Monday, May 17, 2010

DIO - R.I.P.

I am really sorry to hear that heavy metal legend, Ronnie James Dio, passed away this weekend.

Dio in 1985 was my second big rock concert (Rush was the first a few weeks earlier). At the time, Dio only had released two albums, but of course Ronnie James Dio had his catalog of Rainbow and Black Sabbath songs to pull from as well. I remember hanging out with my friend Joe at the White Castle afterwards with a blown mind, talking about all the great songs we just saw him performed, including Rainbow's "Man On The Silver Mountain" and Black Sabbath's "Children Of The Sea." There were lasers, huge lights, it was loud, it was awesome.

Not everyone knows that before he was a metal icon, he was Ronnie Dio, doo-wop singer. You can buy "Gonna Make It Alone" and "Swingin' Street" by Ronnie Dio and The Prophets on iTunes. He was good at it, and I bet he looked back on his doo-wop era fondly.  Years later, he started his band Elf, which was kind of blues based "hey baby" Stones rock and roll. "Sit Down Honey" is also available on iTunes. It's cool, but like when he was singing doo-wop, he didn't really stand out, it doesn't quite "click." 

It turns out that that Stoney, bluesy kind of rock that Elf was playing was also not satisfying to guitar god  Ritchie Blackmore either -- so he quit Deep Purple, hired the members of Elf (minus the guitarist, of course) and formed Rainbow. That's where you first hear Dio becoming that frontman that influenced generations of metal singers. After three albums RJD left to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. Singing with Blackmore meant he would be compared to Purple's singers (Ian Gillan and David Coverdale). That couldn't have been easy.  But replacing Ozzy in Sabbath! What a ballsy move, even though he is technically a better singer. Dio has never lacked confidence, and that has served him well. The two albums he did with Sabbath were righteous and rocking. But soon he took drummer Vinnie Appice and formed Dio.

Dio kind of encompasssed a lot of what people made fun of in "dungeons and dragons" type metal.  I admit, I made fun of it, and so did lots of other people, especially in the '90s.  But really, the guys from Soundgarden and Alice In Chains were fans.  The other night, Pearl Jam played a mix tape of Dio, Rainbow and Sabbath after the opening act before they hit the stage. And Mike McCready threw a bit of "Heaven and Hell" into "Alive." It doesn't matter what artists were influenced by him though.  Few metal artists were ever so singular in their vision, so confident in their identity.  Slayer and Motorhead come to mind, very few others.

When Dio reunited with Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Appice a few years ago as Heaven & Hell, I revisted his career, and realized that it is pretty awesome.  And although it took a few years for his musical identity to really coalesce, once it did, he never veered from who and what he was, and for that he deserves respect. Not many people held it down for metal the way he did.  He also had a great sense of humor about it, appearing in videos with Tenacious D (they wrote a tribute/parody called "Dio," but he had a sense of humor and enjoyed it).  He even cameoed in their film.

Dude, you don't have to hand your cape and scepter to anyone. Rock on, Ronnie James Dio.

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