RONNIE JAMES DIO
A GOD OF A SINGER
Ronnie Dio is the kindness itself. When Blackmore, capricious and inaccessible, has holed up in his room, out of reach of those who are in the hotel on behalf of the record company or the press, the singer of the group does the honors. The reporter from the English NME insists and, while we wait patiently for our turn, our colleague from overseas goes to work with Dio for about an hour and a half. When he's finally finished, Dio comes up to us and apologizes extensively for keeping us waiting for so long.
"Shall we? Aren't you tired? Aren't you tired of all that waiting?" Nice boy. Ronnie James Dio was the lead singer of the group Elf when Blackmore asked him to do the 'vocals' on the solo record that the star guitarist planned to record. Blackmore also asked the other members of Elf, but they have been quickly removed. Only Ronnie was allowed to stay. They found each other on the basis of appreciation for each other's capacities and the relationship is still good, although there can be no real friendship. As musical partners they hardly have anything to do with each other in private. We start our conversation with Dio with a look back at the underlying first big Rainbow tour.
How successful has it all been? Very successful, says Ronnie. Did he expect that?
"I did expect it, but I don't think Ritchie expected it. He did, of course, because coming from such a successful group as Deep Purple, he was the one who ran the most risks. He was putting his ass on the line, so to speak. I had faith from the start that it would go well. When you have someone in the group who is as good as Ritchie then you can hardly go wrong, came to strengthen us, no one at all could make us anything".
The band has been around for about a year and a half and has already changed line-up very thoroughly once. A birth with complications?
"Look at it like this: That first LP was made when Ritchie was still in Deep Purple. It was a solo album of his, on which we participated as session musicians. It was not the intention to form a real band at the time, to tour and stuff. When the LP was done, Ritchie decided he wanted to continue in that direction. He was very dissatisfied with the direction Deep Purple was going, the more funky direction. Ritchie isn't funky, he can play funky like he wants to, but he doesn't like it. It's just not his style. Once he decided to tour with a new band he wanted the best musicians he could find. The guys on the record were for the 'live' work less suitable. To have a drummer that you could build on, a strong heavy rock & roll drummer, we had to find Cozy Powell. We wanted a versatile keyboard player, someone who could do more than some honky-tonk piano work, we were looking for a bass player with stage personality. That's how we found Tony and Jimmy."
For you personally that must have been annoying, because it was your former friends and colleagues from Elf, who were no longer allowed to participate.
"Yes, that was very annoying. I was also quite disappointed at first, I let them succeed as much as I let myself. Especially the drummer, Gary Driscoll, was a very good friend of mine, but I also had to play my own career. I played in that band for about ten years and we had some success here and there, but nothing like what this band was going to do. So: if I get judged good enough and they don't, well, that's the way it goes".
Was there a lot of difference between the public's response to the performances and that of the press?
"With the exception of two or three shows, which were quite difficult, the reactions of the audience were, in a word, unbelievable. Warm, encouraging, understanding. We always want to convey something of ourselves to the audience, we want to please them and apart from those few with some exceptions, it was always felt very well. As far as the press reviews are concerned, I must say that I have not read many of them. Usually we were already on the road again, when they appeared in the newspaper, I also do not have reviews translated for me from a strange language, because I'm not that curious. I do know that we have had some very negative criticisms from journalists who were angry about not being allowed to interview Ritchie. They hardly wrote about the consert, but only moaned about the malicious character of Ritchie. Of course that is not a way of reviewing. Apart from those criticisms, there were good and less good reviews. It doesn't really affect me. Most of them don't know how it's to be confronted every night with an audience that expects you to be as good as Deep Purple, or even better."
Indeed, Ritchie's malice is reflected in many stories about the group. He already had that reputation when he was still in Purple. What do you think of him? Is he really that troublesome?
"Ritchie is a very unusual personality. I do not want to say that he is a genius, but it comes close to it, especially musically. He is also mentally in control of many, he is very clear and astute. talent are always difficult to work with. Still, when you think a bit the same about certain things, when you like about the same things, he turns out to be one of the friendliest individuals you can meet. I have few problems with him. It's a bit more difficult for Cozy, because Ritchie has an incredibly precise sense of timing. He immediately hears when the drummer slackens and says it, even if it's only very small. For me it's no problem. singing corresponds to Ritchie's way of playing the guitar, that is to say: with a focus on the melodic".
In the press you have already been compared to guys like Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers. What do you think of that?
"I can follow the comparison with Paul Rodgers. I don't see the one with Robert Plant that much. Robert has a unique voice, nobody sounds like him, although many have tried to copy it. I know him, he is a good friend and I can safely say that he is very different from me. Paul and I do have a similar voice, but a bit, he is much more oriented to the 'black' style of singing than I. The music of Bad Company is therefore completely different than ours, we play straight-up rock 'n' roll."
Paul's great example is O ....
"Otis Redding yes, that's clear, you can hear that. Now of course you are going to immediately ask who my favorite singer is... okay, provided I think I sing like Ronnie Dio, and that I'm not trying to imitate anyone, can I say I listen to everyone, all the singers: Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Robert Plant, all of them. The only one who might have influenced me somewhat is Paul McCartney. Paul has a voice for every song, he doesn't make music, he uses music, and in a way that ensures that there is something for everyone. I really admire that versatility in him. I try to be or become as versatile as possible myself."
What is the song you prefer to sing? Is there a particular song that you look forward to doing every night?
"Yes there is. It's 'Catch The Rainbow' and the reason is that that song really gives me a chance to really sing, not just scream. Most of the songs we do are heavy metal, loud, aggressive, fast. Luckily I have a very strong voice that can take a lot, and I also enjoy those fierce songs, but that one song is really the time to really prove myself. I sing it different every night, I can sing to it softly and quietly and at the end I can show my volume. It is the total song for me."
How do your numbers come about? I understand you write the lyrics and Ritchie the music. Is that right?
"It usually goes like this, that Ritchie comes up with some riff and then starts looking for the matching chords, then there is something like a skeleton of a new song. Then he comes to me and asks what I think, on which I take care of the vocals, melody and lyrics. I usually get inspired by Ritchie's arrangement. My lyrics are quite on the mystical side: 'Run with the Wolf', 'Tarot Woman', 'Stargazer', and so on. That's the way I write and luckily those are the kind of lyrics that Ritchie loves. Things that leave a little to the listener's imagination. 'Stargazer' for example, you can interpret that in many different ways. There are people who say it's about the President of the United States, which I'm not exactly aware of. When the song is done, each member of the band adds some of their own to the recording, so that it for everyone a nice song to do".
The next record is a 'live' album, I heard.
"Probably. It's on the shelf."
Will it be better than Deep Purple's latest: 'Live in Europe'?
"Much better. That band was at the end of their life, we are young and fresh. With them it was depression, with us it is: off the starting blocks and go".
Bert van de Kamp, Muziekkrant Oor, Holland 3 November 1976