Ronnie James Dio
Ronnie James Dio at Rainbow's End
I'm going try be drunk by the time these are over, you know that? Ronnie James Dio commented as he cracked open another bottle of Michelob.
The leadsinger, lyricist and composer of Rainbow, the band Ritchie Blackmore formed after his departure from Deep Purple, is in the midst of a hectic schedule of promotional activities following the completion of a two month American tour that focused on cities not normally hosting a large number of rock concerts.
Dio first caught the ear of the semi-legendary guitarist during several tours where Elf, Ronnie's former band, performed as the opening act for Purple. Ironically, the element that brought together the creative forces behind a group that easily falls into the heavy metal category was their collaboration on a piece (16th Century Greensleeves) based on medieval music.
"I started musically when I was seven years old," Ronnie related. "I was a trumpet player. I played in orchestras, in concert bands. Playing that kind of music, it gave me an insight into classical music: how it was constructed, why it was constructed, and I got a real liking for it. I got interested in medieval modes, in a simplistic Allan O'Dale kind of guy who would just go around the countryside being the minstrel. That was very soothing to me. My thought was always, 'If I could put that kind of a concept together with hard, agressive rock'n'roll, that would be a really unique and original step.' Well, as luck had it, the two people who were thrown together, Ritchie and I, had exactly the same ideas."
But there is little evidence of that classical orientation to be found on the surface of Rainbow's live presentation. Their performance at the Starlight Amphitheatre was marred by a surprising reliance on metallic clichés and a seemingly interminable succession of breakdowns to feature solo spots by individual members on their instruments.
"I'm not a very religious person," he cautioned. "I have no concept of what a God is; it may be the man on the silver mountain. My image of the man on the silver mountain is a guy with flowing robes and lightning coming from his fingertips, kind of a mytholigal figure like Zeus. The song is more of a plea from the fallen and to the fallen that there is hope, I will make you holy again. Ask me and I will do something for you."
Over the course of the conversation, the image of Dio that gradually comes into focus is that of a small town boy brought up on tradional American (and probably Catholic) virtues. Cockiness and a competitive spirit mingle with self-consciousness as he strains to convey the points he wants to get across. But visions of the all-American boy clash repeatedly with the lyrical themes of many of Ronnie's songs, most notably Run with the Wolf (werewolves, vampires and the like) and Stargazer, the eight minute drone epic of wizards and slaves.
"I always wanted to write a song about a very oppressed person," Dio said, in explaning how he wrote Stargazer. "To me the most oppressed person I could think of was a slave, more or less in Egyptian times, who was always led around by chains, whipped, and never had an identity. I wanted to write it from the standpoint of the slave, through his eyes, give you his impression of The Wizard, who doesn't seem to have feet, who has a big long flowing robe. I picture The Wizard's eyes being totally turned back so he has no pupils.
"So here's this totally oppressed individual," he continued, "who's speaking not only for himself, but for all the other slaves around him, and he still believes that The Wizard will take them all out of this oppression and lead them to his star. At the end of it, he climbs up to the top of the pyramid, this tower of stone that took them nine years to build. He launches himself off the top of the tower and there's total silence as he falls instead of rises, and they still believe until they see splat! and he's just a little lump of blood on the sand."
"It correlates itself with the way almost all of the people in this country believed in Richard Nixon up until the time he decided he was going to take a leap off the tower and fell flat on his ass and became just a little lump of blood and putty. That was my way of saying that the common man will always rise above the leader who oppresses them. I don't feel that you can ever give social comment without making it a fable in some way, of having a little story that keeps the interest."
Don Snowden, L.A. Vanguard, March 1976