Dio Memorialized by Music Community in L.A.
By Scott Essman
(All photos courtesy of macabre theatre and emmreport.com)
To the naked eye, Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010) might have been offhandedly slight of stature, but musically and otherwise, he was most assuredly a mountain of a man, both onstage and off. His thundering operatic voice soared across almost 40 years of songs in numerous prominent bands, but his kindness of spirit might be even more highly regarded than his artistic talent by those who knew him.
This month, the music community gathered for the fifth anniversary of Dio’s passing, to pay tribute not only to the singer’s massive musical successes, but equally if not more so to his benevolent character. Surely, the man is most known as the lead singer and frontman for seminal bands including Rainbow in the mid-1970s, Black Sabbath in the early-1980s, and his own band Dio in the 1980s and beyond. However, countless music insiders point to Dio’s unswerving devotion to his many bandmates, friends, fans, and those in need with whom he came across.
At Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills, music historian and TV show host Eddie Trunk presided over a ceremony that brought together Dio’s family and extended musical family, in addition to his many admirers and followers, all of whom sang his praises as being a truly considerate person on equal footing with his appreciable vocal and songwriting skills. â€œI think that it sells Ronnie short when people call him a great metal singer,â€ Trunk said an hour before the ceremony proper. â€œI think he was a great singer across the board when you listen to all the range in the music that he made. What’s most amazing about him is his consistency, right up to the very end.â€
When Dio passed of stomach cancer on May 16, 2010, Trunk was asked to host the first memorial at that time, with efforts since then going towards Dio’s Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund [www.diocancerfund.org]. â€œObviously that was tough because we had just lost him,â€ Trunk said on a cloudy Saturday in front of a sizable Dio museum gallery. â€œNow, five years later, Wendy [Dio, Ronnie’s widow] said she wants this to be a bit more celebratory, remember him in the stories, and have a little fun with it. Obviously, we’re still mourning him, but I think people that come to this, and the people who are here, will realize the magnitude of the loss but also realize the great memories that we still have.â€
Legendary drummer Vinny Appice played with Dio in the early 1980s in Black Sabbath and in various incarnations of the Dio solo band in the 1980s and afterwards. â€œSeeing him every night was so inspiring and amazing,â€ said Appice. â€œI’m a lucky guy to be part of this and work with Ronnie in bands that we’d been in together. I was very fortunate.â€
Just after the main ceremony, which featured speeches by those close to the Dio camp peppered into a unprecedented collection of hard rock and heavy metal musicians who combined to perform classic Dio tunes in makeshift bands, Appice added how it felt to play with Dio onstage. â€œIt was amazing,â€ he reflected. â€œAfter a while you get used to that level, and you just expect it. You go out and play, and there’s this vocalist with this unbelievable powerful voice. He kicked my ass, and I kicked his ass. That’s the way it works.â€
Also following the ceremony, guitarist Craig Goldy, who had recorded and toured with Dio on and off since 1983, explained his unique affiliation. â€œI wasn’t in the band Dio [when it formed in 1983], but he sat in on the audition for Rough Cutt and got inspired by my audition when Jake E. Lee left to join Ozzy [Osbourne’s band]. We did â€œMan on the Silver Mountainâ€ and â€œHeaven and Hellâ€ together. Then, we worked together in the studio when I was in Rough Cutt. He was the producer and Wendy was the manager. It was then that he said, â€˜If Viv [first Dio solo band guitarist Vivian Campbell] ever doesn’t work out, you’d by my first choice.’â€
Certainly, Goldy’s connection to Dio and recording and touring professionally coalesced in Dio’s bringing Goldy into his network as a nascent talent. â€œIt all began way back with a little kid with a dream and no money, living in a car [in] San Diego,â€ Goldy stated. â€œThey brought me up there. I came from an abusive family, so I chose to live in a car on the streets. All I had was a guitar. Wendy and Ronnie rented me gear so I can do the audition. He was really good to me.â€
By 1986, Goldy was the lead guitarist in Dio’s solo band. â€œIt was very surreal,â€ Goldy revealed. â€œIt was a real dream come true. He was and still is my favorite singer. My dream back then was to try to get a band with guys that sounded like Ronnie. I ended up being in Ronnie’s band. When we would perform songs that we wrote together, it was very surreal. It’s a very interesting feeling when you’re actually living a dream. That’s what it was.â€
Before Chris Broderick [Megadeth] went onstage to play guitar in one of the tribute songs, â€œStand Up and Shoutâ€ from Dio’s first solo album, he stated simply his feelings about Dio the artist, echoed by many who converged to pay their respects. â€œOne of the best metal singers we will ever see, for sure, and have seen,â€ Broderick said, noting that he’s started a new band inspired by music including Dio’s called Act of Defiance.
