one person.
It was everybody really doing a great job on the album. I thought Bill Ward was great on it. I think Bill has always been under appreciated. I think it shows the guys in that band can really play. We did shape the music a little differently. Ozzy used to call it Black Rainbow! I never tried to do that and I don't think that I did. I mean, the subject matter was very different and the riffs that Tony writes are very different from Ritchie's. We just made it Sabbath Mach II.
I would say Black Dio would be a better description. Did you take any material in or was it written after you joined Sabbath.
RJD: They had a couple of riffs and things that they had done because they had been rehearsing with Ozzy. It was going to be their 10th anniversary. They had a studio in the home that they were living in. They had knocked some things out. When I first actually met them physically, Geezer, Bill and Tony, they said, "We are in the rehearsal place. Do you want to have a listen at this thing we have been doing?" So they played something for me and Tony said, "Do you think you can do something with that?" I said, "Give me a few minutes and I'll see what I can do."
In fifteen or twenty minutes I wrote Children Of The Sea with them. I think Tony had another riff that they had been working on. I don't remember what that one became. Then Geezer left and it became just Tony and myself and Bill. Tony and I started writing everything else after that. Geezer came back just to play on the album. It was all written at that point with the exception of Neon Knights. We had all the material that was going to be on Heaven & Hell with the exception of Neon Knights. What happened was that Geezer had come back and we needed one more song and we were in France and we wrote that one. All in all, the material was new.
I love the T-shirts for that tour with your lyric on the back: "Life is full of kings and queens who'll blind your eyes and steal your dreams."
RJD: You got it!
Lyrically you were really just having things flow out of you.
RJD: Yeah, they were. That happens a lot when you work with people that you have not worked with before. The first projects are usually the most stunning because you have a collection of ideas that are drastically different from each other. So you write and it seems to flow more than it actually did. It was an easy album to write because everybody was given their chance to do what they needed to do and what they wanted to do. As we carried on, we got a little more finite about it because we had so much success with Heaven and Hell. We started looking more at the next album and began saying things like, "I don't really like what you did there. Maybe you could do it more like this."
Your freedom really stops flowing at that point. Your concerned about what somebody else wants. The material really was written as we felt it. I had the idea for Heaven & Hell, the feel for the song. I knew where I wanted to take it lyrically and melodically. Tony came up with the riff and the other parts in between. That one really flowed. We were knocked out by that one ourselves. When we started rehearsing that one we couldn't stop playing it. We played it everyday for hours and went, "Yeah, this is great!" Finally, after enjoying it so much we realized that we had to finish it. It is just a great song.
I think it says a lot for you when you can replace the front man of the band and not have anyone miss him. I was there at the time this came out. No one said, "This isn't Sabbath with Ozzy and it sucks." Everyone was saying, "Wow, the new Sabbath album kicks ass."
RJD: That album actually became successful for a reason other than the fact that it was good! All of the sound technicians started playing it during the intermissions at gigs. People were going, "What's that?" "It's the new Black Sabbath!!" Everybody just rushed out and got it and drove it up to the top.
You can really see you progress from Elf to Rainbow to Sabbath. You can see that you were really at the point where you could step out. It almost looks like each step just laid into place.
RJD: Dio was a great, great adventure for me. It's easy to look back at it now and go, "Wow, everything worked out perfectly, didn't it?!" But it wasn't easy. When you do something on your own it's hard. You have a lot of misgivings about it. In the beginning it was only Vinnie (drummer Vinnie Appice) and I. We didn't even have a guitar player or a bass player. I wrote Holy Diver and Don't Talk To Strangers. Other than that it was just me and Vinnie. I was busy banging on the guitar and Vinnie was playing drums.
After a while we said, "I think we better get a guitar player!" So we went to England we met Viv (Dio lead guitar player Vivian Campbell). We played with Viv and Jimmy (Bain) for two nights in London and it was unbelievable. After that, I knew there was not going to be a problem. Not with guys that play that well. Again, the first album Holy Diver, the songs just came flowing out. Even The Last In Line was not too bad. Sacred Heart became more difficult and the next album was a lot more difficult. That is why I say the first things that you do just flow a lot more.
Where did you find Vivian?
