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by Keavin Wiggins

“Sing me a song, you're the singer....”

Whether he goes down as the “Man on the Silver Mountain,” the sinner who sang us a song, “The Last In Line,” The Killer of the Dragon or the “Holy Diver,” Ronnie James Dio has definitely earned his place in the history books of rock n roll as a metal legend. 

Even to this day, he continues to win over new generations of metalheads with the wealth of material he has produced over the years. It is that catalog of material that Warner Brothers and Rhino Records drew from to create the new definitive Dio career retrospective “Stand Up and Shout”.  With the release of this special two disc anthology set that features music from every era of his career as a recording artist, we thought it was about time that we did a feature article on Ronnie James Dio. 

Ronnie James Dio was born Ronald James Padovona in New England, on July 10, 1949. Like a lot of children of the post World War II era, he grew up with the backdrop of Rock n Roll as the soundtrack to his adolescence.  Ronnie took to music right away and began his pursuit as a performer at a young age, playing bass guitar and the trumpet in one of his early bands The Vegas Kings.  Like most rock stars to be, Ronnie cut his teeth with a handful of different bands before settling down into the one that would give him his first big break.  In the late 60’s he was playing with a band called the Electric Elves, who composed rock and folk music that was the style of the time. By the dawn of the new decade the band had changed their name to Elf and Ronnie was now going by the name Ronnie Dio. They caught a lucky break when Deep Purple’s Roger Glover and Ian Paice caught the band during an audition for Columbia records. With a record deal in place Glover and Paice signed on to produce the band’s self-titled debut album. 

Looking back, the music of Elf wasn’t what we would later come to expect from Dio. The group fell more easily into the 60’s/70’s rock vibe of the harder edged material from the  Rolling Stones than Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, but one element stuck out even from the beginning; Ronnie’s strong and unique vocals. 

With an album release under there belt, Elf hit the road with Deep Purple. But for some reason, the band never really took off commercially. There were also changes underway within the band at that point. Original guitarist David Feinstein was replaced by Steve Edwards and Ronnie wanted to give his full attention to his vocals, so the group brought in a new member to handle bass duties, Craig Gruber. 

With the lineup in place in 1974, Elf, who had been released from their deal with Columbia, signed a new deal in the US with MGM Records and with Deep Purple’s label Purple Records in the U.K. In early 1974 the band traveled to England to record their second album and once again Roger Glover handled production duties and the band’s sound started to go more in the direction of Deep Purple. 

That album hit in late 1974 entitled “Carolina Country Ball” in the UK and “L.A. / 59” in the U.S. Once again Elf hit the road supporting Deep Purple in North America but also the U.K. 

Ronnie and Elfs’ keyboardist Mickey Lee Soule also branched out a bit and took part in Roger Glover's solo project “Butterfly Ball And The Grasshopper's Feast”. 

Over the next couple of years, Ronnie would divide his time between Elf and participating in side projects. The full band went into the studio to back Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore on the single “Black Sheep Of The Family”. A short time later, Blackmore contacted Dio to see if he was interested in recording together again. That night Ronnie sat down and wrote a new track called “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves”, and went into the studio with Blackmore to record it. 

Nothing ever came of the song, which was rumored to be intended as a b-side to the “Black Sheep of the Family” single. But the seeds of partnership were planted between Ronnie and Ritchie Blackmore. 

In early 1975 the band added percussionist Mark Nauseef and returned to England to record their third album with Glover once again producing.  Shortly after the band finished recording the album, they split up. 

The group minus guitarist Steve Edwards and percussionist Mark Nauseef, joined forces with Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore and formed Rainbow. At that point Ronnie supposedly began incorporating his middle name into his stage name, at the suggestion of Blackmore.

For marketing reasons, the group was originally dubbed Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. With Rainbow, Ronnie made the full transition to metal frontman. The group entered a German recording studio in late February 1974 and emerged three weeks later with their self-titled debut, which Blackmore and Dio coproduced with Martin Birch. (Iron Maiden fans should recognize Birch’s name.) 

Unlike Elf, which never caught on commercially in a big way, Rainbow was an instant hit. The single "Man on the Silver Mountain," raced up the charts and put the group firmly on the map. UK Elf fans hoping to get their hands on the third LP the band had completed before splitting up were out of luck as the album was held back, so it wouldn’t conflict with the release of  “Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow”. 

The combination of Blackmore’s guitars and Dio’s vocals made for a powerful frontline for Rainbow. But the duo felt some changes were needed with the other members of the group. The first member to be fired was bassist Craig Grubber, who was replaced by Jimmy Bain and shortly afterwards Cozy Powell took over for drummer Gary Driscoll. 

