Dio sings a
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Keith Durflinger
I last sat down for an interview with the master of fantasy metal Ronnie James Dio in 2000. Since then he's released "Magica," "Killing the Dragon" and, his latest, "Master of the Moon" (Sanctuary Records). This new effort diverts from his usual tact, not in sound or tone, but lyrically, as Dio shrugs off his usual tales and confronts reality head-on.
His current touring lineup include guitarist Craig Goldy, drummer Simon Wright, keyboardist Scott Warren and bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot). Sarzo stepped it for Jeff Pilson (Dokken) who laid down the tracks on the album, as Pilson and his wife were expecting a child who was due right around the time the tour would take off.
"We were lucky enough to secure the man who was going to be our permanent bass player and that's Rudy Sarzo," Dio says. "Jeff was brilliant on the album, absolutely brilliant. We played live before Jeff and I. This is to take nothing away from Jeff, but I couldn't be happier with anyone but Rudy. He's absolutely a great bass player and one of the nicest people I've ever known in my life."
"Master of the Moon" has a concept album feel, but it isn't.
"I think the title sounds like it wants to be some kind of conceptual thing, but it's not." Dio explains, "This was supposed to be 'Magica' two and three because it was always a trilogy and it was always meant to be completed and I thought that that was the perfect time to do it.
We did 'Magica' and then 'Killing the Dragon' was more of an albumalbum as opposed to a real conceptual piece and so this one was going to be a continuation of 'Magica' and it was going to finish the trilogy. But the time consideration was such that I didn't feel that an undertaking that big was going to be possible in the time frame that we had, so we just did once again another album album.
"And this one, because it was done at a time then and at a time even now when we're going through such horrible things in this world, terrorism, people dying in Africa, global warning, we could go on and on and on, et cetera, et cetera, nothing's really gotten any better," Dio continues. "I just didn't feel like hiding behind any kind of conceptual piece or any great fantasy piece because I was very affected just like everybody else was because I'm a citizen of the world too, affected by everything that was going on around me, and so I think this became just much more of a realistic album, talking about the things that were affecting me at the time.
"Songs like 'The End of the World,' I'm not predicting that that's going to happen soon, I predict that it will happen at some point, but that's not too much of a reach I don't think." Dio goes on, "Songs like 'The Eyes,' which is a very paranoid song, paranoid because it's a paranoid world in which we live in. When's the next bomb going to go off? When's the next plane going to go into a building? When's the next war going to happen? All those kind of things just really affected me at that time, so I think once again that this is a lot more realistic kind of project."
Going from fantasy to reality is a evolution of sorts, so I asked Dio how his writing has evolving overall.
"I think it evolves from the way you start and what your desires are." Dio clarifies, "I started, the first band I played in, we did cover material, so did the second band and the third and the fourth. That's the way we learn, you learn from your peers and I think that after that you get to the point where you either get good at what you do and you have some longevity or you become someone who goes and plays on the weekends and has a family and never plays again and takes the kids to school and the kids grow up and maybe they're in a band.
"I was lucky enough to develop what I wanted to do and develop it with some great people and play in some great successful bands and therefore have longevity. My early yearnings were to be a songwriter and to write in a very fantasy kind of attitude," Dio recalls. "I had read so much as a kid fantasy things and it really affected me when it cam time to have to be a writer, because I think you get to a point where you have to be a writer. I wanted to apply something that was more unique than what everyone else was doing. There weren't a lot of people writing fantasy songs at that time.
"I especially always wanted to be a heavy writer and a heavy performer. By heavy, I didn't mean I wanted to be too fat," laughs Dio. "I wanted to be heavy in musical attitude. And that's the way it really progressed for me, from copy bands to luckily being in Rainbow, which gave me a little attitude to be a little more of a fantasy writer and a little more of a heavy writer and performer, to Black Sabbath, which really fulfilled all of my dreams, I could be as dark and doomy as I wanted to in that one, and then to have my own band, to have control of my own life.
"I've evolved in the same way that I think I've gained a lot more experience in the world because I tend to use people as my subject matter because people are the most interesting subject matter there is. We are predictable, yet we are completely unpredictable at times and so you couldn't imagine a better fodder for writing other than that," continues Dio. "And because I've used people as my subject matter, I think that's evolved because of the experience I've gained observing people all my life.
