A Dark In The Rainbow.
I could have been a dreamer / I could have been the one to fly / I always could have been a dreamer / ‘Cause dreamers never die, no!…
— Dio, I Could Have Been A Dreamer (Album: Dream Evil)
He saved Ritchie Blackmore, then he saved Black Sabbath, which propelled him into his own mythic band, Dio – to save us all!
He was the gothic wordsmith, the prancing pandemon, the vocalist’s vocalist – Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010). And his wizard’s journey from doo-wop wop to metal god is documented in leagues of lungpower in DIO: DREAMERS NEVER DIE.
There had to be a tribute like this for the man that epitomized ‘heavy metal vocals.’ Too many times, great men in history, after their deaths, are left forgotten if they were not the foremost in their field, in success or notoriety. Dio, though regarded supremely in heavy rock circles, is not widely known outside the genre. Thus this tribute is aimed Straight Through The Heart of the diehards; also serving as a jumping-off point for The Last In Line to discover the inimitable Stargazer.
Directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton (both involved in KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME, another biopic of a lesser-known greater man), we are taken way way back, before The Beatles, and what most “kids today” even know as music; back to the early ‘60’s doo-wop era, to Ronald James Padavona’s first pro band, Ronnie and the Red Caps, then to Ronnie Dio & The Prophets, playing bars, playing trumpet, playing bass, releasing gently romantic singles, until Ronnie’s blues outfit The Electric Elves would become Elf, and Roger Glover and Ian Paice of Deep Purple would produce Elf’s debut self-titled album in 1972… and subsequently invite Elf on tour. Talk about a coup! From dive bars, to supporting Deep Purple! –-the hell?!
By the time Ronnie recorded Elf, he had acquired that ramrod vocal delivery that got him noticed by Glover. (I’m glad the doc features Love Is All from Glover’s Butterfly Ball – one of Dio’s best vocal performances on record.) Ronnie credits his gargantua chesticular might to playing the trumpet (“you use the same muscles”). It leaves me curious on the steps he took between the pompadoured silky stylings of An Angel Is Missing (Ronnie & The Red Caps 1960), to the vocal grit and power that would overcome the metal world!
When mercurial Ritchie Blackmore split from Purple and needed a voice to combat Ian Gillan’s, he recruited Dio (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, 1975), enabling the irascible Ritchie to smoothly transition into his post-Purple years.
After three studio albums in that offshoot of The Big Three, that Dreamer’s Destiny that Ronnie sings of so often came calling, and his next step was into one of the Three! Saving Black Sabbath from dissolution (Heaven And Hell, 1980)! Though the banshee vocals of Ozzy Osbourne suited the early Sabbath perfectly (note that bassist Geezer Butler was Ozzy’s wordsmith), once the overrated, under-talented Ozzy was sacked for being a drug-addled unproductive alcoholic, Ronnie resurrected the band with lyrics that elevated their mystical and daemonic tenor, and vocals that simply buried Ozzy in a landslide of technique and raw power.
Like Eddie and fingertap, Dio didn’t “invent” the devil horns sign, but he popularized it to the point where it became synonymous with heavy metal. And Ronnie himself. (You can see earlier devil horns with John Lennon’s cartoon on 1969’s Yellow Submarine album cover, the back cover of Coven’s 1969 album Witchcraft; hell, even Geezer Butler throws up the horns once in a 1969 Sabbath photo; and of course, Gene Simmons claims to have invented the sign because he has in fact been throwing up a modified version since 1973 – styled like Spider-Man web-shooting, with the thumb out – in 2017 unsuccessfully trying to trademark the sign.)
Ronnie gives an interesting account here of why he adopted his grandmother’s maloik (an old Italian superstition to ward off evil): he explains that Ozzy always flashed the peace sign (two fingers up), and he wanted something as a bridge between Ozzy and himself. Great story, and how ironic that an ancient invocation against bad luck and evil would be regarded as a signature OF evil, in a band whose name is the epitome of evil?
