RONNIE JAMES DIO
Metal Rules Interview
If you don't mind I'd like to start out with some questions about the past. I know there's a lot of history so the first question would be regarding the band ELF, which you were in many years ago. Have there been plans to re-release any of those albums?
Well there is actually a plan to record another album.
Right, that was my second question. (Laughter)
Yeah because I've been in contact with my cousin, Rock (Dave Fonsteine) and our drummer, Simon Wright, is going to play. He's perfect for it because he's small too. Ha ha! We were going to use Joes DeMaio to play bass on it. At this point I'm not sure whether it will be Joey, or maybe both, but Rodger Glover going to do some of it with us. Rodger produced all the Elf albums we did before and I can't say no to Rodge and especially being the great player that he is. So yeah, there are plans to do another one. About re-released the other ones. I've seen them on CDs before. They are from England; a company called The Connoisseur Collection. I see them all the time and I keep saying well how come I'm not getting any money from these things…how come I never get paid? But I have seen them before. One is a double CD called GARGANTUAN ELF. That's got the second and third albums on it. I have seen the first one, the one with me on the cover with a long nose curly hair and pointed ears, the one just called ELF; I've seen that on CD as well.
Do you have any timeframe in mind for when you will actually sit down and work on this Elf project?
Well it's going to have to be a matter of when time doesn't step upon what Dio is doing. We're not going to be finished touring until probably late May because we have to go to Europe for a while as well and South America. So by that time we certainly will be ready to write another album for Dio. That will take precedence. I can't divide myself between doing one thing and doing another, I just don't want to do that and couldn't anyway. So unfortunately, or hopefully, it will be after we finish the next Dio album and that will hopefully give us a couple months for the product to get revved up and out there. At that time at least we can maybe have a start at writing all the things for it.
With regards to some of the other past bands/projects you've been in like Ronnie Dio and the Prophets and other pre-Rainbow bands…has there ever been talk of a box-set or re-releasing some of the early rare stuff that people have problems finding?
Well... I can only say that I think that they should…if they find them all they should bundle them in a box and blow them all up! (chuckles)…that's what I think.
You'd rather forget about it?
I'd rather, yeah….and it's only because you become something so much different. You understand why you are doing it and what you're doing. I guess erasing it is only because I've become so different. If I listen to that I think to myself "wow, what a wimp, what a jerk off!" But you have to remember, if only everyone could know that when that was happening, it was pretty hard and heavy stuff. But unfortunately you can't go around to everyone and say "don't listen to it that way."
There's just (been) such a drastic change for me…I don't mean to keep going on and on about it but I think you'd know what I meant if you had written an article when you were five years old critiquing something and when you are 25 years old writing for Newsweek and someone says "oh…we just wanted to bring up this article that you wrote, here it is." I don't know if that equates, but you know what I mean.
With such an amazing career that has spanned about 40 years now, have you ever though about putting it down into a book, an autobiography maybe?
Well I've done that already. It's pretty close to half finished. But that again is a matter of time. I didn't realize quite how focused you had to be to write some prose. When I did discover that I was quite adept at it really…from my own autobiographical sense it's not like I'm making up stories, so it's pretty easy to have the subject matter there. But I've found you really have to work at it and concentrate to do it properly. I'm not a very good typist, so I do everything with a pencil with a large eraser on it and edit it as I go along.
By the time I've finished a chapter, it's the way its going to be - obviously I'm not egocentric enough not to give it to an editor who will probably have a lot of suggestions when the time comes. But, I don't have the time again and that's the problem. I'll have to find those month off periods. Which takes precedence - the Elf album or writing a book? I don't know. I guess I can always write a book, I can't always play with Elf.
I have a question regarding the musical climate that has changed a lot over the span of your career. Trends and bands have come and gone so what inspires you, Ronnie James Dio, the artist, to create in the year 2001?
I don't know what makes me tick. I don't know really what it is that made me want to have done this all this time. I think probably if I have to do a self-examination for you, it's probably that I have a really, really, really high level of desire for whatever I put my mind to. I think when you translate that into the good fortune I've had to be able to write, to be able to sing, without having to be taught to do it and being given the time all my life to mature and to just nurture it... it's just really easy.