By the time the band hit the road in late 1975, the lineup had solidified with keyboardist Tony Carey replacing Mickey Lee Soule. The band, which at this point had shortened their name to just Rainbow, entered Musicland studios in February of 1976 to record their sophomore album “Rainbow Rising”. The album title seemed appropriate as the band’s fame and popularity was going through the stratosphere, making them one of the most popular concert draws of the day. 

The group’s explosive live performance was captured on the best selling live album, “On Stage,” which was released in 1977. More lineup changes were in order for the group when they entered the studio once again. This time they were joined by bassist Bob Daisley and keyboardist David Stone to produce the critically acclaimed “Long Live Rock'n'Roll”. 

After the title track from the album became a big hit for the group, Dio and Blackmore began to have intense disagreements over the direction of the band. Blackmore wanted a more mainstream approach, while Dio wanted to stay true to the original formula of the group. It all came to a head in November 1978 when Blackmore reportedly fired the entire band, with the exception of Cozy Powell. (some reports say that Dio quit). 

Ronnie didn’t have to wait long for a new gig. While he was considering launching a solo project the dream gig fell into his lap. Ozzy Osbourne had just been ousted from Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi was looking for a replacement. 

Ronnie had recently relocated to Los Angeles and he was asked to visit Iommi’s Beverly Hills home to audition. Legend has it that things went so well during that first visit with Iommi that Ronnie wrote most of what was to become the classic “Children Of The Sea”, at that session. 

There is some speculation that the band was originally going to be called Sabbath, since both Ozzy and Geezer Butler were not involved. However, once Geezer came back, the group went back to the full Black Sabbath name. 

Filling the shoes of a legendary vocalist like Ozzy Osbourne is not easy but Ronnie stood up to the challenge and together with his new band mates produced what is arguably one of the best Black Sabbath albums ever released, “Heaven And Hell”. 

The fans and critics welcomed the change and as a result the album was really successful. In the fall of 1980 Black Sabbath teamed up with Blue Oyster Cult for a co-headlining North American tour dubbed the “Black & Blue” tour. 

The tour was major success with the exception of a riot that occurred on October 9th, 1980 at Mecca Arena in Milwaukee. After the band left the road they returned to the studio to begin recording a new album, “Mob Rules”, with Vinnie Appice replacing Bill Ward on drums. 

This album was again embraced by critics and fans and continued the magic the group had produced together on “Heaven and Hell”.  But all was not well in Sabbath land. Infighting and bickering began between the veteran members of the group and the newest members. 

Things came to a head in October of 1982, while the new live album, “Live Evil,” was being mixed by Geezer and Iommi. Dio and Appice left the group to form  Dio’s solo band. Soon after, accusations began to fly that Dio and Appice had secretly entering the studio and lowered the mix on the guitars and bass. However, Iommi later rescinded those claims. 

Dio and Appice recruited lead guitarist Vivian Campbell and bassist Jimmy Bain to help complete their new group which they called DIO. 

Ronnie struck gold again with this group and their debut album, “Holy Diver”, not only produced such classics as “Rainbow In The Dark,” “Stand Up and Shout,” and of course the title track, “Holy Diver,” it also firmly established Dio as a solo artist. 

The fans ate it up, as the themes woven by Ronnie in the songs on “Holy Diver” were familiar from his earlier work and it also showed just how much influence he did have in songwriting with his previous bands. 

Dio crafted his new songs with a little more commercial appeal, which opened a lot of doors to new fans. The relatively new medium of MTV helped by showing videos for “Rainbow In The Dark” and “Holy Diver”, and both songs, especially the former appealed to hard rock radio programmers who helped expose Dio’s music beyond his built in audience and that, along with a successful arena tour, propelled the album to platinum sales. 

Dio wasn’t a band to rest on their laurels; they followed up their debut a year later with “The Last In Line”. The demonic imagery of the album cover translated well into the video for the title track and MTV jumped all over it. Again, Dio managed to craft a true metal album that also had a commercial appeal. By the time the second single, “Mystery”, had made its run and the band had completed another arena tour, Dio was firmly established as one of the leading metal bands of the era. 

Dio got further propelled into the mainstream spotlight in 1985 when they were asked to contribute a song to the “Vision Quest” soundtrack. Madonna’s hit single from the album, “Crazy for You”, inadvertently helped turn an even more mainstream audience onto Dio. 

But that single couldn’t help Dio’s third album which was released shortly afterwards.  Dio had effectively avoided the “sophomore” slump with “Last In Line” but the follow up album, “Sacred Heart” fell flat. 

To many, “Sacred Heart” was a bit too commercial and Dio abandoned the unifying themes of their first two albums.  The thematic elements used in the album were, to many critics, overdone. The title track was an attempted epic at six and half minutes long that had promising elements to it but seemed to fail in the execution. The single “Rock 'N' Roll Children,” didn’t have the spark of earlier Dio hits and sounded a bit too formulaic to hardcore fans. 


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 Live Photos by Keavin Wiggins
Copyright 2003  - All Rights Reserved


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