Rainbows and dragons...

"I'm sure he'll return to playing that music (Rainbow) again one day, and I would
certainly be willing to do another album and tour should the opportunity arise".

Whether in Sabbath, Rainbow or simply going it alone, Ronnie James Dio has established himself as one of the finest crooners in rock. With new solo album Killing The Dragon (how many times has the poor beast been slaughtered now?!) freshly released, Ming Mong joins the great man for a grand musical chat...

Given your highly respectable musical legacy, what do you consider as your finest hour, in terms of albums and songs, in a) Black Sabbath b) Rainbow c) Dio

In Rainbow, the legacy obviously was Rainbow Rising, although I preferred the first album, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. The songs were incredible, as was the experience of being in the band for the first time - and working with Ritchie. For Sabbath, it had to be the Heaven and Hell album ­ I just loved playing with those guys. And for Dio? I'd like to think that moment hasn't come yet, but success wise, Holy Diver.

You're regarded as one of the finest rock vocalists on the planet and have being a huge influence on the likes of Bruce Dickinson. Who influenced you as a singer?

Paul Rogers (Free) has being an influence, and early on, before he started penning material such as Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?, Rod Stewart. He was a great rock 'n' roll singer early into his career, when he was in the Faces. One of my biggest vocal heroes was Steve Mariott. I used to cover a lot of these artists early in my career. I think you can have vocal tendencies to sound reminiscent of your influences, but the gift is to reach for things that are within your own realm of talent, then find your feet and develop your own style. Obviously that takes time and confidence.

Amongst all the screamers there are very few decent rock and metal vocalists coming through today. Who, if anyone, do you you think are exceptions to the rule?

I like Chris Connell a lot ­ the stuff he was doing in Soundgarden was a cross between metal and the really great rock 'n' roll voices ­ Chris is an extremely capable singer. I like vocalist from Train and Brendon Boyd from Incubus to, but as for the others ­ such as the 'screamers' ­ I just don't hear them.

As a very traditional hard rock artist, what do you rate of the current wave of nu-metal bands?

I haven't heard any of their abilities ­ I don't hear any great guitar solos with passion ands balls, I just here a lot of chugging away in places. I don't hear the things I heard in Purple and Zeppelin ­ the standard of musicianship, the quality in their music that made you ask why and how they played and wrote like they did. Maybe they have as strong a work ethic as us at writing material, but I just don't hear what I want to out of their songs ­ that's where my thoughts are at on nu-metal.

Tracks such as Scream, the title cut, and Along Comes A Spider show you can still write some classic hard rock nuggets. How do you think Killing The Dragon compares with other material in the Dio back catalogue, including your last concept album Magica?

I think it holds up well ­ the rhythm pattern of the album and what came out of it lyrically. When I'm writing and I hear a certain riff, it puts me in a particular musical place ­on Killing The Dragon, for example. That train of thought then enables me to go on and write a set of relevant lyrics. Many of the songs on Killing The Dragon could very easily have being part of (or fitted in with the theme of) the Magica album.

You are well famed for constantly making referance to rainbows and dragons in your lyrics, with Killing The Dragon naturally keeping up traditions...

I get a lot of flak over this - and obviously piss a lot of people off with it ­ but on Killing The Dragon it's actually the first time I've sung the word 'dragon' in a song. - It's a damn hard word to sing without it being used in a suitable place. I didn't pre determine the lyrics - they just came out that way. If the word rainbow would have described the moment, I would have used that as well.

Such as on the vocals for the track Neon Knights (opener on the Heaven and Hell album?)

Man, that was a high son of a bitch! Yes ­ we just wrote the vocal line to that one as we went along, and there was this way high middle 8... but I think the songs dictate themselves as to what notes are required, as in that one. I am not conscious before hand of singing a number in a higher or lower key. If it feels good, I'll go with it. If not, I'll change it around, if that means putting it into a lower register, so be it ­ whatever best suits the record's atmosphere.

Ex House Of Lords guitarist Doug Alrich contributes some awesome speed shredding to the album - how do you think he compares with the other guitarists who you've played with live and on record?