RJD: Vinnie and I had gone to a lot of the clubs but we couldn't find anybody. I called Jimmy Bain and asked him if he knew any guitar players and he said that he knew two great guitar players. He said he would bring a tape of them over to our hotel room. One was Viv and one was John Sykes. John was brilliant but I really like the way Viv played. It was rougher and raw. Viv was in Ireland at the time and Jimmy called and asked him to come down, so I got him a plane ticket for the next day.
I got him a room and we rehearsed for two nights on Holy Diver and Don't Talk To Strangers. It was great. I said, "Do you want to be in a band, Viv?" and he said, "Yeah!" Jimmy assumed he was the bass player anyway so I didn't bother to ask him and he didn't bother to ask us! It was a band! I flew them over two weeks later to LA. We started to rehearse and then we recorded it and away we went!
I think that people had the same reaction to Rainbow In The Dark that they did when they heard Heaven & Hell.
RJD: I think so. I think that is very true. I don't know why it touched so many hearts but it did.
You didn't feel that was the strongest song on the record?
RJD: I wanted to get rid of that song. I hated that song. I ABSOLUTELY hated that song. In fact, I came real close to taking a razor blade to the tape! Everyone said, "PLEASE don't do that one. That's a good one!" Luckily, they talked me out of it!
The artwork on your solo albums is very original. How involved are you in that aspect?
RJD: Very, very involved. I think that what is on the cover is going to be representative of how I think. If it is going to be silly and stupid then I don't want it. I don't want people to think that of me. I have a lot of control in that department. We tried to reflect what the albums were about. That made it seem like the normal progression as it should have been. It was easy. Once you had artwork like that on the front of your covers then there's your show! Sacred Heart has a dragon? Let's build a dragon!
What happened in the 1980's? You came from the ground up. You came from the roots of heavy metal. You built it but all of the sudden heavy metal went pop!
RJD: I think all of us suffered greatly from it. We weren't playing arenas anymore. A lot of bands didn't play anymore at all. Most of them got there without having a hell of a lot of talent. Once that went away, they had to prove where their metal was. They couldn't survive unless it was in the era where even bad bands could be pushed to the top of the heep.
When it went away, we just played smaller places. That is what we have always done. We play. Luckily, we have a European audience as well. We have a South American audience and a Japanese audience. We had a lot of places to go. I think the most important thing is that every time we play people see just how good the band is. There has always been a good band with Dio, this one is the best. I think that consistency is the idea here. All of the things we have done have been very consistent.
I might not have liked them all and some other people may not have liked them all. But they were consistently good. They were well played and well produced. They were thought out. I think being kicked in the balls the way some bands have been from the 80's helped. We just played. It lead us to the point where we could do Magica. It has led to there being more interest in this kind of music again. I don't think that it is ever going to be like it was but people are interested. The bigger places can be played and the people will go there. We are talking about places like Wichita for Gods sakes. You know they will go if a show comes.
Where did the idea for Magica come from? You had never done a theme album before.
RJD: I wanted to do it because we needed to get back to the space we were in before and that is writing more fantasy oriented material. I think that is one of the things we are known for. We could do bigger and more important sounding songs. That is another thing that we have been known for. This was an opportunity to do so because there was a story. I'd written a story that was a fantasy, so therefore this album had to be a fantasy piece.
I didn't want it to seem that we had to go back and do this type of music again because the other stuff wasn't making it and all that crap. I wanted there to be a reason. I didn't want it to seem that we had to go back to our roots, so to speak. There was a reason to that because there was a story.
So that drove you to write the story line.
RJD: I wanted to write a fantasy based piece because for the last five years or so everyone said, "I wish you would write some stuff like you did before." But I wanted there to be a reason, so I wrote the story of Magica first and then wrote the songs around the story itself. That gave me a reason to do it without thinking that I gave up and had to go back and be what I was before. There is also a narration at the very end.
I narrated that story at the very end of all the music. It took us about five weeks to write it. Goldy and I wrote it all. It took us about five weeks to record it. We were very prepared. We took some pains to be ready. We wrote it at my home and then recorded it in the studio. It is the first concept thing that we have ever done and hopefully it will lead to two more. It won't be the next album but it will be the one after that. I won't even think about doing anything with Magica until after another album.
How did the new material go over live?
