The outpouring of remembrances following the death Sunday of 67-year-old Ronnie James Dio has been nothing short of astounding. Every significant musician in rock and metal has issued statements talking about how huge of an influence Dio was to them, from his years in Elf and Rainbow, through Black Sabbath and his namesake band, and to his recent reuniting with Iommi and Butler for Heaven and Hell. And the fan outpouring has been tenfold that. It’s with good reason as he was truly the elder statesman of all that is metal.
I first heard Dio in a friend’s basement in my Fords, New Jersey, neighborhood, circa 1982. I was between 5th and 6th grade. So what could be better for a boy my age than a band called Black Sabbath? I was in awe of what I was hearing coming out of the speakers. It was the song “Heaven and Hell.” The guttural, pounding music, and the soaring majestic voice. That voice. Tom Morello said in a radio interview on Monday that it’s wrong to think that Dio had one of the greatest voices in metal. He had one of the greatest voices in music, period.
A few months later, Dio hit MTV with a video for “Rainbow In the Dark,” a shredder that not only cemented my admiration for Dio, but brought my love for heavy metal front and center. I am a big fan of music- many different kinds of music. But I am, and will always be, most passionate about hard rock and metal. And Dio played a big part of that.
From Holy Diver through Dream Evil, Dio was the soundtrack to my formative years. My friends Mark and Perry were also big fans. Perry even went so far as to get an Elf CD. That’s dedication to Dio! And though I knew the band Rainbow primarily from Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnet years, I went back and grabbed some of the Dio work. I would also give a shout out to WSOU in Seton Hall, which played “Long Live Rock N’ Roll” as a bumper to their station ID, ad nauseum.
I strayed from metal in the alternative glut of the early to mid 1990’s, but “re-discovered” it by the close of the millennium. I saw Dio for the first and only time in 2001 at Janus Landing in St. Petersburg, Florida. As expected, he was amazing. His voice had not lost any of its dynamic range. I missed Heaven and Hell when they played down here a couple years ago, but figured I’d catch them on their next tour. Definite regrets on that one.
Dio will be remembered for many things: one of the flag bearers of an oft-maligned and underappreciated genre of music, for popularizing the devil horns, an all-around gentleman, a philanthropist, godfather of heavy metal, and for one of the best lines in the history of music, “The world is full of kings and queens, who blind your eyes and steal your dreams.”
Long live rock n’ roll indeed.