Dio – A Tribute

Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio

The world is full of Kings and Queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams – it’s Heaven and Hell[1] – Ronnie James Dio

And with that lyric, which was to be next to my picture in my Ipswich High School yearbook in 1983, my entrance to rock and roll and the royalty of heavy metal was born. The Black Sabbath rebirth albums Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules were where I made the break from the rock and roll classics and mainstream rock and ran to the hills of the metal hinterlands. After wearing out the grooves of my Black Sabbath with Dio albums it became time to venture out into my first rock and roll concert on March 4, 1982 with my buddies Pat, Chris and Sean. Pat aced his road test (under great pressure) and we were able to score some Michelob’s[2] and the teen age dream of glory was screaming down Route One in an oversized Chevy towards the old Boston Garden. Long after this initiation Sean and Chris continued to admire Black Sabbath and branched out into many diverse tastes in music while what happened to Pat and I that evening bordered on a religious conversion.

Ronnie died this past weekend[3] at what seems to be the young age of 67 after a short battle with stomach cancer. His career stretched back to the early 1960s Doo Wop sound and moved into heavier music with Elf and found his first fame as the singer for ex-Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore’s new project Rainbow. After leaving Rainbow Dio hooked up with Black Sabbath after Ozzy left/was fired from the band. Ronnie had a successful solo career with Dio between his three tenures with Black Sabbath, and their later name change to Heaven and Hell. His solo work was also huge and I was lucky to see him perform on the Last in Line tour. The band was skilled and played a more 1980s style of metal, but more true to their roots than most of the typical bands of the era.

The total band concept was important to us – and we had long admired the music of Black Sabbath – even in his 60s there is no better metal guitarist than Tony Iommi – his sound created countless imitators and it still has the best overall crunch and the most dynamics than any of those who followed him. The rhythm section of Geezer Butler (who incidentally penned a large portion of the Ozzy era lyrics) and either Bill Ward or Vinny Appice has always been a powerful two-man wrecking crew. But with this “new” Black Sabbath the lyrics and the vocals were truly special. Ronnie Dio’s voice and contribution to the band gave them a second, third and fourth life. The Ozzy era petered out slowly and painfully with a number of forgetful albums and only a couple of memorable songs[4] after the initial onslaught of the first three classics. Dio’s presence made the music of Black Sabbath vital again.

While I was aware of the Heaven and Hell album in 1980 having seen clips from the Black and Blue Tour with Blue Oyster Cult on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert it was The Mob Rules album in 1981 that sealed the deal. Perhaps it was the age – we were now old enough to get to Boston to buy tickets and go to concerts – but it was also the music. Like most people I listened to a lot music in my youth, but this new metal sound coming from Dio and Black Sabbath made me a metal fan for the next 5-7 years before I turned to the anger and aggression of punk rock when I found metal getting to wimpy, to dressed up and using way too much hair spray.

Dio embodied the heart and soul of heavy metal. You could compare any vocalist in the genre and see how they measured up against Ronnie, and we all know there were many greats – but none of them ever surpassed Dio’s abilities as a singer, his classic metal lyrical style and his presence as a front man. Keep in mind this man had to follow the reputation of Ozzy Osbourne[5] who when he is on is no slouch. Ronnie’s lyrics fell into two main categories – the impossible to know philosophical debates about life, death, good and evil and medieval imagery.

The heavy sounds of the music always made the lyrical content seem to be secondary, but upon close listen, and especially live you can see just how perfectly Dio understood the role of singer and front man. He added so much to all of his bands and knew were to step out and shine and where to sit back and let the band played. He never forgot the fans that were the reason he had such a great job and although I never got to meet him I could not help notice how humbly he came across every time he was filmed around fans. The four times I was privileged to see him play live (including his penultimate performance last summer in Boston with Heaven and Hell) were musical tour de forces. I wish I could say this about every artist I have ever paid to see – you never felt like you were cheated out of your ticket money when you paid to see Dio[6] – he was one class act, a true pro and will be missed by millions forever. Thank you Ronnie James Dio for your music – you will be missed – there was no one like you.

Some of my favorite Dio lyrics:

From After All (The Dead) on 1992’s Dehumanizer[7]

What do you say to the dead?

Will you forgive me for living?

Oh there’s insufficient evidence

Of what just might come after

But sometimes out of nowhere

There’s demented sounds of laughter

From Computer God on 1992’s Dehumanizer[8]

Midnight confessions

Never heal the soul

What you believe is fantasy

From I on 1992’s Dehumanizer[9]

I am a virgin

I’m a whore

Giving nothing

The taker

The maker of war

I’ll smash your face in

But with a smile

All together

You’ll never

Be stronger than me

From DieYoung from 1980s Heaven and Hell[10]

Behind a smile

There’s a danger and a promise to be told

You’ll never get old

Life’s fantasy

To be locked away and still to think you’re free

Die young, die young

Can’t you see the writing on the wall?