I think Doug is the best guitarist I've played with. The reason Killing The Dragon sounds the way it does is because of Doug - he's so refreshing. He also co-wrote Along Comes A Spider and Scream with me and Jimmy (Bain, bassist). During the making of this album, initially we were quite depressed. Greg (Goldy, former guitarist) was putting very little work and enthusiasm into the recording session, but when Doug came into to replace him it just gave us wings and lifted us out of the doldrums. I've played with a lot of good guitarists throughout my career and you may say who I am or who is anyone else to compare him to Ritchie Blackmore or Tony Iommi? It's like comparing apples and oranges' but to my mind he has a little bit of all the qualities of the other guitarists I played with ­ Ritchie's touch, Vivian's feel and technique and the dark sound of Tony. He didn't know what Dio sounded like before he came into the band, but as soon as he came into the studio he grasped what we were aiming to sound like, and put that to work, which I thought was really accomplished. Doug is a real guitar player, no doubt.

While you've delivered some top notch anthems on the new disc such as Throw Away Children and Rock 'n' Roll, on Killing The Dragon generally it seems like your putting less focus on blitzing the listener with high notes. Did you approach recording vocals differently this time around?

One of the biggest misnomers about my vocal range is that because I sing with such 'biggness', people perceive that I am not singing high ­ but boy there are some really high notes on this album, believe me. The making of the record and anyone who's tried to sing these songs will tell you that. I never sing with falsetto ­ I don't want to scream or sound like a girl ­ I just hit the notes in traditional voice, and put the vocal in that best fits with the song's mood.

Like a band such as Iron Maiden, the guitar sound of Dio is hard hitting but never overstretches itself in the really heavy stakes. Have you any future plans to make your guitar sound heavier on record (ie, how it sounded with Sabbath or when you're performing live?)

Given the change in guitarist through the course of the recording process we didn't have time to play around with things as much as we would have liked, but yes we may experiment a bit with the guitar sound. I like baritone guitars, although don't expect any down tuning. Sabbath / Rainbow era After the vintage Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules albums with Sabbath, 92's Dehumanizer album seemed disappointing in contrast. In hindsight did you regret recording that album? Not at all ­ I think that album is one of the best records we've ever done. Its got some great songs on, it just people don't give that record the time of day because they all expected another Heaven and Hell style record ­ and it was something completely different to that. It's worth re-evaluating ­ Dehumanizer is a record that I'm really proud of.

You were ousted from Sabbath after being accused of tampering with vocal mixes on the Live Evil album ­ in your view, how much truth was there behind this story?

None at all ­ if you listen to any product I've done with Dio its more a case of the vocals being below the levels or the standard that I'd like from hear them ­ vocals should always blend into the songs. I was also accused of tampering with drum levels, although when we got back together for the Dehumaniser album Tony said he'd heard that the idiot who accused me of this had being lying, apologised and everything was settled. Sabbath have never really achieved the same levels of greatness, (commercially or musically) outside of Ozzy or Dio era Sabbath.

Do you think the current Black Sabbath reunion was just in aid of a quick buck and to restore a decade of a damaged legacy?

I think some of them wanted to the chance to re-establish themselves, while some of them wanted to make a lot of money. If it was me in that situation I would have gone into the studio beforehand, spent a long time in there writing some really great songs and then go on tour. I don't think touring exclusively with only back catalogue classics is substantial enough.

Ritchie Blackmore is currently playing renaissance folk rock with his fiancée, Gladis Knight [duh??? this is what was printed, RFL] ­ do you think he's lost his musical marbles or do you respect him for doing something different? Is there a part of you still longing for a Rainbow reunion featuring yourself and Ritchie?

Yes. It was a real honour playing music with Ritchie ­ I respect him in anything he wants to do and I don't think anyone should question what he is doing after what he achieved with Purple and Rainbow. I know its not rock 'n' roll but he's earned the right to play whatever he likes ­ I'm sure he'll return to playing that music again one day, and I would certainly be willing to do another album and tour should the opportunity arise. Although but I wouldn't wish to end Dio as a result.

After Rock 'n' Roll, where next for Ronnie James Dio?

I have no idea ­ I think I'll probably retire or take up pottering in the garden or something! No, I can't think past the point of making music and writing songs at the moment ­ I think there's a lot more life left in Dio yet. Certainly if I was to put my energies into something after my career as a singer culminates, it would still be something musical related.

Thanks to Ronnie for a top class interview and Darren @ Eagle Rock for making the interview happen - you both rock indeed!

Andy Law, Heavy Metal Inc. October 2002