Ronnie James Dio departed this life on on May 16, 2010. It’s tough to believe he’s been gone from our mortal realm for five years, in no small part because the former Ronald James Padavona actively wails on forever in the hearts and on the lifetime soundtrack highlights of millions upon millions of fans worldwide.
To commemorate the fifth anniversary of Ronnie’s crossing over, let’s look back in chronological order on the 6.66 most mammoth metal milestones that make up the louder-than-life legend that was—and will always be—Ronnie James Dio.
“Hoochie Koochie Lady”
Beginning in 1957, young Ronald played with conventional rock-and-roll groups (the Vegas Kings, Ronnie and the Rumblers) until the psychedelic ’60s exploded. After that, Mr. Padavona changed his last name to front a new ensemble, Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. By 1967, the Prophets had evolved into the Electric Elves who, from there, evolved into Elf, a heavy blues/electric boogie combo with flashes of country and jazz as well as early stirrings of heavy metal.
For five years, Elf played and toured with moderate success before catching the attention of Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice, who produced the band’s self-titled 1972 debut LP. It’s a highly enjoyable raging slab of bluesy hard rock, reflective of where Elf had gone as a live entity. The high-impact Elf cover image, meanwhile, is a photograph of a longhaired, pointy-eared creature of the sort for whom the band is name leaning into the camera and sneering. That elf is Ronnie James Dio himself.
Elf followed up with the albums Carolina County Ball (1974) and Trying to Burn the Sun (1975) while touring regularly in support of Deep Purple. Over the course of that association, Dio befriended Purple guitar guru Ritchie Blackmore, and the create sparks they shared ignited into the next major phase of Ronnie’s rock-and-roll journey.
Dio’s talent stunned Ritchie Blackmore instantly. The guitarist says that the first time he heard Dio sing, “I felt shivers down my spine.” So intense was the musical connection, in fact, that Blackmore formed an entirely new endeavor largely to be able to work with Ronnie.
“I left Deep Purple,” Blackmore said, “because I’d met up with Ronnie Dio, and he was so easy to work with. He was originally just going to do one track of a solo LP, but we ended up doing the whole LP in three weeks, which I was very excited about.”
That album, 1975’s Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, showcases Dio not just as a singer but also as a lyricist who specialized in sagas of fantasy and adventure. The 1976 follow-up, Rising, is Rainbow’s masterpiece, a progressive power-metal epic centered around “Stargazer,” a magnificent, eight-minute-plus hard rock symphony that features the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.
Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll came next in 1978, after which Dio and Blackmore parted ways. Ritchie aimed to take the band in a more arena-rock direction, while Ronnie sought something deeper, darker, and maybe even diabolical. Just such an opportunity arose shortly thereafter in 1979 when Black Sabbath announced that they’d fired Ozzy Osbourne and would be actively looking for a suitable replacement.
Black Sabbath (1980-82)
“Heaven and Hell”
Ronnie James Dio met Black Sabbath guitarist by happenstance one night in 1979 at L.A.’s go-to rock hangout, the Rainbow Bar and Grill. A mutual friend named Sharon Arden introduced them. She would later become famous as Sharon Osbourne. So, yes, Ozzy’s future wife facilitated his replacement in Black Sabbath.
As with Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi felt a creative charge right off. “It must have been fate,” Iommi said, because we connected so instantly.” From there, work flew right into high gear on the creation of the next Black Sabbath album, with Iommi writing music and Dio penning lyrics.
Heaven and Hell stormed record stores in April 1980 and announced Black Sabbath as a band reborn. An instant classic, Heaven and Hell opens with the punk-paced “Neon Knights” and hits an incredible crescendo with the driving doom charge of the title track before it even gets to the devastation on side two. Sabbath then proved the power of its new lineup that was implied on vinyl by blowing away concertgoers worldwide on a legendary tour with Blue Öyster Cult that was immortalized in the 1981 concert film, Black and Blue.
Mob Rules struck a blow on the same level of greatness in 1981, proving to be an equal of Heaven and Hell and establishing the Dio-fronted Black Sabbath as one of the mightiest forces in the history of heavy metal. Would it be too great to last? Of course it would.
