It’s been 10 years since the world lost one of the greatest voices of heavy metal and hard rock, the iconic Ronnie James Dio. The singer had a legendary career, ranging from doo-wop bands in the late ’50s to a reunion with his onetime Black Sabbath bandmates as Heaven & Hell in the 21st century.
Born Ronald James Padavona on July 10, 1942 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Dio was raised in Cortland, New York, and became a trumpet player at an early age. Eventually, his vocal talents led him to singing in a variety of doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll bands (including Ronnie Dio and the Redcaps). By the time he became the singer in Elf (earlier going by the name the Electric Elves), he began to find the style of music that best suited his voice – hard rock, and later, heavy metal.
Elf opened shows for Deep Purple, and that led to then-Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore taking note of Dio’s vocal talents. When Blackmore exited Purple in 1975, he invited Dio (and most of Elf’s line-up) to join forces as Rainbow. As the singer of Rainbow (from 1975-1979), Dio first came to the attention of rock fans worldwide. From there he had the daunting task of taking over for Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath (1979-1982, 1992-1993), and did that job with aplomb. His long-running eponymous band Dio would follow, lasting from 1982 until his death in 2010. And a memorable and acclaimed reunion with his Black Sabbath bandmates as Heaven & Hell (2006-2010) would also mark a career highlight.
Along the way, it was Ronnie’s powerful vocals and mythical lyrics that proved to be an influence and inspiration on subsequent generations of singers and musicians, not to mention popularizing the now commonplace “sign of the horns” heavy metal salute. From his various bands would emerge such classic albums as Rainbow’s Rainbow Rising, Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, and Dio’s Holy Diver. Among his best-known songs are “Man on the Silver Mountain”, “Stargazer”, “Long Live Rock n’ Roll”, “Neon Knights”, “Heaven and Hell”, “The Mob Rules”, “Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark”, and “The Last in Line”.
But just as Ronnie was experiencing another high point in his career (including the aforementioned Heaven & Hell band and a scene-stealing cameo in the film Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny) he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which led to his passing on May 16th, 2010. In the years after his death, Dio’s legend has only grown larger, including the arrival of a star-studded tribute album, This Is Your Life (which saw contributions by the likes of Metallica, Rob Halford, and Motörhead, among others), receiving posthumous awards and honors for his musical contributions, a hologram tour, and the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Ronnie James Dio’s passing, his widow and manager, Wendy Dio, took some time to chat about the late, great singer with Heavy Consequence.
On recent comments by Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi that he would currently be working with Ronnie if the latter was still alive
Absolutely. Ronnie loved working together with Tony. It was the joy of his life. And I’m so happy that they got back together again before Ronnie passed away. Because it was the something he loved doing.
On whether Ronnie regretted never burying the hatchet with Ritchie Blackmore
I don’t know about that. Obviously, it was a shame. Ronnie was very young when he joined [with] Ritchie, and he changed as a person – he became his own person. He thanked him for the opportunity that Ritchie gave. I don’t think they really had a hatchet to bury – they just didn’t really talk to each other. I don’t think there was any bad feelings after Ronnie left. There were maybe bad feelings for a short while – but not later.
On the song “Rainbow Eyes” that Ronnie wrote for Wendy
My eyes are sometimes green, sometimes blue, and sometimes hazel. They change color. And Ronnie used to always say that – so he wrote that song about me, before we were married, actually. He just told me one day when they were performing it, he said, “By the way, you know I wrote that song about you?” And I said, “No, I didn’t!” That was Ronnie’s way. He wasn’t a showman – he was a different person on stage as to when he was off stage. He was a very kind and down to earth.
On what Ronnie enjoyed other than music
Sports. He was a huge sports fan. He could tell you anything about any sport – anywhere. He used to sit and write with a guitar on his lap while watching sports all the time. He would have loved to been a sports player if he was tall enough – or if his parents let him. When he was 5 years old, his father said, “Listen to the radio and pick out an instrument that you like.” Ronnie wanted to get back out to play baseball with his friends, and said, “Oh…that one” – and it was a trumpet. So, his dad took him down to the local music store, bought him a trumpet, and said, “Now you’re going to learn to play the trumpet.” And that was the end of poor Ronnie’s sports – he had to practice trumpet for four hours, every single day!
On the status of Ronnie’s autobiography and a planned documentary
I’m working together with Mick Wall, who has written books about everybody in the rock business – he’s from England. Ronnie had been writing his memoirs and he wrote up to about the end of Rainbow, and we found some other scribblings on his computer after he passed away – so there is a bit more. We’ve been finding interviews that Ronnie did along the way, so it will continue in Ronnie’s own words. We were looking for the beginning of 2021 [for the book’s release], but now it’s on hold, of course – the same with the documentary. I’m working on a documentary about Ronnie’s life with BMG, which is totally different to the book. With lots of photos and videos of Ronnie going through his whole life, and interviews with lots of different people that had been in Ronnie’s life.
On the response to the Dio hologram shows
We have two different things – we have people that are negative and we have people who are positive. And everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think they should see it before they pass judgement. The first one we did – which was in Europe – I was not happy with. We re-did another one that I was happy with, that we did about 19 dates in the States. It’s the Dio band that played with Ronnie for the last 17 years – with Ronnie’s voice taken from live shows. It’s an experience – it’s not just a hologram, it’s a whole experience. There are all kinds of things going on – dragons and different things. It’s a tribute to Ronnie. It’s not a cash grab – because it has cost us over two-million dollars – and we are in the midst of doing another one, which will cost even more money, which we were hoping to put out in September, but that probably won’t happen now until next year. But yes, I would like to continue with it. I think it’s something that is a tribute to Ronnie and it’s for the fans that like to see Ronnie back up on stage, and for the people that never had seen Ronnie.
On the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund
This year, we wanted to do lots of special events for it being ten years since Ronnie’s passing. Luckily, in February we did the Memorial Awards show, and that was great. But we had to cancel the Ride for Ronnie this year because of the Coronavirus – which usually takes place around his passing in May. Then about 30 friends of Ronnie’s go to the cemetery on the 16th of May and tell stories, and then we go to an Indian restaurant and toast him. Obviously, that’s not going to happen this year. I will go – but you can’t have 30 people there. I’m hoping that [the annual] Bowl for Ronnie – which will be on November 12th – will still go on. That’s always sold out a few weeks before the event happens, and we’ve had people like Jack Black, Dave Grohl, and Tom Morello bowl for us. It’s a very fun event raising money for a good cause. Every penny goes towards research and education towards colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and stomach cancer. Early detection saves lives. In fact, we are making Dio reversable masks which all the money will go towards the Cancer Fund. We are also working with UCLA to find an invasive way of testing for cancer – with a swab of the mouth, and that may come to fruition next year.