I first became aware of him when he took over for Ozzy in Sabbath and cannot possibly count the number of times I played both ‘Heaven and Hell’ and ‘Mob Rules.’ I love me some Ozzy, but damn, those were two fine metal albums.
I was too young to attend the ‘Black and Blue Tour,’ featuring the Dio-fronted Sabbath on tour with Blue Oyster Cult, but it still lives like a legend in my mind, a tour too mighty to be believed. I did, however, start digging backwards, and didn’t have to go far before I discovered ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ and the rest of RJD’s Rainbow legacy. Turns out the man was already great before he joined Sabbath!
It wasn’t long before Sabbath and Dio parted ways. But what came next? Holy hell…. ‘Holy Diver.’ Just as Ozzy had done with ‘Blizzard…’ Dio parted ways with the Sabs with a vengeance. He went out and scooped up an 18-year old Vivian Campbell on guitar and already grizzled vets Jimmy Bain on bass and Vinnie Appice on drums and put out not just the debut disc but the equally mighty follow up ‘The Last In Line.’
I was trying to woo this girl on the other side of Lake Michigan (in South Milwaukee) at the time. I had an interview at the University of Chicago and somehow talked my mom into believing that South Milwaukee was a suburb of Chicagoland so she’d take me the extra mile for a date with said girl. Mom and her folks hung out. Me and girl went out. And our mutually acceptable soundtrack? ‘Holy Diver’ natch! The power of metal was so strong that it put some invincibility shield around me, which came in handy about the time her meathead boyfriend discovered she was showing some visitor around town that night. Good times.
I’ve got to admit a couple of things right about now. I never saw Dio live until he hit the road with ‘Heaven and Hell’ (what Sharon Osbourne forced the Sabbath line-up he was part of to call itself when they reunited) and thought the subsequent albums, starting with ‘Sacred Heart’ and certainly by ‘Dream Evil,’ were pretty goofy when they came out.
About these points:
1) Although I didn’t see him solo, a person very dear to me not only did so, but had his soul stolen by Dio and then given back one tour later. True story. Ask him about it someday.
2) I emphasize the ‘when they came out’ because a few years ago my wonderful wife gave me his career retrospective set. It exposed me to Elf and some even earlier things I hadn’t been aware of, but it also reacquainted my ears with the latter portions of his solo career…and I was stunned. I couldn’t understand what my problem could have been. I suspect it was the overzealous judgment of youth. But damn, it was all good!
3) I missed my first opportunity to see ‘Heaven and Hell’ because of a commitment in a skybox at an Astros’ game and couldn’t have been more bummed, particularly after universally mind-blown reviews rolled in. Fortunately they came around again (with Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Testament in tow no less) and this time I was there. The reviews were not wrong. It was one of the greatest sets of metal ever performed.
But all of this is water under the bridge now. The music will live forever. And as for its listeners….I would only exhort them all to follow the oft-misunderstood lyrics from one of ‘Heaven and Hell’s tracks and ‘Die Young.’ Make sure that you are filled fully with youth until the day you die.
Ronnie James Dio didn’t just preach it, he did it.
A video retrospective follows:
Hear n’ Aid
Heaven and Hell