Disagreements over the mixing of the 1982 Live Evil collection prompted Dio to split from Sabbath. Drummer Vinny Appice, who had replaced Bill Ward on tour and for Mob Rules, followed suit. They turned out to have other plans.
“Rainbow in the Dark”
When building the perfect beast of a band that would bear his own last name, Ronnie James Dio chose wisely. Vinny Appice was coming into his own as a drummer in the pantheon of hard rock’s heaviest. Ex-Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain expanded his skills to include keyboards that exude pure metal. Guitar wizard Vivian Campbell initially proved his powers as a teenager in the New Wave of Heavy Metal outfit Sweet Savage. Dio even nailed the exact perfect mascot: Murray, a glowing-eyed, horn-headed demon
Holy Diver, Dio’s 1983 debut album, exploded at the exact right moment. Heavy metal’s universal conquest was in full flight, and both the record and the battalion of mighty musicians that created it instantly and immeasurably propelled that charge forward. The title track and the keyboard-intensive “Rainbow in the Dark” have ruled as definitive anthems from the first time they hit human ears. In 1984, The Last in Line LP proved to be another triumph.
During this high, heady era, Dio traveled with a sight-and-sound spectacular that showcased lasers, swordplay, castle sets, and a giant on-stage dragon. As tends to happen in rock-and-roll, things began falling apart in 1985 with Vivian Campbell getting fired mid-tour.
The group never regained the towering heights of its first two records but, as with Dio’s stint in Black Sabbath, they’d delivered back-to-back masterworks—a mighty accomplishment of which few can truly boast. In all, Dio released ten studio albums and remained active on-and-off until Ronnie’s death in 2010. That legacy lives forever.
Hear ’n Aid (1986)
In the mid-’80s, the all-star pop-and-rock mega-groups Band Aid and USA for Africa raised millions for charity by way of the massive hit singles “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World.” When Dio band members Jimmy Bain and Vivian Campbell noticed the lack of metal musicians among those rosters, they contacted Ronnie with the idea that they should spearhead a heavy metal answer that would also benefit the needy.
“Stars” resulted, a stirring anthem co-written by Dio, Bain, and Campbell. The group that recorded it was dubbed Hear N’ Aid, and among the metal luminaries in its ranks beyond Dio were Rob Halford, Vince Neil, Ted Nugent, Yngwie Malmsteen, Mick Mars, Blackie Lawless, Don Dokken, Kevin Dubrow, Geoff Tate, Eric Bloom, and all three core members of Spinal Tap.
Ronnie James Dio sounded the call, hard rock’s mightiest legions assembled to lighten the burdens of those in need, and the entire world got a one-of-a-kind metal moment of legendarily kickass proportions.
Heaven and Hell (2006-2010)
Age, wisdom, and the sheer power of heavy metal realigned in the mid-2000s and prompted the early-’80s incarnation of Black Sabbath to get the band back together. After initially generating some new material for the 2007 best-of collection, Black Sabbath: The Dio Years, the group decided to tour and record under the name of the album that had established them as a metal force for the ages: Heaven and Hell.
The metal world embraced Heaven and Hell with a quarter-century’s worth of built-up affection, greeting the group en masse as returning heroes. In 2009, they released The Devil You Know, a top-selling album that ably built on the body of what these four giants had started back in 1980.
Only death itself could stop Heaven and Hell. That, of course, is what happened. In November 2009, Ronnie announced he was battling cancer. Five months later, he Dio had crossed over to the other side of existence—never to be forgotten, always to be championed, rocking onward and upward across the cosmos and into eternity.
6.66 Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006)
The movie is also a must for anyone who worships Ronnie James Dio in a manner similar to that of Tenacious D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass, who had previously honored the singer with a musical homage directly titled, Dio. Ronnie had also featured the boys in the music video for his own rocker, Push.
Ronnie appears in the movie’s uproarious prologue, appearing to a downtrodden young teen version of Jack Black, who has been banished to his bedroom by his hard-assed, metal-hating father (Meat Loaf!). The kid prays for guidance to a Dio poster on his wall and it regally roars to full, rocking life, whereupon the metal god operatically sends Black out on an epic quest for the ultimate guitar pick.
Even if The Pick of Destiny isn’t a perfect heavy metal movie, Ronnie James Dio provides it, as he always did, with a perfectly heavy metal moment.