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Interview with Ronnie James Dio: Master of Heaven & Hell

THE DIO INTERVIEW: MASTER OF HEAVEN & HELL

(extract from Neil Daniel's new Book 'Rock'n'Roll Mercenaries')

Interview by Neil Daniels

Let’s get straight to it because there is a lot to talk about. Mr. Ronnie James Dio is back in the UK in May with his solo band for the first time since 2005’s successful “Holy Diver” tour, but it’s not just a case of wasting time until the eagerly anticipated Heaven & Hell album arrives (whenever that’ll arrive,) he is genuinely pleased to be back on the road.


“I haven’t done Dio music in quite a while because of all the things we’ve been doing with Heaven & Hell for the last year-and-a-half or so,” says the man himself on the phone from his home in sunny Los Angeles. “I am looking forward to it; it’s more of a chance to play our songs, Dio songs, because we won’t be doing any Sabbath things, obviously because we’ll be doing that again at some point. So yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”

 Fans will be pleased that Dio has re-activated his band even though it’s only briefly. NWOBHM heroes Girlschool will be special guests at his two UK shows in Birmingham and London.

“Yeah, I’ve known them for years. They first opened for us when I was with Sabbath … probably in 1980 and met them first then. I sang on one of the songs on their new album, they asked me if I would take part in it so I did. Lemmy did something as well and some other people did too. So, yeah, I’ve known them for a long, long time; they’ve had lots of up’s and down’s, personal tragedies and things like that but they’re great people – the purest of rock and roll people.”

The Birmingham date is an interesting one considering Dio has an obvious connection to the industrial heart of the Midlands. There’s a long history of hard rock and heavy metal in Birmingham.
Do you always get a good turn out there?

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that I played with Sabbath, a local band. I spent a lot of time there and got to know a lot of the people there and I think that they realised that my attitude was not just being an American…having spent so much time there I just became really accustomed to the Midlands attitude, that’s always helped too. Like you said before, it’s a real rock and roll hotbed up there. That’s where Sabbath came from…there’s a lot of heaviness going on there so it’s always a good turnout.”

Perhaps more importantly it must be a great feeling for Dio to be back with his own band: Craig Goldy on guitar, the legendary bassist Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren on keyboards and drummer Simon Wright.

“I am. I really am,” he says with a smile that almost beams down the phone line. “I’ve missed playing with them. I love to play with those guys. They’re not only great players but they’re special friends because we’ve been together for a long time. We’ve been through a lot…and with Sabbath I don’t think the closeness was there like it is with the Dio band because we kinda stopped and changed…But with the Dio band we’ve always tried to keep it more of a family atmosphere. People really like each other and obviously do a good job at it too. So, yeah, I am looking forward very much to doing it. I’ve enjoyed the Heaven & Hell thing we did as well and I’ll enjoy doing more of that because we’re gonna do another album. This is a chance to take a great big deep breath: ‘This is good, again.’ It’s a shame it’s such a short one but at least we’re playing”

They must be pleased to be back with you too?

“Oh, they are. Well, we’re always excited to go on the road. We’re really looking forward to playing the music that we play together and everybody’s just so good at it. That’s the beauty of being in a good band in that it always gives you the time not to have to think about how good it’s going to be, or that you hope it’s good; you’re able just to play and do what you do and enjoy the music yourself. They’re looking forward to it very much too, I think that they’ve done a few things here and there while I’ve been doing the Heaven & Hell thing but our aim was always to get back together and we’re doing that now.”

Considering the amount of material Dio has to pick from it must be a daunting task trying to arrange a set list that satisfies his loyal fan base?

“The good thing about it is that there are things that you must do,” he replies. “There are also things that you can do which will also be accepted, they’re not a ‘must’ sometimes but if you do them they’re really special. We do the songs like “Holy Diver” and “Stand Up And Shout,” the things that put us into that position in the first place and some other tracks that we like from other albums that we think are rather necessary. Once again, we don’t have to worry about any Sabbath songs or Heaven & Hell songs so we can just go right for it.
“We’ll look at what we’ve done recently. If we’ve done a track for two tours from some unknown reason then we won’t do that, we’ll do something else that we haven’t done in quite a while….to try to keep it as fresh as possible. We can’t re-write the song, it’ll always be that song but at least it’s one that they haven’t heard for two-three years…and you have to deal with the time consideration too. Some of the shows that we’re doing are festival shows and there probably won’t be any more than an hour to play but for your own show, of course, you’re going to do an-hour-and-a-half to an-hour-and-forty-minutes. You have two different sets: one for this and one for that, which makes it a little more difficult.”

When Dio and his band did the “Holy Diver” tour about three years ago, the turn out was excellent. I was at the Manchester Academy show and it was packed out with an obviously higher turnout than at his previous performance at the same venue during the “Master Of The Moon” tour in 2004.
Were you pleased by the success of that tour?

