Monday, May 17, 2010

Throw up the horns and light up the lighters... Ronnie's gone home

One of the greatest metal vocalists of all time, and one of the originators of heavy metal itself; Ronnie James Dio died today of stomach cancer, at the age of 67 (he would have been 68 in two months).

I had the great pleasure of meeting Ronnie several times during the 90s and early 2000s (great years for hard core metal fans; while grunge displaced metal, and small shows where it was easy to get backstage replaced huge stadiums... at least in the U.S. Metal bands were setting INSANE audience records in Brazil and Japan in those years). He was an intelligent, funny, interesting, engaging, intense, friendly, and generous man; and he will be greatly missed.

I cannot tell you how much time I've spent listening to that mans voice... Thousands of hours certainly, since I've been listening to his music for some 25 years.

Of any of the metal gods, I've seen Dio live the most: performing with a reformed rainbow (for all of about five seconds before Blackmores ego disintegrated them again), with Black Sabbath many times, with Heaven and Hell, with Dio, and as one of the many guest singers of Deep Purple. In fact... he may well be the single artist I've seen live the most, having attended dozens of shows where Ronnie was at least one of the singers (I've seen him in shows where he performed in front of three different bands).

A man who could play at least 7 different instruments (guitar, bass, drums, piano, organ, trumpet, and french horn that I know of); Ronnie was an active professional rock and roll musician for more than 50 years; releasing his first single in 1958 (at age 16), as the bassist, trumpet player, and lead singer, of a rockabilly band (yes, all three... I know...).

I attended a show of his in '09, and he was as amazing as the first time I saw him live, in I think '89... Where he was, I'm sure, as amazing as he was opening for Deep Purple in '69

Ronnie was one of the founders of metal as we know it. He was among the first in America to play what we now call hard rock, with his progressive blues band "The Electric Elves" (they eventually changed their name to ELF) beginning in 1967; primarily as the opening band for Deep Purple during that great bands best years.

When Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple the first time, he sort of took ELF with him. They became "Ritchie Blackmores Rainbow". Athough there were others who played metal before Rainbows founding; they were the first band really founded from the start as what we would now call a heavy metal band.

They released one of the first metal hits "Man on the silver mountain" in 1975:

and here's a better version, live in London in 1995:

and later had a hit with "Long live Rock and Roll" (again I'll use the live in London version):

Ronnie left Rainbow in 1978, largely because of Blacmores ego (as most people who deal with Blackmore do); but soon landed the role that would add most to his legend, as the second lead singer of Black Sabbath, replacing the increasingly drug addled Ozzy Osbourne in 1979.

They immediately scored a hit (and an all time classic metal song) with the title track of their first album together "Heaven and Hell"; which gave Sabbath their first platinum album since 1973s "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath":

They followed that up with what is probably the best post Ozzy song from Sabbath, the title track of "Mob Rules":

Now... Unlike most metal songs the lyrics aren't particularly ridiculous... they're actually pretty good:
"Close the city and tell the people
That something's coming to call
Death and darkness are rushing forward
To stamp light from the wall!

Oh! You've nothing to say
They'll drag you away!
If you listen to fools,
The mob rules, the mob rules

Kill the spirit and you'll be blinded
The end is always the same
Play with fire, you'll burn your finger
And you'll get hold of a flame, oh!

It's over, it's done
The end is begun
If you listen to fools,
The mob rules

You've nothing to say
Oh, They're breaking away
If you listen to fools

Break the circle and stop the movement
The wheel is thrown to the ground
Just remember it might stop rolling
And take you right back around!

You're all fools!
The Mob Rules!"

It was during his time with Sabbath that Ronnie popularized "the horns" in Metal. There's been more than enough written about that online, I'll leave it to you to look it up.

In 1982, Ronnie quit Sabbath over artistic differences with Tony Iommi; and along with replacement drummer (and one of the best drummers of all time) Vinnie Appice formed Dio.

From the sublime to the ridiculous I suppose... I LOVE Dio, but they are the epitome of everything cheesy about 80s power metal.

Witness, the video for their biggest hit "Holy Diver" (which is so cheesetastic it is featured on every "best" AND every "worst" video list; and was featured on Beavis and Butthead):


Holy Diver
You've been down too long in the midnight sea
Oh what's becoming of me

Ride the tiger
You can see his stripes but you know he's clean
Oh don't you see what I mean

Gotta get away
Holy Diver

Shiny diamonds
Like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue
Something is coming for you

Race for the morning
You can hide in the sun 'till you see the light
Oh we will pray it's all right

Gotta get away-get away

Between the velvet lies
There's a truth that's hard as steel
The vision never dies
Life's a never ending wheel

Holy Diver
You're the star of the masquerade
No need to look so afraid

Jump on the tiger
You can feel his heart but you know he's mean
Some light can never be seen

But yaknow what? Every time I heart that opening riff, I CRANK THAT SHIT.

Also, while playing with Dio, Ronnie continued his Rainbow obsession with TWO different non-sensical rainbow songs (both of which I love).

Rainbow in the Dark (Again the live version, because the official video is poor quality):

And from my favorite bad 80s move "Iron Eagle" is "Hide in the Rainbow":

Ronnie, you simply cannot be replaced. Rest in Metal loving Peace.