Ronnie James Dio: Four Songs
By: Chuck Falzone
2 years ago
When Ronnie James Dio died at 67 in 2010, heavy metal lost one of its greatest and most influential voices. Not only did his voice itself – a raspy growl with effortless power and urgency – help create a template for what a metal frontman should sound like, but he also popularized the ubiquitous “metal horns” hand gesture and cemented the association between heavy metal music and Dungeons & Dragons-style lyrical content.
Ronnie James Dio lent his voice to several bands over the course of his career. He began to make his mark with Elf in the early 1970s, and then moved on to Rainbow, a project put together in 1974 by Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Dio then took on the challenge of replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath in 1979. In 1982, he formed his own band, Dio, and produced the song he’s most well-known for, “Holy Diver.” After more than 10 years of touring and recording with his eponymous band, Dio joined several of his Black Sabbath bandmates in 2006 to form Heaven and Hell, with whom he performed until his death from stomach cancer.
In memory of Ronnie James Dio, we’re listening to four of his greatest songs from throughout his long career.
Rainbow stood with one foot in late-1960s hard rock and the other in the beginnings of true heavy metal. In “Stargazer,” you can hear Dio’s voice pushing forward into the new genre and clearing a path that thousands of 1970s and ’80s metalheads would follow.
If Ronnie James Dio was a founding father of metal, Ozzy Osbourne was its George Washington. So it was no small task for Dio to take Osbourne’s place when the latter was fired from Black Sabbath. But with the album Heaven and Hell, Dio proved that he was more than up to the challenge. Here, a 1980 live version of the album’s title track demonstrates Dio’s effortless voice, his command of the crowd, and how he brought Black Sabbath forward, keeping it on the leading edge of metal as the 1980s began.
We could have chosen “Holy Diver,” “Rainbow in the Night” or any number of songs to represent the early days of Dio’s self-named band, a time that saw him at the peak of his career. The high energy “We Rock,” performed here live in 1984, epitomizes true 1980s heavy metal, with Dio’s soaring voice driving home the title over and over again. Truly, he rocked.
Late in his career, Ronnie James Dio did not rest on his laurels, reuniting with Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler in Heaven and Hell, essentially a reunion of Dio’s era of Black Sabbath. The best of Heaven and Hell’s new songs, like “Bible Black,” are every bit as good as those from the Black Sabbath days. “Bible Black” plods slowly but relentlessly, driven forward by Iommi’s guitar and Dio’s unmistakable voice.
When Ronnie James Dio died in 2010, the heavy metal community mourned losing one of its founding voices, and one that had continued recording and performing new music almost to the very end. His Rainbow bandmate Ritchie Blackmore said that Dio “had a unique and wonderful voice,” and Tony Iommi, who played with Dio in Black Sabbath and Heaven and Hell, observed that, “Ronnie loved what he did, making music and performing onstage,” adding that “it’s truly been an honor to play at his side for all these years. His music will live on forever.”
Chuck Falzone is based in the Chicago area, where he writes, cooks, sings and tries to keep up with a preschooler.