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Singers on Dio tribute CD discuss experiences in studio, memories of icon

The Ronnie James Dio tribute CD "This Is Your Life" releases today and features a who's-who of singers performing his songs. Some of them tell the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner all about it.
The Ronnie James Dio tribute CD "This Is Your Life" releases today and features a who's-who of singers performing his songs. Some of them tell the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner all about it.
Album cover

The Ronnie James Dio tribute CD This Is Your Life was in the making not too long after the metal community lost the renowned vocalist to stomach cancer at age 67 on May 16, 2010. Consisting of a who's-who of heavy metal including Anthrax, Motorhead, Metallica, Rob Halford, Glenn Hughes, Stone Sour, Halestorm and Doro Pesch, the album covers Dio's solo career as well as his Black Sabbath and Rainbow eras. All proceeds of the CD, which drops today, will go to the Stand Up And Shout cancer fund set up by Dio's manager and widow Wendy Dio.

Ronnie James Dio performs with Heaven and Hell at what proved to be his final San Antonio concert, during the Metal Masters tour Aug. 24, 2008, at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.
JAY NANDA / San Antonio Metal Music Examiner

The San Antonio Metal Music Examiner spent the past six weeks on a quest to go 1-on-1 with any of the album's vocalists ready, willing and available to speak about their recording experience and memories of the iconic singer. Here, in order of their appearance on the CD, is what they had to say. Click on the slideshow at top left, and for further SAMME coverage, visit the "Suggested" links in blue at the bottom:

1. JOEY BELLADONNA (Anthrax covers "Neon Knights")
Why did Anthrax choose "Neon Knights?"
JOEY: I think I suggested it. When we talked about doing something, collectively, we all like the song, so it was a no-brainer. We could pretty much pick anything. There aren't many (Dio) songs that I don't like -- probably none. Some are better than others -- or stronger than others. I grew up with Ronnie back when he was with Elf. God, I could've picked anything, really. I went for the heavier.

SAMME: Was this the type of thing where you heard about it and volunteered, or did Wendy get a hold of you?
They reached out to us and asked if we wanted to be on it: "Absolutely. When can we do it?" I can't wait for it to come out and for people to hear it. Very few may have heard a couple listens in the dressing room. On occasion, somebody even had a half mix or a rough mix. It's nice to have people dig it, of course. Have you heard the rest of the record or the one track?
SAMME: I have the whole thing.
But no package?
SAMME: No, I've just seen pictures of the cover.

SAMME: You guys are no strangers to doing covers, and covers are usually done strictly for fun. Was this one more emotional and stressing the importance of it more so than having fun?
For me, no. I just love doing that type of thing, and it was another day for me to sing something of his. Obviously, I'm excited because it is a record, but I don't think I did it any different. In fact, I only did a couple of takes. I mean, I actually have on video the first time I tried it, and it pretty much sounds like what it sounds like already. It was business as usual for me. I'm happy to be a part of that. I wish he could hear it because he could probably get a good laugh out of it. He would chuckle. Before I joined Anthrax, I was in a band living with guys that were in Ronnie's band. So there's some good correlations.

SAMME: You have such an interesting perspective of Ronnie given that you performed "Man on the Silver Mountain" at his memorial, and of course you guys did part of that song in the middle of "Indians" on recent tours as an ode to him. And Anthrax wrote "In The End" for Ronnie and Dimebag (Darrell Abbott). Can you summarize what Ronnie meant to you?
Ronnie's an inspirational singer for me. I really believe that as you grow up, you're inspired by the people that perform and things that you would like to hear yourself be in that kind of category and have such a talent like he did and just be inspired. Great human being, great musician -- just all that. From being up in this area (New York), we just kind of felt good about being a part of anything that he was. We did tours together. Even (to) sit there in a quiet room and pull off something that most people didn't think you could actually do. So eerie but yet so elegant in his own way. He was just the slickest. He was so heavy but melodic, as well as his attitude about everything. He had great charisma.

SAMME: Can you describe the first impression he made on you?
Well, again, he made me laugh big-time. He just wants to be funny. And yet he's so sincere and can have that serious point of view. You need to be enthralled with that when you're around him, to have him speak to you with that kind of attitude and spunk that he had. And I'd been around him when things weren't so good, which I won't bring up right now, but to have him share that with me, which was more private, about being in his band -- things like that. Just to engage in that with me and run that by me.