The strangest thing about the devil horns (aka “evil eye,” “malocchio”) is that we all imagine we’ve seen it thrown up since the invention of Metal As We Know It from The Big Three (Sabbath, Zep, Purple)… but we haven’t! Pore carefully through your album covers and posters, Rock and Roll Children, and watch live shows of metal bands before they were called metal, and see for yourself! We imagine that Angus Young must have used it, especially with 1979’s Highway To Hell – surprisingly, NO! (See the way Angus does devil horns? With only his pointer fingers raised?!) And Ronnie himself, live with Rainbow, never threw up that sign! He did indeed start proliferating the devil horns in Sabbath, and it was such a powerful, reptile-brain invocation buried in humanity’s cultural consciousness that it overtook the world.
To every band, Ronnie would bring his medieval branding, stunning vocals, and wizard sleeves. And yet, what did he get for saving Ritchie; for saving Sabbath? Sacked from both. For creative differences and production/ego arguments respectively.
There was only one destiny for Ronnie James Dio – to Stand Up And Shout in his own band, appropriately named – Dio (Holy Diver, 1983).
Ronnie was in his 40s. To make it big, you really need to hit when you’re in your 20s, but let’s face it, Ronnie had already “made it” to the extent that people knew his sterling reputation from the two international acts he just fronted!
Talking heads include: Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, Rob Halford, Lita Ford, Jack Black (with footage of Dio’s turn in the 2006 movie TENACIOUS D: THE PICK OF DESTINY), Sebastian Bach, Glenn Hughes, David Feinstein (Dio’s cousin and ex-bandmate from elven days, who went on to form his own robust power trio The Rods), Ronnie himself (in lots of great archive footage), and wife/manager/widow Wendy Dio. I generally don’t place much credence on the views of spouses/partners regarding their famous other halves, although Wendy managed Ronnie until his death, even through their separations, so I’ll afford her more legitimacy than the average lesser-half. Although, she loses all credibility with the diehards when she denies that the “DIO” logo upside down spells “DEVIL”… Because we can clearly see that it does; because it was designed to embrace Ronnie’s ethos of Good alongside Evil, Yin and Yang, Daemon est Deus inversus (God is the Devil inverted); Dio (Italian: God) and Devil (upside down)!
An interesting interlude on the creation of the Holy Diver album cover – before Photoshop, before computers, these guys actually tried to drown a guy to get that iconic shot of Murray whipping the priest into the waves! (Yes, the slit-eyed demon on Dio’s album covers is named Murray.)
We see Ronnie in 1986 organizing the all-metal charity production, Hear ‘N Aid, his response to 1985’s USA For Africa, which noticeably snubbed the inclusion of metal stars in its roster. One thing I learned from this doc is how revered Ronnie was amongst his metal peers; paying his dues in Rainbow and Sabbath, he was an elder statesman, the likes of which the Motleys and WASPs and Dokkens came running to please.
Between the velvet lies / There’s a truth as hard as steel…
— Dio, Holy Diver
The biggest mistake Ronnie ever made was sacking Vivian Campbell. And the circumstances surrounding it are glossed over in this supposed doc (which is why it’s a “tribute” – a documentary would show us warts-n-all). But Ronnie didn’t sack Vivian – it was that witchteat Wendy Dio: SHE sacked Viv, SHE didn’t honor Dio’s financial promises to his bandmates (because SHE wanted those dollars!), and SHE poisoned Ronnie on Viv. And Ronnie – the renowned gentleman, moral compass and all-round nice chap – made some very uncharitable comments about Viv in the aftermath (“Vivian can’t play!” “I hope he fucken dies!”) that he never reconciled before his death. Chicks! They will gold-dig the shit out of any man they see as a meal ticket. Ronnie even warns us in his epic Don’t Talk To Strangers: “Don’t dream of women / ‘Cause they’ll only bring you down…”
Vivian himself is given short shrift to speak his piece in this doc (which is executive-produced by Wendy), yet we know his story from actually living through those times, and many other interviews: “Wendy never saw me as being of any value to Ronnie. I think Ronnie knew better…” yet “… as long as Wendy was controlling [Ronnie’s] career, [reconciling] was never going to happen.” Chicks! They will Yoko the shit out of any band they come in contact with!
