Ronnie James Dio

Inside View of Ritchie's Rainbow


Ronnie Dio is full of confidence, not shrinking from putting himself in the ranks of the very best Rock vocalists and not being afraid to say that he thinks Rainbow are bloody good. But it's not arrogance. Dio's good, the band's good and he knows it. He also happens to be one of the most intelligent people I've had the pleasure to interview.

As a starter, what about the album, 'Rainbow Rising'? Apart from being one of this year's finest, it was recorded in Munich's Musicland Studios. Why?

"Well, to start with, Musicland is an excellent studio and we worked there because of our tax structure which stops us recording in either Britain or the States.

Shelter


"The structure is basically a tax shelter for us and if we recorded or mixed in the States we'd be taxed in Britain, which is one of the reasons we went to Musicland, the best studio we could find outside either of our home countries."

Part of the band's problem is that three of the members, Blackmore, PoweN and Bain, are British subjects with only Ronnie and keyboard player Tony Carey being Americans. This complicates things, as Ron- nie explains.

"Knowing the tax structure over here, if we were to work in Britain or the States it would mean those three being up in the 85 to 90% tax bracket. This country, speaking strictly as an outsider, is driving away creative talent in all the arts. I know that they all want to live and work here but they're being driven out by absolute stupidity."

The complexities of intemational taxation as applied to Rock bands are a bit beyond me, but Ronnie manages to explain what any Beat readers who make it are going to have to face.

"Under the taxation system You can choose which country you want to stay in for at least half a year in our case we've chosen the United States. You're allowed sixty-two days in England and the rest of the time has to be spent anywhere else in the world, so by choosing the States as your tax country that allows you to do anything else you want anywhere other than Britain or the States. If you chose Germany as your tax country, you'd be able to record in the USA or here, that's how it works."

Anyone who's read many interviews with members of either Purple or Ritchie himself, will know of the May In Black's' reputation for being, how shall we say, 'difficult'. How did Ronnie feel about working in a band which must, to many fans, be Blackmore's Rainbow?

"We have to face the fact that this band was put together by Ritchie who was only able to put it together because he was a star. It's up to us to prove that we're up to his level, which is something I think that we can all do. He's the kind of guitarist who plays off other musicians. His formula is a band formula and you're given 100% latitude to work in that way to the best of your abilities."

The whole saga of how the Blackmore/Dio partnership came into being is pretty well documented in Beat, but for those who haven't come across it, let's just say that Dio's former band, Elf, spent much of its time touring as support to Purple. Eventually Dio was asked to collaborate with Ritchie on a song he'd written, called '16th Century Greensleeves' and the partnership began.

As a songwriter, how did Dio work?

Greensleeves


"I write mainly on bass, guitar or piano. I find that melodies come quite easily from the bass but I was a bass player for twelve years which makes it my native instrument. Luckily for me though, I don't need to write on any instrument because I can work in my head without any problems.

" '16th Century Greensleeves' was a good example of that. When we wrote it Ritchie was with Purple and the two bands were in Minnesota. He told me that he had to go into the studio in a couple of days to lay down a track and asked me if I could write a lyric for hint by the following day. I though 'God knows' but I said I'd attempt it. So, we went up to his room and he played me the chords and I just went away having to remember it. I went home and wrote the melody and lyric in my head and it worked out fine."

Until the recent Rainbow tour, Ronnie Dio was something of an unknown quantity to British audiences, at least as a live singer. Blackmore fans had rushed out to buy the first Rainbow album to find that it wasn't the guitar extravaganza they might have expected, but instead was a fairly cohesive album with a virtually unknown singer by the name of Ronnie Dio bashing it out like a veteran superstar of the Paul Rodgers' class. That wouldn't have been so strange had it not been for the fact that Dio is an American and, as any heavy metal fan will tell you, Americans aren't especially good heavy singers - why?

It's not too easy to ask someone why his fellow countrymen are pretty lousy at something, but Dio's a human being so I thought I'd try. I was both gratified and surprised to find that he agreed with me, American aren't especially good For a start Americans are brought up on black music, they're brought up on funk and rhythm which doesn't give them much chance to expand as vocalists.

"On top of that, most American vocalists are posers more than they are singers or musicians. Most singers who don't play are trying to emulate Mick Jagger, who does play, or Robert Plant, who also plays. They look at these people and say 'I want to be the star that he is'. So, instead of doing what they should be doing, which is becoming a damned good singer, they just get caught up in posing.

"But the third and most important thing is that Americans have never been able to perform with someone like Ritchie Blackmore, they've never been able to play with someone who's as brilliant as he is and they've never had to compete on the same level as someone as good as that. I consider myself to be as good a singer as Ritchie is a guitar player, and that's not an ego trip, because he's always saying that if he could sing then he'd want to be able to sing like me.

"I also think that English musicians and singers are more conscientious than those from any other country. I think they practice more, they care more and they have a more definitive idea of the music that an audience or a record buyer will like."

Pitch


Given that he sees problems for anyone with the wrong attitude and background to become a good singer, how can one get to where he is? "As a singer you've got to have good pitch and you've either got it or you haven't. If you have then you just may have something to go on. From there I come to my second point which is character. That means that if you're a singer and you've got good pitch but you feel that you can't compete with the likes of Robert Plant or Paul Rodgers then you can take the next best line which is to work on character like Jimi Hendrix or Phil Lynott. But the most important thing of all is intelligence. That enables you to take whatever you've either got or haven't got and use it to your advantage.

"Singing is a constant worry, I worry about it all the time. If a guitarist breaks his fingers he's got trouble but, if he's careful, he doesn't break his fingers. Being a singer there's really not a lot you can do."

Dio is, in case you haven't heard either the album or a live gig, a quite brilliant singer. Although not possesing the physical presence of the Nordic giant type Robert Plant or the gaunt sinister looks of a Bowie, Dio has an aura that reaches out and grabs you. His voice is staggeringly powerful and he has that rare gift of total stage presence. Much of that is born of a natural gift for singing, an equal part is an uncommonly good brain which enables Ronnie to quite seriously control every aspect of his performance.

To the thousands of ex-Purple fans who've flocked to see what Blackmore's new band are capable of, Dio must have come as a surprise. He's quite in the Gillen class and is a powerful asset to the band both as songwriter and vocalist.

It's rare, as I've said, to find an American capable of fitting into a heavy Rock format like he was born to it, but Dio has done it and proved to be the equal of a giant like Blackmore.

Modes


hat also emerges is Dio's awareness of the problems facing musicians generally. Study his words wisely because Ronnie Dio knows what he's talking about. With Blackmore he's a deadly combination. There's more to come from this band as he explains when I ask about Blackmore's love of the Alan-a-Dale school of music, using modes rather than the more normal conventions of modern composition.

"Ritchie and myself are very much in love with that sort of music, when it was very simple and when the modes were changes from A to C, that sort of thing, when the changes sound very medieval. You hear that sort of thing a lot in our music, using different melodies based on modal structures. However, we need a lot more time to work on things like that. Right now we don't have the time because we must get over to people the concept that we want to get out and play live.

"There's a lot about this band that people haven't seen yet, a lot of things that are going to come out."


Gary Cooper, Beat Instrumental - November 1976 issue