If Your Circle Stays Unbroken
Then You’re a Lucky Man
‘Cause it Never, Never, Never has for me
No words spoken by Ronnie James Dio rang truer than the lyrics to “Invisible.” Heartfelt and honest, the statement finds Dio reflecting on the past while in the midst of reinvention. His story is one of broken dreams and unimaginable triumphs. In the end, Dio emerged a legend whose legacy continues to strengthen after his death.
Dio was no stranger to change. An elder statesman, Ronnie’s music career pre-dates the very existence of heavy rock. In the absence of roaring Marshall stacks, he lent his golden pipes to the soothing sounds of Doo-Wop. A confident crooner, Dio’s days with Ronnie and the Redcaps, and later Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, provide a stark contrast to his metal icon persona.
Soon the sound of distorted guitars transformed the musical landscape. Ronnie and the Redcaps morphed into The Electric Elves, before changing their name to The Elves, and later Elf. Prophetic clips of Ronnie singing Sabbath are historically significant but Elf were primarily a creative force whose compositional talents earned them a recording contract.
It certainly helped that they had befriended Deep Purple. Roger Glover and Ian Paice produced their album and often took the band out on tour. As a frequent opening act, Elf gained valuable exposure playing to legions of devoted rock fans.
The musicians in Deep Purple were more than willing to tap into Elf’s talents when working on side projects. Roger Glover’s rock opera, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, was particularly ambitious. Based on a 19th century children’s poem, notable vocalists were recruited to voice each character. Dio was tapped to sing on the track, “Love is All.”
Released as a single, “Love is All,” became an international hit. As part of the animated film, The Butterfly Ball, psychedelic cartoon animals danced across the screen as Dio sang of the transformative power of love. The song became seared into the psyches of French children after frequent airings on national public television. Children shows in the states also broadcasted the cheery video. “Love is All” even became a fixture on Australian TV.
Ritchie Blackmore also had aspirations beyond Deep Purple. The man in black intended to record a solo album under the name Rainbow. Recruiting the members of Elf to record his new project, Blackmore found a writing partner in Dio. Not only was Ronnie’s voice the perfect foil to Blackmore’s dominate presence, Dio’s lyrical contributions helped shift the dynamic from solo record to genuine band.
These sessions resulted in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. It was all in the name. To many, the project WAS Blackmore’s band. Promotional materials cemented this distinction. Despite yielding a hit with “Man on the Silver Mountain” there was no supporting tour and many expected Rainbow to be a one-off album.
Rainbow did continue, but not without major changes. Blackmore promptly fired the band with the exception of Dio. Few could argue with the results. The new rhythm section of Cozy Powell and Jimmy Bain had an immediate impact. Immediately, the band sounded bigger with a complexity that was missing from the straight rock of Rainbow’s first record.
Keyboardist Tony Carey took the transformation a step further. A virtuoso that had played Bach during his audition, his notes weaved in and out of Blackmore’s fluid guitar lines. Harmonizing, intersecting, even taunting, there seemed to be a friendly rivalry between two master musicians. Rainbow was now a veritable super group of talent hand-selected by Blackmore.
At the center of it all stood Ronnie James Dio. Few singers could command attention on stage with the greatest musicians in the rock universe. His soaring voice and fantasy themed lyrics were the final touch in making the new incarnation of Rainbow a formidable force.
Rainbow Rising was released to critical acclaim in 1976. Recognizing the collective efforts of each member, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow was now simply Rainbow. Inside the gatefold, Ronnie James Dio sat front and center, just as a singer should.
Regardless of the simplified name, Blackmore still called the shots. Despite the album’s massive success, Jimmy Bain and Tony Carey were soon dismissed from the group. Dio would only last for another studio and live record. As Blackmore steered Rainbow towards commercially viable sounds, Dio was left behind.
Elsewhere in the metal universe, Tony Iommi was also reeling from the collapse of a successful band. With Ozzy Osbourne sacked from Sabbath, the future was all but certain. After all, what singer could possibly fill the shoes of a personality as beloved as Ozzy? Unsure of how to proceed, the esteemed guitarist had been considering starting a whole new band rather than replace the irreplaceable.
It was under the pretense of a new project that Iommi first reached out to Dio. With Bill Ward and Geezer Butler in the mix, it only made sense to take the proposed partnership a step farther. Ronnie James Dio was invited to a Black Sabbath rehearsal.
As sessions unfolded, the chemistry between musicians quickly became apparent. After playing what would become “Children of the Sea,” Ronnie had an instant melody. A long-dormant song from the final days with Ozzy suddenly lived again.
