Today, the man with the booming voice, Ronnie James Dio, turns 65 years old. I'm amazed. Amazed that a man of his age can still belt out tunes that shake the rafters, and amazed that I actually listen to a metal musician older than my parents.
Ronnie Dio is basically rock and roll to me. He grew up as the genre grew up. In 1957, he joined his first rock and roll band, playing the rock style popular at that time. The group went through a few line-up and name changes, until 1967, when Dio and guitarist partner Nick Pantas formed a blues-rock group which eventually became Elf. The music is heavily blues, but not "heavy blues" (a la Cream)...it's more reminiscent of early Elton John with the emphasis on piano work. However, oddly enough, the ballads are where the Dio to come really shines, with strong vocals pouring out over ominous cords.
Nick Pantas died in an automobile accident, but the band went on, until famed Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore invited Dio and the other band members to form Rainbow. Blackmore and Dio released a few albums together, including one of my favorites, Rainbow Rising, which quite possibly has the most epic metal song of all time, "Stargazer."
I'm not sure what drew Dio to hard rock. Maybe it was a natural musical progression, maybe Dio saw a genre which would fully let him explore his vocal range, or maybe he just liked good music. (Curiously, his replacement in Rainbow, Graham Bonnet, also came into Metal the same way). Dio wrote fantasy and medieval lyrics, which eventually Blackmore grew tired of, so Dio quit and was quickly picked up by Tony Iommi to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, one of the first, if not the first, heavy metal bands.
Dio and Iommi's first meeting produced the song "Children of the Sea," and the group went on to write two albums, Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules. To me, this represents some of the best work of both Sabbath and Dio, including songs like "Die Young" (performed here in 1980).
Eventually, tensions between Iommi and bassist Geezler Butler with Dio and drummer Vinny Appice (who replaced Bill Ward for the second album) caused Dio and Appice to leave Sabbath and form a new band, simply called Dio. Dio went on to release a number of albums and some great songs, including "Rainbow in the Dark" (performed here in 1987).
Dio the band also made Vivian Campbell famous to the world of metal (Campbell later played with Whitesnake and replaced Steve Clark in Def Leppard), and longtime bassist Jimmy Bain played on Rainbow Rising, but that's neither here nor there. And what the hell, here's another Dio video, "I Could Have Been a Dreamer."
Anyway, Dio and Appice reunited with Sabbath for one more album, Dehumanizer, until the group split again and Dio went back to his solo work. Interestingly, his solo work after Dehumanizer sounds very similar to that Sabbath effort. I'm thinking of songs like "Strange Highways," the title track to his 1994 release.
Well, Dio once again reunited with Sabbath, producing a tour called "Heaven and Hell," which I was fortunate enough to see. I love Dio's voice, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy, truly appreciative of his audience, and a great representative of the metal genre. So happy birthday, Ronnie James Dio, and I hope you enjoy many more decades on this earth. If you can still sing like a king in your mid-60s, I expect to see you play in your mid-80s. No excuses.
Update July 16 @ 12:30 am: Listen to some of Dio's early work at this website, which generously provides us with songs from the pre-Elf Dio years. I specifically recommend "Blue Days" for a sample of his great, and young, voice.