SAMME: What's your favorite memory or story of him?
Oh, god (laughs). Every time I've been around him, walking in the streets. I remember we were in Spain, he'd be walking with his manager up the hill and I'd be sitting in a park, and there he was walking. Little things that I could recall that are just weird. Riding up in an elevator after a show, Heaven and Hell, just talking and laughing about things that crack me up. Or even Donington (England), when we first met, him hugging me. Just sharing a great laugh. To have him be close to me like that was just nice.

SAMME: Well, Joey, thanks for taking the time. It's been a while since I've talked to you, since the October 2011 tour with Testament and Death Angel. I know you guys have been working on new material, so best of luck with that.
JOEY: We've got some songs. No vocals yet, but we're getting into that. Hey, what did you think of the rest of the record, real quick?
SAMME: Oh, man, I think it's outstanding. I think just the roster on there, first, is a who's-who of metal.
JOEY: Did most people stick to the original versions or sway a lot?
SAMME: No, it's pretty original, and a lot of the singers gave it their special touch. Obviously with someone like Lzzy (Hale), you have a female voice, so it wasn't like she was trying to copy Ronnie or anything, so yeah, they gave it their own touch and belted it out. Other than a couple of bands like you guys and Metallica, covers don't strike me as much a lot of times, but with his catalog, there's so much great stuff. You can still be skeptical thinking these musicians aren't going to do it justice. But I'm really impressed. I think you'll dig it.
JOEY: Cool. So it's coming April 1?
SAMME: Yes, April 1.
JOEY: I hope that it draws some good attention.
SAMME: That's part of what this story's about, so thanks again for participating and cooperating.
JOEY: Yeah, thank you for taking time out yourself.

4. COREY TAYLOR (Stone Sour and Satchel cover "Rainbow In The Dark")
SAMME: Besides being one of Ronnie's biggest hits, was there a deeper reason as to why you guys chose that song?
That was just one of my favorites. It's hard to pick a favorite Dio track. Not only his solo stuff, but his stuff with Sabbath, Rainbow. He's a legend for a reason. But "Rainbow in the Dark" has always been one of my favorites. I can remember seeing the video when I was younger on MTV, coming home from school, and here was this new format for music. And out of the handful of videos, "Rainbow in the Dark" was the first video that I saw from Dio, and I was like, "Wow!" I just loved the track. That's always stuck with me over the years. I don't know if it's because it's a great blend of hard rock and heavy metal or just because it's a really well-written song. It's got a great hook on it. Ronnie's performance is sick. Vivian's (Campbell) solo is ridiculous. It's just a killer song top to bottom.

SAMME: Just to get this out of the way -- and forgive me for not knowing. Obviously I know of (Stone Sour's) Jason (Christopher), Christian (Martucci) and of course Roy (Mayorga), but who is Satchel?
Satchel is the guitar player for Steel Panther. We were lucky enough to get him. The cool thing is when I was asked to be a part of it, obviously, I jumped right at it, but I really didn't have a band. I was like, "Uhhh." Slipknot was kind of doing their thing, and Stone Sour was doing another completely different thing, so I was like, "Maybe I'll just get a bunch of friends together." I called Roy to play drums. Christian obviously was in a band called Black President for years. Been a good friend of mine, obviously he was on the last Stone Sour run. Jason filled in on bass for Stone Sour for awhile and has been a part of my solo run forever. And then I wanted something really special for the solo, and Satchel was available and jumped to do it.

SAMME: You've always struck me as a singer who's very passionate on stage and how you carry your business with your performance and channeling that energy to the crowd. That's the first thing I noticed when I listened to this track. First the intro startled me, then I realized the keyboards were strictly replaced by guitars. But when you started singing, the song just took off -- especially when you do the "Look out!" part.
COREY: Right!
SAMME: So how natural did this track come to you in the studio?
Oh man, I've been singing along to this thing for years. Even after I hit puberty and I couldn't hit some of those notes anymore (laughs). It's just one of those things where you never know. I can remember miming in my basement, singing along to songs at my grandma's house. And that was one of those tunes, giving it all you've got. The only way that I know how to approach music is with everything. It's the whole reason that I do music. If I was going to go out and do it half-assed, I wouldn't be doing it. So being a fan of Ronnie, being a fan of that song, and knowing that there's a real legacy there as far as his performance, his music, there was no way I wasn't going to give it anything other than a thousand percent. Not only from the standpoint of it's an amazing song, but the respect of the music and the utmost respect that I have for Ronnie.

