Ronnie James Dio: A legend in his time
Last Sunday’s death of Ronnie James Dio reverberated not just through the heavy metal community for which he had become a legendary figure, but throughout all of music.
Bands from Pearl Jam to Metallica have chimed in on what the singer meant to them and how sad they were to hear of his passing at the age of 67 after a battle with stomach cancer that began late last year.
One of the most poignant tributes came from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, who penned an open letter to Dio upon getting off stage in Croatia and hearing the news. He wrote of how as a youth growing up in Denmark, he saw Dio’s band Elf open for Deep Purple and was “completely blown away by the power in your voice, your presence on stage, your confidence, and the ease with which you seemed to connect to 6,000 Danish people and one starry-eyed 11-year-old.”
“In the fall of 1976, when you played your first show in Copenhagen, I was literally in the front row and the couple of times we made eye contact you made me feel like the most important person in the world,” Ulrich said. “The news that you guys were staying in town on your day off somehow embedded itself in my brain and I made the pilgrimage to the Plaza Hotel to see if I could somehow grab a picture, an autograph, a moment, anything.”
“A few hours later you came out and were so kind and caring ... pictures, autographs and a couple minutes of casual banter. I was on top of the world, inspired and ready for anything.”
Ulrich then flash forwarded to 2007, when Metallica shared a bill in Austria with Dio, where he said not only was it a dream come true, but that, “I was literally transformed back to that little snot-nosed kid who you met and inspired 31 years earlier.”
“Ronnie, your voice impacted and empowered me, your music inspired and influenced me, and your kindness touched and moved me.”
Similar sentiments were shared by so many musicians around the world about the man known for such a tremendously strong and instantly recognizable voice and utter kindness despite his popularity that might put others up on an egomaniacal pedestal.
“I only got to meet him once and I can honestly say he was the nicest person I have ever met in music,” tweeted Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan.
“Few people have had the ability to carry a song like Dio, literally demanding your attention as he effortlessly recreated live the amazing things he did on record,” Slayer guitarist Kerry King told Billboard. “It’s odd how things get taken from you quickly...I just saw him a month ago.”
“One of the nicest guys in the business, without a doubt.”
“Even though we had all known he was battling with cancer for some time, he was such a wiry fighter, and of such an amazingly optimistic nature, I think I assumed he would go on forever,” said Queen guitarist Brian May.
“I’m devastated,” said Motorhead’s Lemmy in a statement where he noted that last month at the Revolver Golden Gods show, it appeared as if Dio was rallying. The show will make it’s broadcast debut Saturday on VH1 Classic.
“Ronnie had a unique and wonderful voice,” said guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. “He will be sadly missed in the rock and roll world.”
Blackmore left Deep Purple in the early ’70s and formed Rainbow with Dio. The collaboration would bring about such hits as “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a cover of the Quatermass single “Black Sheep of the Family,” and of course, “Man on the Silver Mountain.” “Ronnie was one of the kindest souls I have ever met and his talent was beyond inspirational to so many of us,” said Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx. “I still have this image of him standing on stage in front of 100,000 belting out ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ and remember the shivers it sent up my spine. He will be missed by all of us.”
“I don’t know anybody that didn’t grow up listening to his stuff,” said ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony. “You know, we used to do from the first Rainbow album, we did ‘Man on the Silver Mountain.’”
Rainbow has mostly been seen as part of the incestuous and murky history of Deep Purple as members fled back and forth between the two outfits over the next two decades or so. But Dio split after just three albums, and having caught the ear of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, was tapped to replace Ozzy Osbourne, who would shortly be unceremoniously ousted from the band.
At first, upon the release of the successful Heaven and Hell in 1979, it looked as if the lead singer switcheroo was going to be one of the few that worked in the annals of rock history.
“This record rocked my world,” wrote former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic in a column he penned for Seattle Weekly. “I even gave it a spin on Sunday night in honor of Dio. The tune "Neon Knights" never sounded better.”
It wasn’t to be, as Dio left to pursue a solo career after the mixed reception to the follow-up Mob Rules and then a live album. His exit sent Sabbath into a spiral of Deep Purple like self-parody with its revolving door of singers, which would stop only when a brief reunion took place in the early 90s for the album Dehumanizer, but eventually fell apart as the band looked to reunite instead with Osbourne.
Dio shone brightly wherever he went, famously flashing the “metal horns” that became his signature and ubiquitous in concerts around the world, but it was during his solo years when he delivered some of his best work.
The songs “Holy Diver” and “The Last in Line,” title tracks from the respective albums, were instant metal classics. As were “We Rock,” “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Mystery” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Children.”
Despite the well documented bad blood between Dio and Osbourne over the years, the latter had nothing but respect in statement.
“Metal has truly lost one of its greatest voices. My heart goes out to his family and to his many fans,” said Osbourne.
Dio realigned himself with Iommi in 2006 but to avoid any dispute over the Sabbath name, elected to dub the group Heaven and Hell, which was welcomed positively by the hard rock community.
“I’ve been in total shock; I just can’t believe he’s gone,” Iommi said in a statement. “Ronnie loved what he did, making music and performing on stage.”