This is Vivian’s real story, not told in this film: Y’see, when Ronnie formed Dio, he made a handshake agreement with Vivian (guitar), Jimmy Bain (bass) and Vinny Appice (drums) – that if they slogged through the first two albums on minimum salaries, he would cut a more equitable deal with them for the third album. Wendy had been Ronnie’s personal manager through Rainbow and Sabbath (where she would have bowed to the veteran managers those acts hired), but with the formation of the neophyte act Dio, she assumed tyrannical control. No one knows whether Ronnie told Wendy about his handshake agreement; and if he had, would she honor it? Vivian got his answer the hard way.
By the third Dio album, Sacred Heart, Vivian came knocking for that equitable pay. He never asked for a Dio-share, just what was promised, congruent with the blood he and his bandmates bled into the Dio albums and tours. And Wendy fired him. By FedEx.
Ronnie’s messages of self-realization clashed with the way Vivian was treated; Dio’s whole ethos was to unchain yourself from adversity, because YOU have the power to do so. Wasn’t Viv trying to Stand Up And Shout for his artistic due? Wasn’t he the Rainbow In The Dark to his fellow abused bandmates? Yet he paid the price for grabbing his destiny and standing his ground and not letting anyone exploit him, as Ronnie always preached in his songs. So much for all that dreamer shtick.
Last point on this tender subject: Craig Goldy replaced Vivian (from the band Rough Cutt, also managed by Wendy – oh! What a coincidence!), and I don’t know how Ronnie could listen to Goldy and not realize that he was not a patch on Vivian; he did a great job on album 4 (Dream Evil), but when it came to mimicking Viv’s solos onstage, Goldy was outclassed by the 20-year-old Irish lad! (Off-topic, the best truth Goldy speaks in this film, in relation to that Moral Majority spike in the late 80s: “Christians ruin everything!”)
If this was a Top 5 Bottom 5 list, then sacking Viv would be Dio’s Bottom #1 – the worst thing he ever did; B2 would be badmouthing Viv after the sacking. (Granted, Viv also said unsavory things, though in a hurt way, not through malice.) B3 would be hiring Craig Goldy.
April 2009: The band Heaven & Hell release The Devil You Know, Ronnie’s last recorded work.
August 2009: Ronnie’s last live performance with the band Heaven & Hell (basically, Black Sabbath – Iommi, Butler, Appice – performing only Dio-era songs).
November 2009: Stomach cancer. Ronnie was 67.
April 2010: Seeming to recover from the cancer, Ronnie makes his last public appearance, and accepts a Golden God Award for The Devil You Know… but cancer is the great Dehumanizer… and Ronnie would relapse, and sail away on ships of wonder just one month later…
For all of us who worshipped Ronnie James Dio, and his voice and his drive and his dreams, there is now a dark in the rainbow…
As they wind up the doc, we see stills of Ronnie, and there is that narration of how this diminutive man with the lungs of a giant influenced generations and— and I fell out of my seat when they show a pic of Ronnie wearing a t-shirt from one of my old Sydney bands!… I was there in September 1986 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre when Dio toured Australia, and I’m presuming our manager must’ve sent him some of our swag (demo tape, t-shirts, stickers, etc.). Dio had that song Gypsy and our band name was Gypsy Fire. Ronnie would’ve loved that. The t-shirt depicts a clawed hand clutching a crystal ball surrounded by flames. Ronnie would’ve loved that. And it was free. Wendy would’ve loved that.