Falling Off the Edge of the World: Remembering Ronnie James
On the 16th of May 2010 in Houston, Texas, Ronald James Padavona succumbed to the ravages of stomach cancer and began his trip on the strange highway. Known to horn raising head bangers the world over as Ronnie James or, simply Dio, the King of Rock n’ Roll left an indelible impact on the world of heavy metal, and ten years after his death we remember the little man with the voice of a giant.
If you were to sit down and pen the story of metal without including Dio, your tale would remain incomplete. Born in the midst of World War II, Ronnie’s musical career began at the age of fifteen as a member of The Vegas Kings, but it was the rock band Elf, formed ten years later in 1967, that saw Dio begin to make his mark. After regularly opening for Deep Purple in the early 1970’s, Elf dissolved into Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow in 1975, and he recorded 3 successful albums with the group.
In 1979, replacing Ozzy Osbourne, he moved into the lead vocal position for Black Sabbath, and with them recorded two of metal’s most celebrated albums, “Heaven & Hell” and “Mob Rules”. Frustrated, he left Black Sabbath in 1982, formed Dio, and for twenty two years he would solidify his legacy as one of heavy metal’s premiere singers.
In October of 2006, Ronnie reunited with former Black Sabbath members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinnie Appice to form Heaven & Hell. They would tour together for the remainder of his life, and recorded one full length release, “The Devil You Know,” in 2008.
Just listing his accomplishments is enough to make Dio a legend. I can think of no artist who was an important part of three of hard rock and heavy metal’s most important early bands. With Rainbow he co-wrote nearly every song during his time with the band. As a replacement singer for Black Sabbath he helped the band rise again in the early 1980s, and with Dio, hits like “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” continue to be played every day on radio stations throughout the world.
Although I remember Ronnie James Dio for his colossal list of musical accomplishments, it is his influence on the genre as a whole and his indomitable and generous spirt that truly earns him the love, respect, and admiration of millions of rock and metal enthusiasts the world over.
Every week on my show I begin and end the night with “Horns Up!” Thanks to Dio every metal head understands and embraces this phrase which derives from the “Metal Horns” gesture Ronnie used throughout his career. Like a gang sign, it has become the universal symbol of all hard and heavy music from Tokyo to London. His fantasy and medieval-themed lyrics are the foundations on which the entire power metal sub-genre is based, and his vocal stylings have become the norm for many bands in the heavy metal community. His contributions to the genre are undeniable and everlasting.
I personally never had the honor of meeting Dio before his passing. I saw him live once, with Heaven & Hell in the one show I wish I could relive over again, but everything I know about the man I have gleaned from his interviews and the people who actually knew him. He honestly came across as the genuine article. Humble, passionate, and forthright, Dio always appeared to be more than just an egotistical superstar or an uncaring musician who could have cared less who bought his records just as long as they bought his records.
Whenever I remember Ronnie I am always reminded of a story I heard from Lzzy of Halestorm. After opening a show for Heaven and Hell, Dio gave Lzzy a bit of advice, “You’re never gonna remember all of the people you meet while on the road, but they are going to remember meeting you for the rest of their lives so make it meaningful for them.” That one single quote sums up everything I think about Ronnie James Dio. In many of our eyes he may have transcended mere mortal status and taken up the pedestal of metal icon, but he was nothing more than a man who had a passion for life and all the gifts he was given. That is why we miss him. His songs may have given us endless years of enjoyment, but it was as an ambassador for the music he loved that we remember him as the legend he was.
Schreck is the host of Panzerschreck Armory on Alloy Radio airing every Saturday at 9pm EST on the Alloy Armory channel.