The Man with the Golden Throat

There hasn't been a Heavy Metal lead vocalist who has aptured the imagination of the fans like Ronnie James Dio since Robert Plant first emerged as Led Zeppelin's lead throat. Throughout his career as a lead singer with Elf, Rainbow and Black Sabbath, Dio has gained a steady following for his Big Voice.

Born in New Hampshire but having grown up in Portland, New York just a short drive from Syracuse, Ronnie James Dio was the typical American boy, spending long hours participating in a wide variety of team sports.

In high school," Dio says by phone, "I played baseball, football and basketball. I wrestled. I played soccer. Whatever I could find, I'd participate in. Water skiing, body surfing, ping pong. You name it. I did it...

In the early seventies, Dio formed Elf, a hard rock outfit in the tradition of such English rock groups as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Elf recorded a couple of albums that were well-received by American audiences who thought the group was English, and they toured extensiveix opening for Deep Purple across the States.

While on tour with Deep Purple, Dio and legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore struck up a friendship and mutual admiration society for each other's musical talents, and when Deep Purple broke up and Blackmore formed is Rainbow, he asked Dio to be his lead vocalist.

One of the songs he wrote in Rainbow, "Man On The Silver Mountain," remains an integral part of the Dio stage show. "That song," Dio explains, "has become one of my signature songs. I do like that song, and I think it's important to do it for kids who would like to hear it. I'd like to keep the song alive a little bit longer, Plus, Ritchie probably needs the money anyway, even though Deep Purple appears to be getting back together this year."

Having grown up in upstate New York, I asked Ronnie if he had crossed paths with another well-respected vocalist from those parts: Lou Gramm of Foreigner.

"Lou and I grew up about 80 or 90 miles apart," he replies. "Lou used to be in a band called Black Sheep when I was still in Elf, and we played a club in Rochester, which is where Lou's from. That was the only time we ever crossed paths back then.

"Lou's brilliant," Dio continues. "He's a brilliant singer. He's a totally different kind of singer than me. He's a lot more weak-voiced and a much more middle-of-the-road singer. He must have been the inspiration for a lot of rock singers because there are a lot of LouGramm sound-alikes round now. In fact, I think the best Lou Gramm sound-like is the kid in Rainbow, Joe Lynn Turner, who I think sounds a lot like him, and I think that's what Ritchie really wanted anyway was to have a band that sounded like Foreigner.

"That's the main reason why I left Rainbow," Dio says of his split with that group. "Ritchie wanted me to write love songs like 'Girl Like You' and 'Cold As Ice.' Great songs, but just not the way I do things. He went with his Lou Gramm sound-alike and Foreigner sound-alike band. And now he's in Purple again, so I guess that says it all."

After leaving Rainbow, Dio replaced the infamous Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath in 1979. He recorded two studio albums with Sabbath, HEAVEN AND HELL and MOB RULES as well as the first Sabbath live album (LIVE EVIL), before quitting to form his own band.

Having brought drummer Vinnie Appice with him from Black Sabbath, Dio selected bassist Jimmy Bain, with whom Dio had worked in Rainbow. Guitarist Vivian Campbell completed the quartet after Bain recommended him to Dio. This lineup went right into the studio and recorded Dio's debut album, HOLY DIVER. The subsequent tour solidified the quartet's embryonic developmental stages.

Once I chose the players who were going to be on the first album," Dio recalls, "that was always going to be the band. I was always surprised that people would ask me if I was using the same musicians because I did try to make it clear that this is a band. Sure it has my name on it, but let's not discount the fact that once the band hits the stage, it's still a band.

With the release of Dio's second album (THE LAST IN LINE) and the group's sold-out Music Hall show here Saturday night, things look like they'll continue on for some time.

I think it'll last," Dio agrees, "if we allow ourselves to stay together by doing other things. I've always insisted that I don't want the members of the band to be one-dimensional. I don't want them to put all their eggs in the Dio basket. If they have the opportunity to play on someone else's album, I want them to do it as long as we always come back to the fold. Everything we do outside of Dio is nothing but a help to the career of the band, the individual and, hopefully, something that will make that person a better musician and a happier person.

With that kind of attitude," Dio concludes,"I don't see how we can go wrong as a band. With Ritchie and Sabbath, you never knew when the knife was gonna hit you between the shoulder blades when your back was turned. I never wanted that to happen in any of the bands I was in, and I've always been outspokenly honest. Maybe that's one of the reasons I haven't remained in bands too long, but this time nobody can throw me out of this band."

© Marc Holan, Cleveland Scene - August 9, 1984