Maybe that's why I do it, because it's just so easy. It's so easy for me to sing and to think musically and it's so easy for me to be on a stage. In fact that's the best part of it all…that all of this leads me to being in front of an audience because I don't walk around my house and sing to my cat or my dogs or to people on the street. I do that when the spirit moves me, and that's in front of an audience. I just keep doing it because I love to do it. It's just so fulfilling for me.
The hard rock/heavy metal scene has obviously evolved during your career. Do you think it has evolved in a way that you thought it would or is what we call "heavy metal" today something that you never would of dreamt to of fit under the moniker?
No I don't think so. I don't think that the progression from heavy metal music to whatever it may be called today, whatever forms of metal music is may be - death metal, speed metal, whatever... I didn't see it change just suddenly overnight. It eased its way in a little, so I wasn't drastically shocked by it. It's hard for me to say did I think that would happen, because it happened so slowly it seemed like it was always there. I don't think I would of ever predicted it would of gone that way. I would of always thought that it would of stayed...
I guess that's terrible isn't it really, it's a horrible perspective on music that it would of stayed. Because of all people, me to say that…but I would of thought that it would of perhaps hovered around the parameters perhaps that I've always grown up with, with metal music from Sabbath to Zeppelin to Purple to things that came after it. I always thought it would just get better within that arena. I didn't see that it was going to be a drastic rhythm change for a start, which is what I think brought half of it out.
You mentioned Deep Purple…you will be performing with them in March in Tokyo, Japan. I want to ask you what it is like to perform with Deep Purple AND with a full orchestra and you can perhaps tell me about the songs you did and if you did and Dio material or if you would?
Well the first thing I did with them was at the Albert Hall. That was only two nights - a Saturday and a Sunday. It was only going to be two nights and that was to be it. I'd gone over four days before and rehearsed with the band and had done only two songs from an album called Butterfly Ball.
Roger Glover had written it and produced it. The show, because it was the 30th Anniversary of Jon Lords writing and performing of Concerto For Group and Orchestra, which they had did 30 years ago at the Albert Hall. So they wanted to reprise that particular event. Each person in the band took ten to fifteen minutes to do something that they had done in their time of that 30-year period - whether it be solo work or whatever they wanted to do. Ian Paice played a big band thing because he started as a big band drummer, Ian Gillan did some things from his solo albums, etc etc..
Roger Glover really only had Butterfly Ball to do which anyone would know and I sang the thing so he asked me if I would do it. I said of course I would, I would do anything for Roger, I think he's the man…the best. So I went over and rehearsed with them, did those two songs and went back to thinking that that was good - we done the CD and it's on DVD and it will be there forever and great bye. Then we went down to South America after that and did three weeks in South America and then did 5 weeks in Europe with it as well. So it went on a lot longer then I thought it would but because it was such a good product. It was a joy doing it with them. We did it with the Long Symphony Orchestra at the Albert Hall and in Europe we did it with the Transylvanian Orchestra - they're from Romania, they are actually from Transylvania and the call themselves the Transylvanian Orchestra. They have 90-pieces.
That was an event, traveling with 90 people but it was wonderful. The reaction was great. It was a joy to be back with the guys from Purple again. I've know them almost all my life…just to hang out with them again was wonderful, we had a great time reconnecting. The music was wonderful... it was just one of the high points of my life. I can't tell you what a joy it was, it was easy to. But when we did the other gigs on the road (besides the Albert Hall one) I did four songs. I did the two from Butterfly Ball and I did "Fever Dreams" from MAGICA and I did "Rainbow In The Dark."
Are any of those going to be performed in Tokyo, Japan in March or will there be any additions?
Well as far as I know those will be the ones. I don't know how much work they've been doing. I've been rather busy, so to go off and learn some more might be difficult, but I'm not bothered. I'll have just finished the tour so I'll be good and strong so it won't be a problem.
On a lighter note, you were featured as the band playing at a school dance in an episode of South Park. Were you contacted for permission and how did it come about?
