Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010): An Appreciation

Today marks the second anniversary of Ronnie James Dio’s passing — and I must say, at the time, Dio’s death came as a huge surprise to me. I didn’t even know he had been ill.

The weird thing is that just a few days before his passing, I stumbled onto an interesting fact. Obviously, I knew about Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Elf. I did not know about Ronnie Dio and the Prophets … or Ronnie and the Red Caps. That’s right. Before Dio made moves toward being the best metal singer of all time, he was into doo-wop!

So I was up late one night, watching an interview on YouTube with Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom. Bloom was friends with Ronnie back in the day and knew all about these doo-wop groups. He also said, with a big grin on his face, that Ronnie didn’t like to talk about it. Yeah, I bet!

I already knew he was a unique voice, though I had no idea how interesting.

My introduction to Ronnie James Dio came not with Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell but with Rainbow’s On Stage. Yeah, I’m sure I had heard other things sung by Ronnie at that point (because radio hadn’t yet taken the last train to suckville), but the sheer power of Ronnie launching into “Kill The King” after the brief explosion of “Over The Rainbow”? It was something alright. Something I had never heard before.

Not long after Ozzy took his leave, Sabbath brought Dio into the fold and produced the classic Heaven And Hell. The record’s brilliance was undeniable, and I played the hell out of it for years to come. As much as I love the original Sabbath lineup (and the first handful of Black Sabbath records are among the best the metal genre has produced), there was something almost alchemical about the combination of Tony Iommi’s giant guitar chords and Dio’s huge vocals.

And that was the funny thing. Ronnie James Dio’s vocals were huge, even if his body was not. It was quite a spectacle to witness the man singing, with all of that sound coming out of that little frame.

I was lucky enough to see Black Sabbath on the Heaven And Hell tour. Me and my buddy Tyler saw them at the Bangor Auditorium. It never said it in the paper the next day but I’m pretty sure that the auditorium’s structure had been altered by the sound pressure levels. The music was heavy and brutal.

Dio’s voice was every bit up to the task. That was the thing about Dio. He didn’t just scream. He could actually sing — at all levels, from delicate phrasing to otherworldly growl.

I’ll always miss it.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Ronnie James Dio. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

DIO – HOLY DIVER (1983; 2012 Audio Fidelity remaster): Originally released in 1983, Holy Diver introduced Ronnie James Dio to the metal world as a solo artist after stints in classic bands Rainbow and Black Sabbath. But it was far from Dio’s first rodeo, as his career stretches back as far as the late 1950s. The results: an undisputed metal classic. It proved with the single “Rainbow in the Dark” that synthesizers could have a place in metal without taking away its toughness. The loping main riff of the title track is as immediately recognizable to classic rock fans as to hardcore metalheads. And for as much play as they get, those are not even the two best songs on the album.

HEAVEN AND HELL – LIVE AT RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL (2007): I think it’s pretty cool that the band opted to not carry the Black Sabbath moniker for their tour in support of the material Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi and Co. recorded as Black Sabbath in the early 1980s, then again in the early 1990s, and once again this year for The Dio Years Sabbath compilation. The CDs are what you’d expect — the 15 tracks from the show — and the DVD adds about 35 minutes of extras in the form of a short overview of Radio City Music Hall, a short featuring the fans waiting in line for the show, another about the band itself, and a 20-minute documentary about the tour itself.

‘HE’LL DO JUSTICE TO RONNIE': VIVIAN CAMPBELL DISCUSSES DECISION TO REFORM DIO WITH NEW SINGER: Guitarist Vivian Campbell is organizing a 2012 reunion tour with the rest of the original Dio band, inserting new singer Andy Freeman in place of the late Ronnie James Dio. Dio, formed when its namesake leader left Black Sabbath, burst onto the charts with 1983’s Holy Diver, a platinum-selling metal staple featuring a pair of legacy-making standout songs, the title track (No. 40 on the mainstream rock charts) and “Rainbow in the Dark,” which Dio said reflected his feelings on the break with Sabbath. The well-received Last in Line and Sacred Heart followed, before internal struggles between Dio and Campbell led to the guitarist’s departure. Dio died of stomach cancer in 2010.

FINAL DIO STUDIO ALBUM TO BE REISSUED AS DELUXE PICTURE DISC: The last studio release from Dio is set for a deluxe picture-disc reissue on June 5, 2012, courtesy of Niji Entertainment Group. This is the first time that 2004’s Master of the Moon, which included the Ronnie James Dio favorite “The Eyes,” has ever been issued as a picture disc in North America. Niji previously released of a deluxe picture disc of Rainbow’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, the group’s final album with Dio, for Record Store Day 2012.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.