My introduction to Ronnie James Dio came not with Black Sabbath's Heaven And Hell but with Rainbow's On Stage. Yeah, I'm sure I had heard other things sung by Ronnie at that point (because radio hadn't yet taken the last train to suckville), but the sheer power of Ronnie launching into "Kill The King" after the brief explosion of "Over The Rainbow"? It was something alright. Something I had never heard before.
Not long after Ozzy took his leave, Sabbath brought Dio into the fold and produced the classic Heaven And Hell. The record's brilliance was undeniable, and I played the hell out of it for years to come. As much as I love the original Sabbath lineup (and the first handful of Black Sabbath records are among the best the metal genre has produced), there was something almost alchemical about the combination of Tony Iommi's giant guitar chords and Dio's huge vocals.
And that was the funny thing. Ronnie James Dio's vocals were huge, even if his body was not. It was quite a spectacle to witness the man singing, with all of that sound coming out of that little body.
I was lucky enough to see Black Sabbath on the Heaven And Hell tour. Me and my buddy Tyler saw them at the Bangor Auditorium. It never said it in the paper the next day but I'm pretty sure that the auditorium's structure had been altered by the sound pressure levels. The music was heavy and brutal. Dio's voice was every bit up to the task. That was the thing about Dio. He didn't just scream. He could actually sing — at all levels, from delicate phrasing to otherworldly growl.
Dio's death came as a huge surprise to me. I didn't even know he had been ill. The weird thing is that just a few days before his passing, I stumbled onto an interesting fact. Obviously, I knew about Sabbath, Rainbow, and Elf. I did not know about Ronnie Dio & the Prophets...or Ronnie & the Red Caps. That's right. Before Dio made moves toward being the best metal singer of all time, he was into doo-wop! So I was up late one night, watching an interview on YouTube with Blue Oyster Cult's Eric Bloom. Bloom was friends with Ronnie back in the day and knew all about these doo-wop groups. He also said, with a big grin on his face, that Ronnie didn't like to talk about it. Yeah, I bet!