From Falling Off the Edge of the World from 1981s Mob Rules[11]

I’ve got to be strong, oh, oh

I’m falling off the edge of the world

Think you’re safe, but you’re wrong

We’re falling off the edge of the world

From Last in Line from 1981s Last in Line[12]

We don’t come alone
We are fire we are stone
We’re the hand that writes
Then quickly moves away

We’ll know for the first time
If we’re evil or divine
We’re the last in line

From Atom & Evil from 2009s The Devil Cried[13]

One more promise we can tame the Sun
& then we’ll shine forever
Someday you can cry for everyone
Who burn when you were clever
Expand your mind we’ve got a place for you
Just make believe that 1 & 1 are always 2
When into the corner comes the Spider
Just say NO….
Atom & Evil

Thank you all for your continued readership – I am approaching a staggering 1500 individual reads in my first 6 weeks – the feedback and comments have been great. You can easily subscribe (hell – it’s free!) to Symptom of the Universe by submitting your e-mail in the box on the right of this page. Thanks again! Mike


[1] http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/black+sabbath/heaven+hell_20019364.html

[2] For those with an interest – me and my concert crew did not discover imported beer until our next concert about a month later – Ozzy Osbourne, Motely Crue and UFO – were we quenched our mighty thirst with Tuborg Gold – the Royal Beer of Danish Kings  – if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen be sure to look it up.

[3] May 16, 2010

[4] Symptom of the Universe, the namesake of this blog and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath come to mind.

[5] Osbourne had a huge resurgence in his post-Black Sabbath solo career as well as some memorable reunion shows with his original bandmates.

[6] This statement surely does not hold up for Ozzy Osbourne.

[7] http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/black+sabbath/after+all_20019317.html

[8] http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/black+sabbath/computer+god_20019319.html

[9] http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/black+sabbath/i_20019320.html

[10] http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/black+sabbath/die+young_20019363.html

[11] http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/black+sabbath/falling+off+the+edge+of+the+world_20019394.html

[12] http://www.lyricsdomain.com/4/dio/the_last_in_line.html

[13] http://www.lyricskid.com/lyrics/heaven-&-hell-lyrics/atom-&-evil-lyrics.html

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7 Responses to “Dio – A Tribute”

  1. John Thornley Says:

    Great article. “Dio embodied the heart and soul of heavy metal.” He certainly did. He had tremendous energy even later in life. Me and my brother saw him only about 5 years ago and he was still an amazing performer.

    I have created a tribute dedicated to the great man at Friends At Rest (http://www.friendsatrest.com/memorials/ronnie-james-dio/)

    I was comforted, at least, to know that Wendy and the rest of his family had a chance to say goodbye before he slipped away.

    RIP Ronnie 😦

    • sapblatt Says:

      John thanks so much for reading and writing – he was a great performer – I am kind of on a quest to get all of his solo stuff – as I am much more familiar with his Sabbath material – never a bad show – so glad I got to see him live and his family was with him at the end. I like the page you made – a nice tribute – funny how so many think he is/was satanic – I am an atheist who finds this ridiculous – his lyrics are almost all about the ambiguity of it all – not an affirmation of satan and evil – the biggest whiners probably never listened to one song.
      Thanks again – take it easy
      Mike

  2. Randall Haugen Says:

    Mike Hi and thanks for posting such a nice tribute,I have been a Dio fan since the early days of Rainbow,As a Blackmore fan Dio blew me away with his talent and have followed him to this day at the age of 53.

    He will be greatly missed in the music world.

    RIP RJD!

    • sapblatt Says:

      Thanks Randall – I have been pretty much listening to him nonstop for a week…he was truly a great – so glad I got to see him four times and very glad he left us so much great music. I really missed it at the time, but “Dehumanizer” is really an incredible album.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Mike

  3. Marica Comnick Says:

    Great read. Thanks for the info!

  4. Nativson Says:

    I was thinking about Dio this weekend, how this would be the anniversary of his death. I couldn’t help but think about the music, from Rainbow through Sabbath and of course Dio. Dio rocked! A great front man and an incredible singer. Most singers in metal pretty much just scream, but not Dio. He was a singer (Sing me a song you’re a singer).
    My brother Joe and I got to see The Black and Blue tour, but one of my great concert experiences as was Dio. One of the last shows in the old Civic Auditorium in downtown ABQ in 1983. A great concert hall for an incredible show. Thiry years ago and I stil rememeber it.
    Thanks a lot man.

    • sapblatt Says:

      Thanks for reading – he was the best – you nailed it on his singing ability – one of a kind – glad I got to see him so many times – wish it had been more. The two Heaven and Hell DVDs are excellent – well worth getting.

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