SAMME: Did Wendy reach out to you to be a part of this CD, or did you hear about it and say, "I've gotta volunteer for this"?
It was kind of funny, man. I was working on some demos with my friend Jay Ruston, who is a producer and a mixer. He mixed the House of Gold and Bones albums. He did Worship Music with Anthrax. The guy's done a lot. We were at his house, and he was involved with the project. And he told me, "Look, Wendy has a short list of people that she would love to be involved, and you're on it." I was like, "Duh. Where? Sign me up." It was really as easy as that. She reached out to me and my wife to see scheduling and availability, and I was like, "You don't worry about that. I will take care of that. We will take care of that. Just give us the deadline, and we will have it in two weeks before that." She is just such a wonderful person. I've been able to meet her at several events before and after Ronnie's passing, and she is just a wonderfully sweet, awesome woman who is also very protective of her husband's legacy. Just the fact she would want me to be a part of this, I was really, really honored.

SAMME: I'm guessing neither of your bands ever toured with Ronnie but if that's the case, did you play festivals with him or have a chance to meet him in another capacity?
Oh, man, I met him a couple of times, to be honest. Stone Sour was doing a festival -- I think it was Graspop in Belgium -- and Heaven and Hell was on it. They were either headlining or second to the top. I can remember running -- running -- up on to the stage to be able to watch it because I'm just a huge fan. The thing that was so infuriating, and so amazing, about Ronnie was that he made it look so goddamn easy. There's guys like me that sweat the small stuff. Ronnie would just check to see if his voice was cool, then he'd just go on stage and own it. That was awesome. So as a fan, I was really stoked that I got to see him live like that. I was actually fortunate to be a part of what turned out to be one of his last interviews at the Revolver awards, the Golden Gods awards, when he won Best Vocalist. He came into an interview that Jose Mangin and I were doing, and we just talked for, like, 40 minutes, dude. It was so rad. Just wide open as a person, very cool, honest, warm. It was everything you'd want when you meet one of your heroes. I was very fortunate and kind of blown away. I was like, "Nobody deserves to win this more than you do. You have all my respect." And he said, "Likewise." And then that really cemented it for me. I was like -- "Duuude!"

SAMME: What struck you about him the most as a vocalist and person?
Like I said, man, it was an ease with which he approached it that belied what you were hearing and what you were seeing. I've heard stories from people who I've talked to since Ronnie passed that told me he really only had one warmup. He'd be smoking cigarettes right until he got on stage, and then he would just basically sing a note and be like, "Alright, we're good to go." It just makes you crazy as a vocalist: "Really? Really?" I think that's one of the reasons his music is still so vibrant to this day. Everything up until the stuff that he released before he died, there was a power there. And there was a great blend of virtuosity and soul that you really don't get a lot of these days. You're either good at one or good at the other. But he had such a great blend of talent and vibe as far as what he was saying, how he was saying it, and how he did it live. That's a very rare, rare occurrence, and only the real legends have that.

SAMME: I don't know if you've seen the album cover yet, but you're in the front next to Lemmy along with Scott Ian, James Hetfield, Lzzy Hale and Rob Halford. That's gotta blow you away.
Yeah, I saw that. I was so stoked: "You've gotta be kidding me!" That's amazing. I was really pleased. Honestly, I didn't expect to be as in the forefront as everybody else. The reason why we did it was we were a fan of Ronnie's music.

SAMME: Well, Corey, thanks for taking the time. I've gotta tell you, whether it's been since the '99 Ozzfest in Chicago when you guys went on stage at 9 in the morning (he laughs), till last Saturday's (Stone Sour) show that I covered and all the times I've seen your bands in between, I want to thank you for all the incredible music and passion that you bring to metal in your endeavors. I wish you the best of luck going forward with both bands and everything you do.
COREY: I appreciate that, man, that means a lot. Thank you. I hope it was a good interview.
SAMME: You were, thank you so much.

6. BIFF BYFORD (Saxon's vocalist and Motorhead cover "Starstruck")
SAMME: Why "Starstruck?"
Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't pick it. It was the one that Motorhead were recording. Obviously, Lemmy couldn't sing it, so he asked me to sing it. It's not a track that I picked actually. Sorry. But I like the song.

