Ronnie James Dio has been one of my idols for nearly as long as I’ve been into heavy metal, roughly 35 years. I’m sure a lot of you reading this have no idea who he is, even though he’s been the lead singer of three of the most influential hard rock bands of all time (Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own namesake band, Dio). He isn’t a vocalist who merely screams; he truly sings. He isn’t a lyricist who boasts of parties and drinking and bedding down women on the road, but despite the Dungeons & Dragons words he’s often known for, to me, his words were defiant and encouraging in the face of adversity under the guise of majestical settings. His voice and words have inspired me over the years, not only aspiring me to achieve my personal best, but to hopefully inspire others.
When I heard, just recently, that Mr. Dio had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, I felt a pain in my heart I hadn’t felt since the death of Dale Earnhardt.
No, I’m not signing Dio’s death warrant. He’s only been recently diagnosed with the illness and may fully recover. Yet, at the same time, like Dale Earnhardt, who represents my second greatest love (NASCAR), I tend to look upon my idols (even at my age of 46) as invincible, like nothing in the real world can touch them. I think, as one gets older, seeing one’s idols as being physically fallible is something of a wake-up call. It is like admitting your own mortality.
When Dale Earnhardt died, I was devastated. While he was alive, I was not a fan, even though I knew what he meant to the sport, which meant his untimely death dealt a blow I still feel to this day.
Ronnie James Dio had an even bigger impact on me. He was the first true celebrity I ever met (during a signing party of his first Dio album in Portland, Oregon). Though I only spoke to him for a few brief starstruck moments, I truly felt like he was interested in what I had to say, and took the time to answer my questions about his lyrics. I always told myself, if for some reason I would ever become famous for something, I’d like to do it with the grace and humility of Ronnie.
I discovered him through my teenage infatuation with Ritchie Blackmore, the Deep Purple guitarist who left the group to form his own band, Rainbow, with Dio as his singer. While I’ll always love Ritchie, I was blown away by Dio’s vocals and lyrics. The words themselves may sound a bit trite in the wake of Nirvana, but I think he understood that what makes great lyrics isn’t always the message, but simply how the words sound in conjunction with the music. And never did I doubt his sincerity when he sang...that was the important thing.
I’m making it sound like his lyrics are banal, while just the opposite is true. Ronnie James Dio wrote some incredible lyrics. Just check out “Heaven & Hell”, “Stargazer” and “Bible Black.” He can be as activist as early Dylan, as commentary any rap artist you’d care to name, and as down and dirty fun as any party band, often within the same album.
Above all else, the guy can really sing his butt off, even though he’s now in his 60s. Even if you aren’t a fan of the heavy metal genre, it doesn’t take a genius to know this man can sing.
As I get on in years, it does my heart good to see so many of my childhood heroes still plugging along, doing what they do best. Some don’t do it as well as they once did, but Ronnie James Dio has never let me down. Unlike a lot of other artists, I still pop open the CD booklet to read along as he sings, and I still love the way he turns a phrase and emotes certain lines in a verse for dramatic effect.
Here’s hoping Sir Dio continues doing what he does best, for many years to come. His is a voice that deserves to be heard for as long as there are ears to listen.