Yes we were contacted and initially we said, "We don't think so because you'll be very cruel to me." Then we were told that there was a lot of fans of the band at the place, actually I think it was through Warner Brothers…but they were big fans and said they'd be kind to me. And I thought (to myself), "Look if you want to be an American icon, you better let this happen pal." So I did, and they did it, and I think they were great. They killed me, I was on the floor it was just wonderful.
How close did we actually come to a Rainbow reunion and do you think it will ever happen?
It came pretty close at one point but that went away. There were just a lot of problems involved in it. There has been contact made between Ritchie's (Blackmore) faction and my faction and Ritchie and I... but not for those purposes...
I mean, I haven't initiated that contact because I just left that up to Ritchie. It was his band in the first place, so it was up to him to make a move and obviously it wouldn't be that way any more - it's a different world out there now.
I think the crux of that band was always, aside from Cozy who is not with us anymore, was always myself and Ritchie from the way we just wrote and played together. But there is still an outside chance.
As far as ever touring or doing anything like that, I would think that that would be an absolute impossibility. It's really hard, it's like doing the Sabbath reunion, and you think that everything is going to change, but nothing ever does, nothing ever changes. I don't know if at this point in my life if I want to put myself through that. I'm so happy doing what I'm doing now. I'd have to really think about it. Let's face it, money is a big enticer and I'm sure they are going to chuck some big bucks at us because they already did once. But you've got to be a bit more true to yourself then that.
I would do it if I wanted to do it, if it was important... because I think it is important to a lot of people out there. That band has become... I don't know what happened with it, but it became this template for music for a while and it just seems like such an important thing to so many musicians that I think it would be a shame for them, for the ones who have never seen it, not to see it one more time. I think it would be great but who knows, there is always a chance.
I was going to say, Rainbow did leave quite a mark, in my opinion, on a lot of today's newer power metal bands. (Absolutely) That's kind of evidenced by a CD that was released a year or two ago called "To Catch A Rainbow" which featured several Helloween members (amongst others). I was wondering what your thoughts were on that tribute and the impact that Rainbow has had on power metal?
Well I am always flattered by tributes. I think it's something I never expected but that one and anyone who attempts to do it flatter me. Its just saying thank you. So to judge it... I judge it by the thank you as opposed to what's in it but they all do a really good job of it because they all love Rainbow so much. All these kids who grew up that way, wanted to the singer in Rainbow and probably always wanted to sing "Kill The King" or probably always wanted to sing "Man On The Silver Mountain." Just as I always wanted to sing "Smoke On The Water" or the things that you grew up with, that's what you want to do at some point in your life. So they do it with care and they imitate very well I think. But you know there is only one original.
And the other part of the question (impact on power metal)... like I said before, and especially in Europe, it's had an incredible effect on so many people. I've spoken to a lot of people in my life who were stunned by the first time when they saw Rainbow and went on to become what they became, not because of Rainbow but because they wanted to be like that. I know Lars Ulrich is one of them and Yngwie Malmsteen is another. I just know so many people who I've spoken to over there who are in bands and even bands you'd know very well go "ohh... I saw Rainbow and for me that was ohhhh..." It's just amazing how that band, and we were always huge in Europe but we weren't that massive in America, at least the Rainbow I was in at the beginning of the band.
I think we were more of an underground band at that time, I don't know why. I remember playing in, I think it was Toronto, at the Maple Leaf Gardens. They had to cut the place back pretty drastically but I think we only drew like 1500 people or so. I thought, "Well this isn't going to work." Then we started to do a little better here and there but we were smart enough not to play massive places like that. Then 25 years later it has become this band that everyone saw at Maple Leaf Gardens. There must have been 150,000 people there and I didn't see them.
That's what happens but it's been a very important thing especially from the "duo" combination, which works so well all the time. From Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to Perry and Tyler, there are many more of them... I don't say we were on that level, Ritchie and I, but we created something very unique just as Tony and I did in Sabbath as well. You connect as two musicians who are necessary to make it happen and it's a magical thing. Rainbow just had impact on everyone because they hadn't heard anything like that before.
With regards to the other tribute album, the only other one I'll bring up, and that's HOLY DIO which was another of the tributes that stood out, what did you think of it and how much involvement did you have with it? Did you have any involvement at all, or was it just brought to you done.
Yeah, that's exactly the way it was, yeah.