“I wasn’t surprised … when it’s all full up and all, it’s very pleasing,” he says, confidently. “…it was more of a special tour. It was a chance for people to really hear most of the songs that we did, the ones that were important because it was the first successful album that we had. I thought it would do well. I knew how good the band was and I knew just what the band would give to an audience. I think that that happened every night. Surprised, no, but pleased.”

Dio has spent a lot of time in the UK over the years and has a strong following, which has helped him through the good and bad times. He says:

“My past probably has a great deal to do with that because of all the things I’ve done from Rainbow, certainly the first one [“Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow”] which seemed to have such an influence of bands at that time. And the ones now who are successful have always mentioned it to us. From that to the Sabbath things I did as well and following that there’s “Holy Diver” and the Dio things. They spanned three generations of people who listened to all of this and I think longevity makes a great difference. I think that it’s just so important that your try to roster for yourself, that you have to succeed and the pay off is that people like you.”

Bands like Motorhead, Status Quo and even Iron Maiden seem to be constantly on the road while a lot of younger bands don’t tour as much. Why do you think that is?

He says: “I think things have changed an awful lot from the beginning to now and by that I mean it used to be easy to play. There used to be so many places to play and that’s what you loved to do and that’s how you got good at it. And then you got into a way of life, which was you did an album every year and a tour every year. It seemed – and it was – us playing an awful lot. And now it’s more difficult for bands to find venues to play at, tours to get on because everything is a package deal these days. It seems that if you don’t have a good package you certainly can’t fill the big places and that’s just the social structure and the lack of money that we have at this moment. But we got used to doing it that way and I think that some of it has killed off…certainly making the album. It used to be, as I said, one album a year, now you’re lucky if you can get one every two years and if you do, that’s quite fortunate. Usually with a lot of bands, say an Offspring or something, they’ll take five or six years to put out another album [and] a lot of bands are like that. The attitude of album-tour, album-tour has kind of gone away. I think the young bands are exactly the way I was when I first started: I couldn’t wait to get out on the road and play for a year. That was the beauty of it all. It was getting away from your own existence and getting out into the world and experiencing all those things. That’s what bands have certainly done for me and that’s what they’ll do for young people. But the opportunities just aren’t as frequent as they used to be and that makes it much more difficult for the younger bands to be able to tour. How do you learn your craft if you don’t get a chance to play?”

That’s an interesting argument which leads me to ask him about his reaction to the success of the Internet and its impact on the music business.

Dio is very firm about his opinion on the Internet and download. “People virtually produce their own albums in their own residential studios,” he says. “And have done a great job through the advertisement that is available on the Internet. That’s something that for a long time the record companies never took advantage of until they were freighted to death by downloads. I think it’s just another way that you can become successful but it’ll never replace the way you can go out there and learn your craft in front of an audience with beer thrown on you…”

Do you enjoy being so busy?

“Well, I’ve never been one to just sit back…I’m not happy unless I try to create something. Digital recording is so wonderful anyway; I have a small studio in my home just for my own benefit and it’s just such a great tool to write with. It made life just so much easier for me.”

It’s Heaven & Hell (aka a version of Black Sabbath) that has brought him back into the limelight in a big way over the past couple of years. The rest of the band, of course, being: guitarist and Sabbath mastermind Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and the American drummer Vinny Appice. Indeed the success of the Heaven & Hell tour was global although a personal gripe is that ticket sales were not as high in the UK as they should have been but in the States especially the band went down an absolute storm.
Did you think last year’s tour would be such a success and last for so long?

“I didn’t expect it to last so long,” he says, adamantly. “I knew it would be a success. I thought that the time was very right for it and that there was a great desire to be able to hear that section of the music that Sabbath played again. They had virtually been doing 10 years or so of doing nothing but their other material with Oz [Osbourne] … it almost became something new instead of something old. It just worked so well. The response was so immediate, so strong, that a tour came about and we did go on longer than I thought but it was enjoyable to do. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have fun doing it. Never would have done it because I wanted the money. I just never have done that anyway…It’s been enjoyable to do this with Sabbath now and Heaven & Hell because we all really think the same and know what we want for that band and there isn’t any of that in-fighting or petty minds, if the songs good – great!”

Is it going to be a case of moving from one band to the other?

“Well, we have to take it as it comes. We’re going to do a proper Heaven & Hell album and then we’re touring in the summer time here [in the US] with Priest….I think it’s in the month of August and a few days into September. And then we’ll have to record the Heaven & Hell album and then I’m sure after that happens, we’ll do some more Dio shows at that point or go right into rehearsals with Heaven & Hell right after the album is released. And then probably after that I shall like to do another Dio album. It’s a lot on the plate…”

Is it good to be back with Tony?

“He’s incredibly amazing…the things that he comes up with and the way that he played. It’s a joy. There’s never a lack of an idea…with Tony it’s a progression. There’s so much of them [ideas] that the mind just boggles. You sometimes just don’t know what to do … It’s wonderful to have that kind of a machine next to you that just pumps it out whatever is needed and so naturally and with such distinction because he certainly is one of the most distinctive…his sound for sure is one of the most copied there ever is. It’s been wonderful. I like him very much. We’ve always been friends despite what’s been said over the years. We’ve always remained friends and Gez [Butler] too…it’s been easy to see them again after 10 years. That’s probably a good kind of friendship. We don’t tongue each other or dance together (laughs) but we’re able to remain friends…That’s a sign of growing up a little bit.”

