The Legacy Of Ronnie James Dio
The name Ronnie James Dio is synonymous with hard rock and metal. As the singer for RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH and DIO, as well as HEAVEN AND HELL, Dio helped define the genre with his powerful voice and unique style. When we lost the metal singer on May 16, 2010, rock and heavy metal lost one of its icons – but his legacy will live on forever. In this article, we’ll take a look at the life and career of Ronnie James Dio, and explore why he was such an important figure in metal as a whole.
In The Beginning
Ronnie James Dio was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on July 16, 1942. His father was an Italian immigrant, and his mother was of English descent. Way before becoming a metal legend, Ronnie’s first exposure to music came from his parents, who were both fans of big band and swing music. As a child, he would often sing along with the records they would play and even learned and played trumpet for two hours a day according to his father. It wasn’t until he saw Elvis Presley perform on television that Ronnie realized his true passion for music. From then on, he knew that he wanted to be a singer.
THE VEGAS KINGS
As a teenager, Ronnie began playing trumpet and French horn in local bands. He soon switched to bass guitar, and in 1957 he joined THE VEGAS KINGS, a rockabilly group based in New York State. It was around this time that Dio began experimenting with vocal techniques and would develop the powerful, soaring style that would become his trademark.
THE VEGAS KINGS featured Ronnie Dio (on bass guitar), Billy DeWolfe, Nick Pantas, and Tom Rogers. After adding Jack Musci and changing their name to RONNIE AND THE RUMBLERS (named after the Duane Eddy song ‘Rumble’), the band would play dance halls every weekend, and in 1958 they became popular enough that they were offered a bigger gig in Johnson City, New York under one condition, they had to change their name. The promoter felt the word “Rumblers” was too violent for a band and didn’t want to encourage fighting. So RONNIE AND THE RUMBLERS became, RONNIE AND THE REDCAPS.
RONNIE AND THE REDCAPS only released two singles – the first being ‘Conquest’/’Lover’, and the second being ‘An Angel Is Missing’/’What’d I Say’ which featured Ronnie on lead vocals for both tracks.
RONNIE DIO AND THE PROFITS
By the end of 1958, RONNIE AND THE REDCAPS changed their moniker once again, this time to RONNIE DIO AND THE PROPHETS after Dio had taken on a stage name appropriated from mobster Johnny Dio.
THE ELECTRIC ELVES
When the rock era dawned in the 60s, RONNIE DIO AND THE PROPHETS transformed into a new band called THE ELECTRIC ELVES and added keyboard player Doug Thaler. In February of 1968, the band was involved in a fatal car accident that killed guitarist Nick Pantas and briefly put Ronnie James Dio and the other band members in the hospital. Following the accident, the group shortened its name to simply THE ELVES and used that name until mid-1972 when the group would shorten the name to simply ELF.
Success did not come quickly for ELF due to being buried beneath other bands such as CREAM and THE WHO who held more popularity at that time period. It wasn’t until DEEP PURPLE‘s Roger Glover saw potential with ELF, electing them out from anonymity altogether by producing their self-titled debut album alongside DEEP PURPLE drummer Ian Paice in 1972.
ELF‘s lineup changed frequently over the years; among the musicians who played in ELF were bassist Craig Gruber, guitarist Steve Edwards and drummer Mark Nauseef.
ELF‘s music was a mixture of hard rock, blues rock and progressive rock. The band was known for their powerful live performances and they toured extensively throughout the 1970s, playing shows with bands like DEEP PURPLE.
DIO‘s soaring vocals gained the attention of DEEP PURPLE six-stringer Ritchie Blackmore, who was beginning to tire of his band and was looking for musicians to record a new solo project. In early 1975, Blackmore used the musicians in ELF for this album, and the band RAINBOW was soon formed. ELF had been writing and recording their third album, “Trying to Burn the Sun” at around that time however following the record’s completion, ELF was no more. “Trying to Burn the Sun” was eventually released in the U.S. in June of 1975.
“Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow” was released in early 1975 and saw moderate success in the UK and US. In 1976, RAINBOW released their second album “Rising” which featured new band personnel Jimmy Bain on bass and Cozy Powell on drums.
RAINBOW‘s third album, “Long Live Rock n’ Roll“, arrived in 1978 and featured an appearance from future Ozzy Osbourne bassist and collaborator Bob Daisley.
By the end of 1978, Ronnie had officially split with RAINBOW. There were several reasons for his departure. One was that he and Blackmore constantly argued over the creative direction of the band. Ritchie wanted to move in a more commercial direction, while Dio wanted to keep the band’s sound dark and heavier. Another reason was that Dio simply felt he wasn’t being paid enough money. Plain and simple.
The final straw came when Blackmore refused to play one of Dio‘s songs live on stage. This led to a huge argument between the two men, and Ronnie decided he’d had enough. He left RAINBOW shortly afterwards, effectively ending one of hard rock’s most successful lineups.
In 1980, Ronnie would be approached by BLACK SABBATH guitarist Tony Iommi with an offer to replace original singer Ozzy Osbourne. Dio accepted, and the band recorded the album “Heaven and Hell” which achieved a commercial success, reaching No. 28 on the US Billboard 200 chart.