Did you think it was a fitting tribute?
I thought the best one was the European one. The HOLY DIO one wasn't as good as that one, I didn't think. It was OK. Again, like I said before, to me, I can't bite a thank-you. It was great.
A question regarding your personal and business relationship - and that is with your wife, Wendy, who is also your manager. Do you ever find it difficult to balance those to factors of your relationship?
No, never. I've never ever had a problem.
How long has she been your manager anyway?
Let's see... 1983.
Regarding Yngwie Malmsteen, you have recorded with him in the past on "Dream On."
"Dream On" and those things they put the guitar player on quite a bit later. So when I sang that song, there was no guitar on it.
So you've never got to sit and work with him on anything like that?
No, I wouldn't do that anyway. They asked him to be the guitar player and it's up to him to show his chops. I'm assuming that's what his fans want to hear. I wouldn't be so pretentious to do that unless it was my gig. If it was my gig I'd DAMN well do it, I can tell you that.
Would you ever consider future collaboration with Yngwie?
Aaaa... Never say no.
I think it would be kinda cool!
Ok... well I've said this before and I love Yngwie. I think he's a great person and I'm one of the few people who really like him. He's been great with me, he's been very respectful, he's a great player. My only thing is, if I worked with Yngwie, I would just want him to be more of a person on a band than "I'm Yngwie Malmsteen." I think that's what it is all about, being a person in a band. That's what a band is, when musicians get together to play - they are in a band. They feed off each other, they invent things together, and they enjoy it together.
The band is not the reason for me to be out there in front of THEM and sing. That's not my job. My job is to be a part of that band. I'm just afraid that Yngwie feels that his job is to be in front of that band. So it makes it hard sometimes from a musical standpoint. But I love him and we had a great time on the tour and he did a great job.
You're touring now, not with Yngwie but with Armored Saint? (Yeah and Lynch Mob) Doro was also on the bill with Yngwie, how did that go over?
Doro was GREAT. Doro was rock and roll, she's rock and roll. She's a great person. I love Doro. I've known her for a long time. She opened for us, she had a band from Germany called Warlock a while ago and... I think that must have been like 90-91, something like that. I met her then, she was great then and she's even better now. She's great, the hardest working girl I've ever seen. She really works hard and loves the music and she's going to do really well here. She went down really well with the audiences.
With regards to your voice, you've been singing for quite a while, so do you have to take any measures to keep your voice in such excellent shape such as avoiding smoking, drinking, eating healthier foods…anything like that or are you just gifted?
It's not smoking and also really knowing how to do it. Technique is the thing that is most important. If you know how to song, then you are not going to hurt yourself. You can always do it because the other roots you can take to not injure yourself. Your voice is your instrument and you should know it really well and that's what the problem is. People think they can just go out and screech and scream and it goes away. I just don't smoke and I try to look after myself but I'm a musician and I drink, I can't help it (laughs). You know, it's boring out there on the road. I'm too long in the tooth to stop doing it now.
To wrap up I want to ask you about something people have asked you about before but will no doubt continue to talk about, and that is the sign created by raising your index and little finger. Some call it the "devils hand" or the "evil eye." I would like to know if you were the first one to introduce this to the metal world and what this symbol represents to you?
I doubt very much if I would be the first one who ever did that. That's like saying I invented the wheel, I'm sure someone did that at some other point. I think you'd have to say that I made it fashionable. I used it so much and all the time and it had become my trademark until the Britney Spears audience decided to do it as well. So it kind of lost it's meaning with that. But it was... I was in Sabbath at the time. It was symbol that I thought was reflective of what that band was supposed to be all about. It's NOT the devil's sign like we're here with the devil.
It's an Italian thing I got from my Grandmother called the "Meloik" (ed. note: not sure of the spelling). It's to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it. It's just a symbol but it had magical incantations and attitudes to it and I felt it worked very well with Sabbath. So I became very noted for it and then everybody else started to pick up on it and away it went. But I would never say I take credit for being the first to do it. I say because I did it so much that it became the symbol of rock and roll of some kind.
You are the first I remember form back in the 80's who I say use it the most.
That's right (laughs).
Metal Rules, March 2001