My heavy metal heart is hurting – Ronnie James Dio is gone. When Dio died of stomach cancer on Sunday May 16th the rock world lost one of its greatest voices. Passionate heavy metal fans love to argue about their favorite bands, but no one disagrees about Ronnie James Dio. You could claim that you liked one singer more than another, or that Maiden was better than Priest, but if you brought up Dio people would always say, “No fair, no one compares to Dio!” It’s the reason why Jack Black and Kyle Gass made Dio the ultimate rock icon for Tenacious D and even featured him as the voice of rock in The Pick of Destiny. (If you have not seen Dio play himself in the film’s song “Kickapoo” go find it now!)
Dio’s voice had ultimate power and ultimate control. It was often called operatic in much the same way that people think of Roy Orbison’s voice. While Dio’s voice came to represent heavy metal, he reached early success as a hard rock singer in the band Elf. Listen to his vocal and emotional range on “Never More” from Elf’s self titled debut in 1972. Elf spent time on the road opening for Deep Purple, and when Ritchie Blackmore left DP in 1975 he asked the members of Elf to be his new band and called it Rainbow (on the first album the band was called Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow). The first song on side one of that album, “Man on the Silver Mountain” is the sound of hard rock becoming heavy metal. Blackmore’s guitar and Dio’s voice both sing and wail together in the tradition of Plant and Page or Ozzy and Iommi. Soon enough Dio would replace Ozzy in the metal band of all metal bands Black Sabbath. The sound of “Neon Knights” and “Heaven and Hell” is metal through and through. Both songs were played a million times by thousands of metal bands in basements and clubs during the 1980s. After Sabbath, Dio went on to form his own band called simply Dio. I guess I’m a sucker for first albums, but “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” from Holy Diver (1983) are still classics.
I had a chance to meet Dio last year when he came to Cleveland on the 2009 Heaven and Hell tour. The show was great, the band rocked both new songs and Sabbath classics, and Ronnie could not have been a nicer guy. I’m glad that after all these years I finally had a chance to meet the man himself and to tell him how much his music meant to me and millions of other heavy metal fans around the world. I mean, this guy invented the rock horns for crying out loud! Ronnie James Dio is gone. Catch the rainbow Ronnie and long live the rock!