SAMME: You and Lemmy go way back, but is this the first time you've done a song together?
No, no, he sang on a couple of songs on our albums. He sang on "Got to Rock (to Stay Alive)," which was on The Inner Sanctum four or five years ago (2007).

SAMME: Were there any special challenges doing this song?
No, not really (laughs). I got a demo of it and went into my studio with the engineer off the last album, Andy Sneap, and I sang the vocal, basically. It was pretty easy, straightforward for me. I didn't want to make it too much like Ronnie's version with all the phrasing. So yeah, you've got to put your own spin on these things, actually.
SAMME: I don't know if you know, but it's the first tune from the CD being released as a single this past week in the States.
BIFF: Yeah, I heard that, yeah.
SAMME: So that has to make you feel good that it was chosen to sort of highlight for fans what they can expect from the rest of the CD.
BIFF: Somebody must like it (laughs). Definitely, it's great. There's a lot of people on there.

SAMME: Have you found yourself on the album cover?
Yeah, I found myself. I'm just at the back. I'm just about to hit Doro on the head.

SAMME: When Wendy asked you to be part of this project, what did you tell her?
Actually, Wendy asked us to do a song on our own -- Saxon. I was trying a couple of Rainbow and Sabbath tracks. We did "Man on the Silver Mountain," and I think we tried "Heaven and Hell." But it didn't work out. We didn't get space on the album, so I was quite pleased when she asked me to do this.

SAMME: Can you recall when the first time you met Ronnie was, and what first impression did he make upon you?
First time I met him must have been 1980, actually, on the Heaven and Hell tour with Blue Oyster Cult -- which was called the Black and Blue tour for more reasons than one. That was the first time I ever saw him. So, yeah. Nice guy. We chatted a bit about different things. He watched the band, watched us play, and then we watched them play. It was pretty good.

SAMME: What struck you the most about him as a person and as a singer?
He had a great sense of humor. Very funny guy. Every time I met him, he was always telling stories about different things. He would tell stories about Ritchie Blackmore (laughs) and other things.
SAMME: Do you have a favorite story or memory you could share?
(Laughs) Not really, they're all about Ritchie Blackmore! I can't share too many things. But he was a funny guy, though. Nice guy to be with. I've had a few pints of beer with him. We were stuck in a couple of airports with Heaven and Hell on the last tour we did together, not long before he was diagnosed with the cancer. We spent four or five hours in an English pub.

7. KLAUS MEINE (Scorpions cover "Temple of the King")
SAMME: Why "Temple of the King?"
I've picked the song because every song with a strong melody is a good one for my voice. I've always loved the "Temple of the King."

SAMME: Were there any special challenges to doing the song in terms of finding a balance between doing it the Scorpions' way and maintaining Ronnie's elements with the original?
I tried to give it my very own expression without copying Ronnie.

SAMME: How often did Scorpions tour with Dio, and do you recall what it was like the first time you met Ronnie?
We did a lot of touring together. In 2002, we played 40 shows in the U.S. (Dio, Deep Purple, Scorpions). Ronnie invited us for a Hawaiian night. We came up with a German beer fest. Deep Purple did a Mexican party. That tour was simply amazing. The first time we met, we called ourselves The Everly Brothers of the '80s, singing "Dream Dream Dream" in perfect harmony! We always had a great laugh.

SAMME: What struck you the most about Ronnie as a vocalist and as a person?
Ronnie had a very distinctive voice. He rocked the house, and when he sang one of his beautiful ballads, he showed all his class! He was a wonderful human being, always down to Earth. I miss him.

SAMME: That's a pretty big sword you are brandishing on the album cover, and you're right in the front row with some pretty good company.
KLAUS: I can't see myself with a sword in my hand, but to me, this cover looks like we're all fighting for a better world without cancer. Supporting this very important cause with Ronnie's amazing songs feels really great, and I'm sure Dio fans around the world will love it.

8. DORO PESCH ("Egypt, The Chains Are On;" originally released in 2000)
SAMME: I had the pleasure of speaking with you by phone in August 2011 and September 2012. In the first one, you recalled how you performed "Egypt (The Chains Are On)" for a Dio tribute CD in 2000. And I believe you re-released it in 2007. So your version of this song has been around for years, but not many people in the States will have heard it until this CD comes out. Why is this particular song so meaningful to you?
I just loooove this song, always have, always will for sure, and it has some great, great memories as well. I remember when Ronnie released the Magica album, there was a release party in New York City at a cool club, and I went to congratulate him on the new album. And when I got there, Ronnie gave me a big hug and smiled at me and said, "Doro, I love that version of Egypt you guys did." Oh, that meant so much to me, I got tears in my eyes, I was so happy. A few months later, we went on tour together in the U.S., and that was the greatest tour I've ever been on.