Next came a snippet of “Lady Evil.” Again, Dio immediately sprang into action with a fresh idea. Tony, Geezer and Bill were sold. Ronnie James Dio was the new singer of Black Sabbath!
With the help of Rainbow producer Martin Birch, Black Sabbath convened in the studio with Ronnie at the helm. Heaven and Hell was still Sabbath, but a different Black Sabbath. A new generation of fans were turned on to the band as hordes of the old faithful returned in droves. Like Rainbow Rising before it, Heaven and Hell earned a reputation as a classic album. Dio had struck gold twice!
Despite their success, turmoil still threatened the band. Bill Ward’s alcoholism had spiraled out of control. Things had gotten so bad that Ward has no recollection of the Heaven and Hell sessions. By all accounts, he played confidently and precisely in the studio. It was the madness of life on the road that caused Ward to come undone.
On tour he snapped. Hours before a concert Ward quietly left. It was only after he was long gone that any contact with the band was made. Bill was sick and needed to get better. The gig was cancelled.
With a huge outdoor concert only days away, the band was in a quandary. A new drummer would only have 36 hours to learn an entire set before performing in front of a festival crowd. Scrambling for a last minute replacement, little-known drummer Vinny Appice was given the shot of a lifetime. Appice pulled off the gig, earning him a permanent spot behind the drum kit. It was this incarnation of Black Sabbath that would forever be associated with the Dio years.
Dio found more than a drummer in Appice. Tony and Geezer had a long relationship dating back to their youthful days in Birmingham. As the two “new guys,” Ronnie and Vinnie quickly bonded, forming a life-long friendship.
With Dio front and center, the mighty Black Sabbath managed to reinvent themselves and reclaim their rightful place at the top of the metal world. Ronnie had found stability in the unstable music business. Then, it all came crashing down.
Unexplained studio problems plagued the Live Evil sessions. Somehow, each morning, the mix sounded different than the day before. Could Ronnie have been returning at night to tamper with the work of Tony and Geezer? Some have suggested the possibility though it’s an accusation that Dio flatly denied. Either way, things got ugly. Both Dio and Appice were dismissed from the band.
Dazed but determined, Dio vowed to begin anew. Rather than seek out another established act, the singer opted to form a band that was truly his own. With Vinny Appice by his side, Ronnie began an exhaustive search for a new guitarist.
Even with 50% of Black Sabbath as a starting point, building a professional band was no easy task. Imagine playing with Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi. Scores of wanna-be guitar heroes paled in comparison during auditions. To help find the right guitarist, Ronnie turned to his old Rainbow pal, Jimmy Bain.
Bain had kept himself busy since Rainbow. There were countless projects, tours, and records made, most notably with Brian Robertson and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Bain’s was an opinion Dio could trust. Not only would Jimmy know what to look for in a guitar player, he’d likely have jammed with them at some point in his crazy adventures.
Bain actually suggested two guitarists, John Sykes and Sweet Savage guitarist Vivian Campbell. Both were promising, but Dio was particularly impressed with the latter’s rehearsal tape. Out of nowhere, Campbell would slip in a Chuck Berry riff amongst other eccentricities. It was precisely the out-of-the-box thinking Ronnie was looking for. Vivian was promptly flown out to join the band in Los Angeles.
When Campbell arrived for auditions, Jimmy Bain tagged along unannounced. With bass in hand, Bain set up, jammed, and joined the band. A hybrid of past and present with a firm eye on the future, DIO was complete. Ronnie set out to conquer the world yet again.
No mere session players, the carefully chosen musicians were given full reign to create. Nine songs were born in the creative upswing of those early sessions. With new mascot Murray appearing on the front cover, Holy Diver was released to critical acclaim. Like Rainbow Rising and Heaven and Hell before it, Holy Diver quickly became a classic album.
Dio promptly hit the road for a U.S. tour. Mixing classic Rainbow and Black Sabbath songs with new material, fans were ecstatic to witness a metal legend reborn. The momentum continued as the band made its debut UK appearance at the legendary Monsters of Rock festival. It was a pivotal moment as Ronnie stood before an endless sea of fans at Castle Donington. Just a year before, he had been cast out from Black Sabbath. Now, fronting his own band, the future burned bright for Ronnie James Dio.
More good fortune followed. The Last in Line further validated Dio as a metal institution. With another successful record and tour under their belts, extravagance of the highest order became possible. No expense was spared as Dio built a stage set for the ages. Amongst the lights and lasers, a giant dragon came to life in stunning detail. Each night, Ronnie held forth his sword and attacked the beast as the band played on. Epic and grand, a metal god 30 years in the making stood in his glory.
