On May 16 a legend of Rock left us and this post is a tribute to his genius.
Ronnie James Dio’s voice has been with me longer than when I was able to assign a name to that voice. These were days before the Internet and growing up in India we did not have access to any information on the world of Music that was beyond the borders of our nation. The only source of Music was a handful of specialized shops selling pirated tapes with no liner notes, and recording songs off tapes that you borrowed from your neighbour, who recorded it from his cousin, who recorded it from his classmate, who recorded it from… you get the picture! Forget colour booklets and liner notes, the most we could know about a track was the title and the band behind it. So mostly we were unaware about the names of the band members.
The first track that I ever heard with Dio’s legendary voice on it must have been Rainbow‘s The Temple of the King and the voice mesmerized me. Later I also heard Man on the Silver Mountain, Catch the Rainbow, Heaven and Hell etc. And I have been a fan ever since. Much later I got to know about the man behind those vocals by visiting the Wikipedia entry on him and learning that he is “widely hailed as one of the most powerful singers in heavy metal, renowned for his consistently powerful voice and for popularizing the ‘devil’s horns’ hand gesture in metal culture”. And unfortunately, only upon his death did I find out, from the tributes pouring in from fellow musicians, that he was “a wonderfully warm, intelligent and generous person” (Iron Maiden) and “a true gentleman” (Billy Corgan) and “one of the kindest souls” that Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx has ever met.
“It’s a shock to hear that Ronnie has gone. Even though we had all known he was battling with cancer for some time, he was such a wiry fighter, and of such an amazingly optimistic nature, I think I assumed he would go on forever.
In my opinion, Ronnie was one of the creators of the genre of Heavy Metal. I’m not an expert on his work – there are many people much more knowledgeable than me … but our paths crossed many times over the years, and I had clear glimpses of his unique spirit and personality. He was in many ways the antithesis of the current mould of TV-bred singers. He had no apparent desire for fame, in the sense that so many X-factor contestants seem to. He was not a TV face, a ‘celebrity’. He just loved doing what he did. So, to his millions of fans, there was an unquestionable feeling of reality to his persona, his song-writing, and his performances.”
But the best and most personal tribute comes from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. It appeared on the Metallica website in the form of a letter written to ‘Ronnie’. It’s so touching that I don’t have the heart to edit it. So I reproduce it in full below. But before that my personal playlist of Ronnie James Dio’s best! Enjoy and buy original Dio’s music from Amazon.
I just got off stage in Zagreb. I was met with the news that you’ve passed on. I’m kind of in shock, but I wanted you to know that you were one of the main reasons I made it onto that stage to begin with.
When I first saw you in Elf, opening for Deep Purple in 1975, I was completely blown away by the power in your voice, your presence on stage, your confidence, and the ease with which you seemed to connect to 6000 Danish people and one starry-eyed 11 year old, most of whom were not familiar with Elf’s music. The following year, I was so psyched when I heard the results of you joining forces with my favorite guitar player. You guys sounded so right for each other and I instantly became Rainbow’s #1 fan in Denmark. In the fall of 1976, when you played your first show in Copenhagen, I was literally in the front row and the couple of times we made eye contact you made me feel like the most important person in the world. The news that you guys were staying in town on your day off somehow embedded itself in my brain and I made the pilgrimage to the Plaza Hotel to see if I could somehow grab a picture, an autograph, a moment, anything. A few hours later you came out and were so kind and caring… pictures, autographs and a couple minutes of casual banter. I was on top of the world, inspired and ready for anything. Rainbow came to Copenhagen a couple more times over the next few years and each time you guys blew my mind, and for a good three years were my absolute favorite band on this planet.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to run into you a half dozen times or so and each time you were as kind, caring and gracious as you were in 1976 outside the hotel. When we finally got a chance to play together in Austria in 2007, even though I may not have let on, I was literally transformed back to that little snot nosed kid who you met and inspired 31 years earlier and it was such a fucking honor and a dream come true to share a stage with you and the rest of the legends in Heaven and Hell.
A couple of weeks ago when I heard that you were not going to be able to make it to the Sonisphere shows that we would be sharing this June, I wanted to call you and let you know that I was thinking of you and wish you well, but I kind of pussied out, thinking the last thing you needed in your recovery was feeling obligated to take a phone call from a Danish drummer/fan boy. I wish I’d made that call. We will miss you immensely on the dates, and we will be thinking of you with great admiration and affection during that run. It seemed so right to have you out on tour with the so-called “Big Four” since you obviously were one of the main reasons that the four bands even exist. Your ears will definitely be burning during those two weeks because all of us will be talking, reminiscing and sharing stories about how knowing you has made our lives that much better.
Ronnie, your voice impacted and empowered me, your music inspired and influenced me, and your kindness touched and moved me. Thank you.