Heaven & Hell toured the world with a number of esteemed bands from revered veterans like Alice Cooper and Queensryche to hardcore metallers such as Megadeth and Machine Head and lesser known but still respected outfits such as Down, Iced Earth and Lamb Of God.
Did you enjoy hanging with those guys?

“I guess it seems like its one great big affair or something…it’s not,” he says. “We go on last, by the time we get there Alice’s guys are usually on, Queensryche went on much earlier. We hardly get a chance to see them because everybody hops off and goes to the next gig or they do other things in between, so you don’t really get a chance to see them very much. I think I only got to see Alice twice. I only saw Geoff [Tate] four or five times, not because I didn’t want to but sometimes you have to make a concerted effort to get down there so that they don’t think that you’re trying to be bigheaded…they’re all my mates. But we don’t get a chance to really see each other that much and so we don’t get that much of a chance to feel the flavour of what is going on from the beginning to end of that show. A lot of that is always because having done it for so long…you just get a little bit blasé about that kind of thing. Were you’re concerned is that it’s your show. It was great to have those packages; it’s always great to have a big strong package like that…”

Van Halen, Judas Priest, Motley Crue and others have all reformed in the past few years…why do you think that is?

“It can happen. Sometimes it happens for the wrong reasons. Sometimes it happens because it’s the only thing you can do. You might be the worst band on the face of the planet but somebody really liked one of your albums so you’ve had some success and that’s the only success you’ve had but it was such an overwhelming success that suddenly 20 years later everyone gets back together and goes, ‘Hey, wanna do it again? We can make a lot of money doing this.’ It’s the people that reform because they have to that bothers me. We didn’t have to reform. We started to do this only for an anthology album that was released…it blossomed into something else. I was gonna do another Dio album right after that anyway. But once again, circumstances were such that it was silly not to do it.”

So, what do you think of the Queen & Paul Rodgers collaboration?

“It is a very odd one. I guess the lads just wanted to go down a direction that had their personality and somebody else’s as well, rather than to get George Michael to do it who I thought did the absolutely best job of a Freddie Mercury impersonation I’ve ever heard in my life. Perhaps they felt that it was a little too close to the mark…With Paul it’s almost not like that. He’s so different…As far as collaboration goes; Paul’s always been one of my favourites. Whatever he does is great. To me it’s Queen and Paul Rodgers, not Queen…if you say it that way then I guess that explains how I feel about it.”

And so ends the interview. It certainly seems to be the case that after the Dio tour in May-June, his career is going to be dominated by the adventures of Heaven & Hell and there are not many people out there who’ll argue against his upcoming schedule. All I can says is that if Heaven & Hell are going to tour the UK again they should think about getting support bands more suited to their fan base demographics. As for the new album, well, only a masterpiece and stroke of metal genius will suffice.

 


ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MERCENARIES

INTERVIEWS WITH ROCK STARS: VOLUME I

Celebrating almost a decade of rock writing, author Neil Daniels has compiled a selection of interviews with some of the world’s most famous rock and heavy metal artists. Amongst the thirty plus interviews includes Dio talking about his solo career and Heaven & Hell, Nikki Sixx on his controversial book The Heroin Diaries, Magnum vocalist Bob Catley on his fantastic solo work, Thunder on their post-reunion albums, Judas Priest’s Glenn Tipton on his solo endeavours, Doro on her role as one of metal’s leading ladies and Foreigner on their success in the noughties. Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries not only supports the big names but up and coming bands too, including the British metal band Nex, the Swedish AOR group Work Of Art and the Canadian melodic rock outfit Sonic X.

Interviews compiled: Al Atkins, Annihilator, Beyond Fear, Bob Catley, Broken Teeth, Bumblefoot, Dio, Doro, Foreigner, Funeral For A Friend, Glenn Tipton,
Heaven’s Basement, Honeymoon Suite, Iced Earth, Jimi Jamison, Journey, K.K. Downing, Krokus, Nex, Nikki Sixx, Powerwolf, Primal Fear, Queensrÿche, Rose Hill Drive, Sammy Hagar, Saxon, Scorpions, Sonic X, Stone Gods, Terrarosa,
Thunder, Work Of Art and Young Heart Attack.

Visit www.neildaniels.com

Available from Amazon.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MERCENARIES - INTERVIEWS WITH ROCK STARS: VOLUME I
By Neil Daniels
Published by Authors Online (www.authorsonline.co.uk)
Available to buy from most online book stores, including Amazon
Book Size (Paperback editions): 5 x 8" (203 x 127mm) Perfect Bound
ISBN (Paperback editions):
ISBN-13 (Paperback editions):
Approx Number of Words: 85,000
Pages:
Black and White: 148
Colour: None
Total: 148

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