You don’t know how sad this is for me-Ronnie James Dio dying today at the age of 67-and for some of you the idea of Dio is nothing but a joke. In reality, we’ve all had are share of laughs at the expense of R.J.D., myself included, but Ronnie also had the ability to laugh at himself too. That would probably make him better than most of us. I know I would probably take offense at some joke lobbied against me, go off and pout or do something else to demonstrate what a lousy sense of humor I had.
Take a radio interview with Eddie Trunk a few years ago, right before Heaven and Hell (known as the Dio-era of Black Sabbath for the rest of us) where Ronnie fielded a question from a caller about his age. You see, there’s a controversy about Dio’s age, for years it was painted in grey colors and it was a matter of debate. Until someone went and checked the copyright documents of some of his songs-a place where you’re required to put proper documentation in order to get compensated-and it was discovered that Ronnie was born July 10th, in 1942.
The caller, attempting to pin Ronnie down on his age and to poke fun at his advacing years, asked Dio "So how old are you
Ronnie, who probably faced the question numerous times and had to endure (good naturedly, too, I might add) a comedic team's song advising him that "You're too old to rock! No more rockin' for you!" understood that the caller really wasn't concerned with the truth. He was just taking a piss at the expense of R.J.D.
Dio's response, while showing some tiredness at the manner in which he was asked, answered bluntly "What do you want to hear? I'm old! I'm really, really old! Does that make you feel better now?"
What got people on this paper trail was that Ronnie was making records as early as 1958, in a rockabilly band called Ronnie and the Redcaps. He floundered around the Buffalo, New York area for many years until the late 60’s when he founded a band called the Electric Elves.
After incorporating medieval imagery into his lyrics, the band shortened their name to Elf and they caught the attention of Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore during a performance where Ronnie’s band opened up for the bigger purple. When Blackmore left Deep Purple in the mid-70’s for greener pastures, the vocalist he called to initiate his new project was Dio. Black Sabbath did the same thing in the late 70’s, before Ronnie understood that he’d logged enough miles fronting some of rock music’s most iconic bands that he should just start one with the obligatory title of his own name.
Yeah, some of those Dio albums were bad. Some of Dio’s lyrics were also pretty abysmal. But a whole bunch of them were awesome, and his voice was unmistakable, even when his age began to distract people from his real accomplishments.
To this day, I would pick Dio’s work with Sabbath on Heaven & Hell and Mob Rules over the last three or four Ozzy-led Sabbath albums. I would pick a few Dio-led Rainbow albums over some of the shit Deep Purple released. And yes, I will confess to enjoying Dio’s Last In Line more than I probably should acknowledge.
Because for every endless mythical reference, to each nod to medieval times, for every tired tale of the struggle between good and evil, there was Ronnie James Dio delivering it like he meant every word.
What’s strange is that his last album with Heaven & Hell, The Devil You Know, seemed to hint at a honest struggle with the topic of good and evil. At some points, he sang like he was truly confounded on his family’s long-standing tradition of religion, holding it up to the lack of humanity that he’d probably seen in all of his years of touring.
I wonder where he ended up on his final days.
I have to believe he ended up in a peaceful place, as Dio seemed to be the ultimate optimist the last few years. The stomach cancer scare showed up at the end of the Heaven & Hell tour last year, but there was nothing in the announcements and follow ups to suggest that, aside from a slight bump to make time for chemotherapy, there was anything to worry about. In fact, Heaven & Hell had booked a bunch of shows for this summer and by March of this year, Ronnie’s wife announced that the tumor had shrunk and that his chemo sessions had been reduced.
But as early as this month, there were hints of trouble when Heaven & Hell cancelled those tour dates because of Ronnie’s health and even Blabbermouth got in touch with Wendy (Dio’s wife) to dispel some rumors of Ronnie’s passing.
She’s denied it, but also admitted that he wasn’t doing too good.
That was just a few days ago.
And now it appears that this last beast he was asked to battle was too much for his slight frame to handle. Yes, Ronnie was not a particularly large man at all-some would say the band name Elf was, in fact, a comparison to his small stature.
Which is what made his voice so incredible; the power and color that came from inside of him easily lay waste to other metal singers and it remains an unmistakable sound in the genre and an immeasurable influence.
His passing may mean that Ronnie James Dio is now the stuff of legends, but at least we still have plenty of worthy documents that show how his voice could slay anything that stood in his way when he was with us.