One attendee actually related to Dio had personal memories of the man outside of music: David â€œRockâ€ Feinstein, guitarist for the heavy metal band, The Rods. â€œThe one thing that I can really remember about him, and one of the things I really miss about him, is that he was such a funny guy,â€ Feinstein said. â€œHe had an incredible sense of humor, and he was constantly telling jokes and making me laugh. There were times when I laughed so hard, I’d be crying, tears would be coming out of my eyes, I had a headache. That was a trait that ran in the family. His uncles and part of the family were the same way â€“ funny people. He found humor in a lot of things. When we were together, I knew I was going to have a good time, laugh a lot, and laughing is an important thing in life â€“ people don’t laugh enough. When I was with Ronnie, I was always going to laugh.â€
Dio’s influence even reached new â€œmillennialâ€ listeners. â€œI grew up listening to Dio â€“ my parents are big fans of the whole 80s rock genre, so when I was growing up around the house, that was constantly playing â€“ the Dio and the Queensryche,â€ said Gabbie Rae, a 16-year-old singer. â€œAs I got older, I fell in love with Ronnie myself.â€
In an unforeseen twist, two years ago, Rae released an acoustically-based cover video of her performing Dio’s signature song, â€œRainbow in the Dark.â€ Wendy Dio, Ronnie’s widow, found the video and posted it on Dio’s Facebook page. Since then, the video has gone viral, and now Wendy has taken Rae under her wing. Of note, Rae was asked to perform the song at the recent ceremony, albeit with electric instruments. â€œI had been singing â€œRainbow in the Darkâ€ for so long that I felt really confident, but it was my first time performing with that lineup. We had one rehearsal, we went over it twice, â€˜Okay, good to go!’â€ Amazingly, though Rae was onstage with veteran musicians who have been performing for decades longer than she has been alive, Rae held her own in one of the event’s most memorable musical performances. Shockingly, Rae turned 17 five days after the Dio tribute.
Upon the ceremony’s closing, the aforementioned Wendy Dio simply and succinctly summarized the impact that her late husband has had on an entire industry. â€œListen to Ronnie James Dio because he’s the greatest singer and songwriter,â€ she advised her husband’s many devotees. â€œIf you are a young musician, be true to yourself; do what your heart wants you to do. Don’t listen to other people. Do what’s in your heart.â€
SUGGESTED SONG PLAYLIST – 10 Triumphant Ronnie James Dio Performances
- Man on the Silver Mountain â€“ RAINBOW (1975)
- Stargazer â€“ RAINBOW (1976)
- Neon Knights â€“ BLACK SABBATH (1980)
- Heaven and Hell â€“ BLACK SABBATH (1980)
- The Sign of the Southern Cross â€“ BLACK SABBATH (1981)
- Stand Up and Shout â€“ DIO (1983)
- Rainbow in the Dark â€“ DIO (1983)
- The Last in Line â€“ DIO (1984)
- Mystery â€“ DIO (1984)
- Hungry for Heaven â€“ DIO (1985)