Ronnie would remain with BLACK SABBATH for two more albums: “Mob Rules” (1981) and the BLACK SABBATH live album “Live Evil” (1982). However, tensions between Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi began to surface; according to Iommi, Dio was difficult to work with and had developed a “massive ego”.
Amidst the post production of BLACK SABBATH‘s “Live Evil” album, Dio would walk away from the group in the November of 1982, citing “creative differences”. According to Tony, “Ronnie came into the band and he was doing whatever we told him, basically because he wanted the gig. The next album was a little different.”
Iommi asserted that the “Live Evil” album’s engineer began complaining to him that he would work all day long on a mix, only to have Dio return to the studio at night to “do his own mix” in which his vocals were much more prominent. This allegation was denied by Ronnie. The internal conflict eventually led to Ronnie and Vinny Appice quitting the band later that year.
In 1982, the departed Ronnie and Vinny Appice formed their own band DIO along with bassist Jimmy Bain and guitarist Vivian Campbell. DIO recorded and unleashed their debut album, “Holy Diver“, upon the world in 1983 to a rousing commercial success due to the hit songs “Rainbow In The Dark” and the title track.
DIO‘s second studio effort, “The Last in Line” arrived in 1984 and surpassed the commercial success of “Holy Diver“. The album was certified gold (500,000 units sold) by the RIAA on September 12, 1984, and was the first DIO album to be certified platinum, achieving the feat on February 3, 1987.
Ronnie would go on to have a successful solo career with DIO, releasing ten studio albums with the band between 1983 and 2010.
HEAVEN AND HELL
Ronnie would reunite with BLACK SABBATH on several occasions, most notably for the 1992 record “Dehumanizer.” In 2006, he formed HEAVEN AND HELL (mostly in part due to Ozzy Osbourne reuniting with his old band and ownership of the BLACK SABBATH name) with Iommi, Butler and Appice. The group would release one album, “The Devil You Know,” in 2009 all the while making numerous live appearances on tours and festival dates.
The Final Days Of Ronnie James Dio
On November 25, 2009, Ronnie announced that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and then began to undergo treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
On May 4, 2010, HEAVEN AND HELL announced that they would be canceling all summer dates as a result of Ronnie James Dio seeking and receiving treatment for his health condition. Dio‘s last live performance ever was with HEAVEN AND HELL on August 29, 2009, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Ronnie’s final days were spent at home with his wife and manager Wendy Dio.
The legendary vocalist would eventually succumb to his illness on May 16, 2010.
Two weeks after his death, a public memorial service was held at The Hall of Liberty, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. The hall was filled to capacity, with countless fans also sitting outside the hall watching the memorial on multiple giant screens on both the east and south sides of the hall.
The emotional gathering saw friends and family along with current and former bandmates of Dio giving speeches and performing. Some of the metal luminaries on hand were bassist Rudy Sarzo (QUIET RIOT, WHITESNAKE, OZZY OSBOURNE), Geoff Tate (QUEENSRYCHE), John Payne (ASIA), Glenn Hughes (DEEP PURPLE), Joey Belladonna (ANTHRAX), and HEAVEN AND HELL keyboardist Scott Warren.
The set up screen also displayed an accompanying documentary which delved into Dio’s career from his early days with ELF through RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH and DIO through to his final project with HEAVEN AND HELL.
Although Ronnie James Dio was only 67 when he passed away, the legendary vocalist left a massive mark on the world of heavy music.
The Legacy Of Ronnie James Dio
Ronnie was and remains a true icon of metal, and his influence can still be heard in the music of today. The imagery that he brought to the genre is still very prominent throughout heavy metal and hard rock. His use of the “devil horns” or “sign of the horns“, which he claimed his Italian grandmother used to ward off the evil eye (which is known in Italy as malocchio) is still proudly raised by masses of metal fans around the globe. Ronnie James Dio began using the sign soon after joining BLACK SABBATH as previous singer Ozzy Osbourne was rather well known for using the “peace” sign at concerts. In an attempt to connect with fans, Ronnie James Dio wanted to similarly use a hand gesture.
Let’s just say it worked. It worked very, very well. (Despite the fact that Gene Simmons from KISS has made numerous claims that it was in fact he who brought the hand gesture into the realms of rock music. Ronnie would commonly laugh at or poke fun at Simmons’ claims like he did in the documentary film Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey where he is quoted as saying: “It’s been more equated with me than with anyone else, although Gene Simmons will tell you that he invented it. But then again Gene invented breathing and shoes and everything, you know.”
Ronnie has been called the “best metal singer” by numerous metal sites with an effectiveness that resonates to this very day. Bands like TENACIOUS D have been unrelenting in their endearment of the “king” Ronnie James Dio which Ronnie loved. Through YouTube videos. classic records and streaming services, new fans of Ronnie James Dio are still appearing and listening to that first album, whatever it may be, at blisteringly high volumes despite their age.
Ronnie James Dio will be sorely missed, but his legacy will live on forever in heavy metal history.
Thank you, Ronnie, for everything.
We miss you.