Monday, May 17, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, R.I.P.

Sad news from the music world confirms the passing of Ronnie James Dio yesterday at the age of 67, following a year-long battle with stomach cancer.

From Dio’s official website:
Message from Wendy Dio

Today my heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7:45am 16th May. Many, many friends and family were able to say their private good-byes before he peacefully passed away. Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all. We so appreciate the love and support that you have all given us. Please give us a few days of privacy to deal with this terrible loss. Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever.
- Wendy Dio

You can leave your condolences on Facebook
Ronnie James Dio will always be known in rock circles as the little guy with the huge heart and huge voice: between his time in Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own band (Dio), that voice was rich, deep and instantly recognizable to fans in the know.

My first Dio experience came in the summer of 1980 when I saw Black Sabbath on a festival bill in Hawaii on the “Black & Blue” tour (with Blue Oyster Cult). The August 31, 1980 gig was notable for it being the first show with new drummer Vinny Appice, following Bill Ward’s departure two weeks earlier. The first post-Ozzy Sabbath record, “Heaven and Hell,” was out and Dio and the guys ripped through an 11-song set leaning heavily on the classics, with three of the new tracks thrown in. H&H is a solid record and still holds up today.

Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell - Neon KnightsBlack Sabbath - Heaven and Hell - Neon Knights

Black Sabbath – Neon Knights (1980)

I’d see Dio live a few more times, between his solo band and, more recently, with the post-Sabbath outfit (featuring Sabbath members), "Heaven And Hell."

But my personal experience with Dio was outstanding. While running a small college radio station in Hamilton, Ontario in the ‘80s, I co-hosted a metal show (“Mohawk Metal”) and worked hard to get artist interviews for the program. In 1986, my co-host and I snagged a session in Toronto with RJD, and I have to say the guy was beyond nice in person, a real class act. Dio spoke openly and passionately about his craft and his love of music, and really came across as a confident and soft-spoken man.

On stage, Dio was many times his size, with a commanding presence and that huge, huge voice. One of his stage moves has become rock legend, and you’ve no doubt seen it – and probably used it – yourself. It’s become known as the “devil's horns” sign, created when you extend your index and fifth fingers, and hold them high. Almost every rocker, and certainly every metal musician, has probably flashed this sign at one time or another, and there’s an interesting story on its origins – dating back to Dio’s superstitious Italian grandmother.

RJD has told the story countless times - here he does it in the excellent documentary, “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”…

Ronnie James Dio – “The Devil's Horns”
Metal: A The Headbangers Journey (2005)

RJD was part of very select group of musicians in rock history: one who came in to fill the shoes of a departed original (and beloved) lead singer and help a band successfully continue its legendary career, sometimes taking sales and profile to new heights. That small list includes the lineups of Van Halen, AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple.

Following Ozzy’s firing, most people wrote Black Sabbath off for dead, as the band seemed tired while getting blown off the stage nightly on the ’78 tour by openers, and newcomers, Van Halen. But, Dio breathed new life into the band, inspiring guitarist Tony Iommi to new heights with his vocal abilities, creating the great "Heaven & Hell" release. After “Mob Rules” in 81, legend has it that Dio and Appice left Sabbath during the mixing of the ’82 release, “Live Evil.”

Dio’s solo career kicked off with a bang, as ‘83’s “Holy Diver” and ‘84’s “Last In Line” hit platinum. Inspired by Live Aid, Dio organized a heavy metal version of Band Aid/USA For Africa called Hear N’ Aid, writing the song “Stars” and donating all the funds from the single and album to fighting starvation in Africa.

Hear N’ Aid – We’re Stars (1986)

Dio would reunite with Sabbath for a short time in the early 90s, before returning to his solo career, eventually teaming up with Sabbath members in recent years as Heaven & Hell, touring and releasing a studio and live album.

Tribute message from other musicians are pouring in from all over the world, confirming Dio’s place in metal history. London’s Download Festival announced that it is renaming its second stage the Ronnie James Dio Stage at next month’s event.

Tenacious D – Heaven & Hell
Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny (2006)

Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell - Heaven and HellBlack Sabbath - Heaven and Hell - Heaven and Hell

Black Sabbath – Heaven & Hell (1980)