A brilliant close-up of Ronnie slaying the dragon appeared on the next Dio record. Released in tandem with a full-length VHS, the live EP Intermission documented the Sacred Heart tour. Live versions of Dio songs were mixed with Rainbow classics, while a new studio recording kept a sense of forward momentum.
The photograph on the back cover revealed big changes. Vivian Campbell was noticeably absent. New guitarist Craig Goldy and keyboardist Claude Schnell flanked Ronnie. At opposite ends, Vinny and Jimmy remained as proud links to a storied past.
Polished and melodic, new song “Time to Burn” offered a glimpse at what to expect from the next incarnation of Dio. Dream Evil followed with the distinction of being the only eighties LP to feature Goldy on guitar.
Lock Up The Wolves ushered in the 90’s with a complete overhaul of the band. The new line-up was a mix of fresh new talent and seasoned professionals. This latest incarnation would never have a chance to reach their potential. Shortly after the album’s release, the unthinkable happened. Ronnie James Dio found himself back in Black Sabbath.
News of the Sabbath reunion sent shockwaves through the metal world. Dehumanizer was their first album together in a decade. Fans dismayed with synth-heavy Black Sabbath rejoiced as Iommi reprised his role as metal’s ultimate riff master. A relic from the golden age of heavy metal was reborn and met with unbridled enthusiasm.
The subsequent tour was well received in packed theatres across the world. With bands like Danzig and Testament as touring support, Sabbath were undisputed kings in a metal scene that bore little resemblance to the early eighties. There was every reason to expect that the newly rejuvenated Black Sabbath would continue. Then, on tour, it all came crashing down again.
At issue were proposed concerts as the opening act for Ozzy Osbourne. Naturally, the original Black Sabbath would be expected to reunite as an encore. Without considering the awkward position of Ronnie, Sabbath accepted the invitation. Dio promptly quit, understandably hurt. Once again, the union of Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath ended on bad terms.
Simply resurrecting the Dio band, it was business as usual. With a fluid line-up of top-notch musicians, Dio released a series of albums that consistently lived up to his reputation. From Strange Highways to Master of the Moon, Ronnie kept writing. In the process, he created some of the most memorable albums of his long career.
Always one to embrace the past, Dio performed Holy Diver in its entirety before a sold out crowd in 2005. As a special treat for fans, Ronnie pulled out deep Rainbow cuts like “Tarot Woman” and “Gates of Babylon” alongside revered Sabbath classics. Released as a DVD, Holy Diver Live became the 6th home video to capture the spectacle of a Dio concert.
It’s funny how the stars align. Just as Ronnie was celebrating past achievements, Rhino Records had been busy assembling a compilation of Sabbath’s Dio years. It all began with a simple inquiry. Did the band have any unfinished recordings they could release as bonus tracks? They did not, but an idea was hatched. Why not get-together and informally play music. If it felt right, they’d record a few new songs.
Naturally the initial spark that fueled Sabbath still burned. Rather than the proposed two tracks, the old friends turned in three. It was incredibly strong material that held up when paired with vintage classics.
With the classic line-up of Dio, Iommi, Butler and Appice making music again, a tour soon followed. This time they reconvened, not as Black Sabbath, but as Heaven and Hell. Beyond preventing confusion with the recently active Ozzy incarnation, the band was no longer bound to perform songs like “Paranoid” and “War Pigs.” With a setlist drawing exclusively from the Dio years, the shows were a dream come true for metal fans.
A triumphant show was filmed for prosperity at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Ronnie’s voice sounded untouched by age. The scream in “Mob Rules” came through loud and clear as if it were 1981. The mighty Black Sabbath were back in all but name.
Initially, the plan had been to simply tour. With an overwhelming fan response and undeniable chemistry, writing sessions soon unfolded. The result was The Devil You Know. The first and only studio album released under the moniker Heaven and Hell, new classics like “Bible Black” were added to the growing repertoire of timeless metal perfection.
It was to be the best of both worlds. There would be extensive touring behind The Devil You Know. European dates were scheduled for DIO and Ronnie’s solo band had begun writing a sequel to the revered Magica album. There were even whispers of a possible Elf reunion. Anything was possible.
We’ll never know what surprises Ronnie had in store. Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2009. In the beginning, there was boundless optimism. When a series of Heaven and Hell dates were cancelled, the situation looked dire. Privately, close friends and relatives rushed to his bedside for final goodbyes. It was truly the end. Ronnie James Dio left this world on May 16th, 2010 at 7:45 am. He was 67 years old.
Gone forever, his legacy remains. With a sea of classic albums spanning five decades, Dio has left an indelible mark upon the music world. As younger fans discover Ronnie’s music, his popularity continues to grow. A true metal legend with an immortal body of work, the magic of Ronnie James Dio will never die!