SAMME: Having a female voice on a song by Ronnie, how do you strike that balance between doing it your way while keeping true to the original?
I always try to go by instinct and by gut feeling, and I always sing from the heart. I think that's the best way, and when it feels really good, I know this can't be wrong . . . just feel it, just do it, close your eyes, and give it your all.

SAMME: You toured with Ronnie in 1987 and 2000. What is your favorite memory or story of him?
Both times, the tours were really out of this world. So much magic, so much good vibrations and so much fun. Ronnie had such a great sense of humor, and we were laughing a lot and had great talks and became great friends, and by the end of the tour in 2000, we finished in Florida. Ronnie invited me on stage to sing all the encores together, and because he sensed that I was a little bit nervous, he put his arm around me, and we sang all (those) songs arm in arm, and the audience went crazy, and everybody had such a great time. It was unreal. Ronnie was magic!

SAMME: You wrote "Hero" on Raise Your Fist in remembrance of Ronnie. What struck you the most about him as a person and as a vocalist?
He was the most soulful, kind, intelligent and giving person I've ever met, and he loved the fans, and he was the happiest person when he was around the fans and talked to them, cracked jokes or gave autographs or took photos. Everyone felt extremely special in his presence, and I never heard anybody sing like Ronnie. He was it, he was definitely the greatest singer I've ever heard and the most powerful and soulful and meaningful.

SAMME: Do you have plans to cover any more Dio songs in the future for your own releases and if so, which song(s) would they be?
There are so many phenomenal songs that it's hard to name just a few. But there is one which I fell in love with on the Dio Disciples tour. I filled in for "Ripper" Owens (watch the SAMME's interview here) in Spain for a few gigs, and the song "Catch the Rainbow" blew my mind. The tour manager told me that was his favorite song of Ronnie's and that I should check it out, and he was absolutely sure I would love it. So I checked it out on YouTube and man, I couldn't stop listening to it. At least 200 times. So this would be my favorite choice, but I first would talk to Wendy Dio about it, if that would be at all OK to touch, 'cause I think I've heard this song was for her, and I wanna be very respectful and not just do something. I love Wendy too, and I'm so grateful to her for letting me be a part of this record and for so many other wonderful moments and memories.

SAMME: I spoke to Biff Byford. When I asked him if he found himself on the album cover, he said: "I'm just at the back, I'm just about to hit Doro on the head!" You are up front in some pretty good company. What does the cover represent to you?
It's such a great idea to paint Ronnie on top of the mountain and us as the killer army. I think the painter did a tremendous job. I love it, it's so awesome, and we all fight to keep Ronnie's spirit and legacy alive!

9. HOWARD JONES (ex-singer of Killswitch Engage, which covered "Holy Diver" in 2009; as told to the SAMME on Aug. 14, 2009)
SAMME: Did you ever hear back from Dio regarding your version?

HOWARD: Oh, yeah, he was into it. Lamb of God gave us a photo of Dio holding up a sign that says, "Hey Killswitch, where are my royalties?" That's a pretty good seal of approval."

11. ONI LOGAN (Covers "I" with Jimmy Bain, Rowan Robertson and Brian Tichy)
SAMME: Why that Black Sabbath song?
From what I heard is, from an ex-Dio member, Rowan Robertson -- he had once told Ronnie that it happened to be one of his favorite Black Sabbath songs. It's just a fantastic song. The lyrical content to it, it means a lot to me, and I specifically chose that song because of it, because it was the power of one in I, if you listen to the lyric closely. It struck a nerve with me, and I decided, "Well, I hope I can do it justice." And I'm thinking this is kind of Ronnie's way of working his magic, and he led me to the song. Wendy had asked me if I would be wanting to participate on the tribute album, and I said, "Sure." Automatically, she said, "What song do you want to do?" And I go, "Uh . . . I!" So that's how that happened. (Watch our complete interview here).

BONUS: For the SAMME's November 2010 interview with Dio's cousin and The Rods guitarist David "Rock" Feinstein, click here.

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