Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger
As this week wrapped and I came upon an incredible New York Times Magazine piece, I realized Thursday marked nine years since the singer Ronnie James Dio passed away from cancer at 67. If you’re, like me, a fan of the genre, Ronnie James Dio personifies Metal. The same holds true if you’re not a fan. You just don’t know it yet.
Born Ronald James Padavona, Dio performed in a band named Elf, which eventually earned a slot opening for Deep Purple. In the 1970’s, Purple’s guitarist Ritchie Blackmore formed the band Rainbow, and Dio joined as a lead singer. And, if you’re even remotely curious, I’d encourage you to look up Rainbow’s “Man on the Silver Mountain” featuring Dio’s lead vocals. You won’t find a better representation of his work.
After creative differences with Blackmore led Dio to leave Rainbow he connected with Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath guitarist. The band had just fired singer Ozzy Osbourne and honestly didn’t know if they had any future. Dio ended up joining Sabbath for a brief stint from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, serving as a lyricist and lead singer. The band’s albums from this year are certainly different, but in a good way. Hard, melodic, but maybe not as sludgy.
Band infighting led to Dio leaving Sabbath and forming his own namesake band, which released a series of solid albums through the 2000’s. If you’re reading this post and Ronnie James Dio sounds familiar but you’re just not certain, then you’ve likely heard his song “Rainbow in the Dark,” off Dio’s 1983 signature album Holy Diver.
Short and slight, with unruly thinning hair, no one would ever mistake Ronnie James Dio with David Lee Roth or Vince Neil in their respective heydays. But it was Dio’s authenticity that made him resonate with fans. Even though I never got a chance to see Dio in concert, he built his enduring career based on making an audience member feel as if he was performing directly to them. In this regard I would almost consider him Metal’s version of Bruce Springsteen.
Widely known for popularizing the “devil’s horn” symbol common among headbangers worldwide, Dio sang in a theatrical, operatic style. His songs reference dragons, serpents, mountains and of course, rainbows. Dio openly flaunted his nerd ethic, his outsider status. I truly wish he could have lived long enough to see shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones embraced by mainstream society. He probably would have smirked knowingly and then gotten back to the task at hand.
It’s my sense as a long-time music fan, that Metal hasn’t really been widely embraced since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. But I can assure you that bands who you haven’t thought about in years, who you may relegate to “What ever happened to?” status, have been regularly producing albums, many quite good, and touring each year. And each night their singers, in some shape or form, pay homage to Ronnie James Dio, Metal’s inimitable boss.