RJD: We play almost all of Magica live. It has been great. We do a piece that is 55 minutes long. That's not all we do, of course. We start the first half hour of the show with things that people have grown up with and that they want to hear from Holy Diver ect. ect. Then, we do all of Magica. After 55 minutes people are going, "What was that?" It is such a good album. We have done it song by song. There are connector pieces in it of course. I think you get more enjoyment listening to it off the CD. Each song does stand up by itself. That makes it acceptable.
When it is all over, I think most people are stunned. They go, "What was that?" Then they go, "Yeah!" Then we do another 40 minutes of things that people want to hear from us. We drop in Heaven & Hell or Man On The Silver Mountain. It's a great show. It's almost two hours long and there are 23 songs that we do. It has been accepted very well and I could not be more happy. All the people who have the record and come up for it to be signed all say it is a great record so I think that we did the right thing.
What is the new year going to bring for you?
RJD: For me it will bring more work. There are more songs to write. There are more tours to do. We are going to South America in March. We have to go do a couple more things with Deep Purple in March and April. It will be work! Hopefully it will bring a lot more money for Children Of The Night.
That was the last thing that I wanted to talk to you about was your charitable work. How long has Children Of The Night been around?
RJD: It is about 20 years old and we have been involved for about 10 years. It is run by the woman who founded it named Dr. Lois Leed. She is the most incredible people I know. She is one of my heroes. She began this because she was concerned about all the young runaway kids who would come to Los Angeles and be picked up at the bus stop by the pimp and shucked into prostitution, aids and die by the time they were 14-15 years old.
She physically went out to take some of these kids off of the street. She has been put in the hospital before with a broken nose, broken arms and broken legs from taking these kids away from pimps. She started the organization and ten years later I got involved in it. A lot of these kids are sexually abused and run away. The are 12-14 years old. We have been able to build a shelter for them already with 24 beds and a school. They have a lot of support.
The difference between this organization and the governments organization is that if the government finds a runaway child then by law the child has to be sent back to where they came from. This is where is all began anyway. That's real clever! Because Children Of The Night is a private organization and privately funded, the kids can stay at the shelter until the are 18 years of age. While they live there, they are prepared for the type of jobs that they want to do. They are put in the right direction. We are going to do a song that we have already written that will have about six singers and six guitar players on it. We are also going to do an album with unreleased tracks that have been given to us by other bands from around the world. We are also going to re-release the Hear 'N Aid thing on CD at the same time.
That is really great. How did the Hear 'N Aid album happen?
RJD: Jimmy Bain and Vivian Campbell came to me when we were making the album Sacred Heart. That was in 1985. They said they wanted to get something together like the other artists who were doing the Rock Relief For Africa. They wanted to do a Metal version of it.
They went out and got some people who said they would love to do it. They began to write the song and then came to me and told me that they needed my help to finish the song. They asked me to talk to some people to get them involved as well. I called a few people and my management started getting real involved with it and eventually took it over. It was great for us because we really didn't have the time to do it at that point!
Everyone said, "Whenever you want us to be there to do it, we will be there." Not one person said no. It lasted for two days. The first day was for guitar players and the second day was for singers. It was unbelievable. It was one of the best times I ever had in my life. We have all that wonderful talent there and they were such wonderful people too.
Don't you feel it is ironic that you have had such an evil stigma placed on you by parental groups and what not but you have done more than just about anybody in your genre of music to help kids and bring relief to those in need.
RJD: I think that everyone who was involved in that and everyone who will be involved in this will be exactly the same as I. It is just about caring. It's not a big thing to lend your name and talent to something like this. It is really nice to be praised. I'd rather be praised than have no one ever know that I did it! It's not that I don't want people to know that I have a good heart. It's not that at all. It's something that you do for yourself and you do it as an individual. I think that is the best kind of reword that you can get. I mean, it is nice to be thought of but I share it with all those other people but thanks for the praise.
Your welcome. You have earned it. If will let me ask one last silly question. You are noted for bringing the Heavy Metal hand gesture (index and pinky in the air). Is there any truth to that?
RJD: I think I'm the one who made it famous. Absolutely! But now they do it at N'Synch and those kind of concerts. It has lost it's meaning!
Ronnie, you are a classy guy and I appreciate your putting up with my rambling today.
RJD: No problem! You didn't ramble at all!
I appreciate it all and keep up the good work. The next time you are around we will be there to cover the concert.
RJD: That will be great. I look forward to seeing you, Jeb. Happy new year pal!
Jeb Wright, Classic Rock Revisited, January 2001