"Perhaps this album that we just did is a great example of that, that I've really evolved as being someone who's a bit more understanding of the world, a bit more understanding of humanity.
Understanding perhaps, not quite so forgiving humanity. And I think maybe I've evolved that way too, that I think that we as people do so many stupid things that really do point to the end of it all and I wish that would change," Dio sums up.
I bring up one of my favorite songs on the release, one that could almost be an anthem of personal strength, "I Am."
"That really speaks a lot about what I've always tried to do in how the songs are written, again write about people," Dio responds. "I've always been really angry about people who don't fit the mold, that is supposed to be the one that we're all at, beautiful and trim and gracing the cover of magazines and if we're not that, we're some kind of secondary citizen of this world. Again, I've written about that subject a lot and in the case of 'I Am,' that's what it's supposed to speak about. It doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter what the package looks like, it's what's inside and you can survive; you can succeed because you are, you are someone. You should be proud of what you are inside and therefore 'I Am' is meant to be a flag raised for people who think they are less than everyone else and to tell them that I can succeed so therefore you can as well.''
So why has Dio's career survived for three decades?
"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I don't follow trends, that I've always stayed pretty true to one thing, the thing that I've liked and therefore the thing that other people have liked about the music I've made with so many wonderful people." Dio admits, "I've painted myself in a corner perhaps in that I'm not able to really spread my wings and sing an opera song perhaps or do love songs, which I don't want to do any way or to do pop songs, which I don't want to do any way, so I guess I'm OK with that. But there are other facets of music that can be addressed.
"I've tried to stay true to what I think myself and the fans of the kind of music I have written have always wanted to hear. I think that's why we stay together. They know what to expect from Dio, they know to expect consistency, the consistency of the material that's going to be written, the consistency of the musicianship that's going to be presented, the consistency of the live performance, which is the most important to me. Because making records, making CDs, whatever they're called these days, is only a matter to get me from point A to point B and point B is to do it live because that's where you prove how good you are." Dio continues, "You don't prove it on a recorded product because especially these days the technical expertise that there is out there, you could fool anyone all the time. Even William Hung sounds almost passible as a human being at times. But I think that that's what's really kept me where I am and the people realize that they're always going to get quality from what we do and certainly going to get what they've loved from the people I've played with all the time, that is one form of music."
Dio still finds time to pursue a few different interests.
"Sports have been my hobby all my life until the time I couldn't play them any more, mainly because I didn't have the time to do them any more. Watching them of course is still my hobby. Music has never been my hobby, it's been my profession," Dio states.
Dio loves animals, but was always a dog person until the last 10-12 years when he switched to cats.
"There's a great saying, 'dogs have owners, cats have staff,' which is really true and I've realized that. I have a cat named Jack who's like a dog, so I've found the best of both worlds. He thinks he's a dog and I think he's a cat, so we kind of share that one," Dio chuckles.
Dio tells me that he always wanted to be an artist. He has great ideas of paintings, but he can't draw, so he can't put them on paper as much as he would love to paint. He appreciates art instead and is a voracious reader, "especially biographies because I learn how to succeed where other people have failed."
"Reading is something that has been the most important thing to me in my life, more important than music." Dio says, "Without words we are just a lower class of animal. We would not be able to communicate, we would never learn. The first thing that dictators or horrible people do to a race of people that they have conquered is to burn their books. That shows you the importance of the written word."
In my 2000 interview, I learned that Dio has some very strong opinions about the music scene, I ask what he thinks about it today.
"I think that since 2000, luckily for us old rockers or whatever we're called, classic rockers, I think for metal people in particular, the world has gotten a lot better," Dio begins. "A great deal of attention has been given to the music we were popular for in the late '70s through the '80s and somewhat into the '90s, it's place was taken by the new generation of rock people and that's the way it should be. I think that after the 10 years of inattention to what we still, have always been doing, it's seemed to come around a little bit again. So classic rock, if that's what it has to be called, is getting a lot more attention and the music that people like myself have been making and the shows that we're doing are getting more attention again. I think it's changed in that way."
"I think that people are getting less enamored with the boy band pop situation and are hearkening back to a little more musicality. Not that there aren't some great artists doing what those boy band pop people are doing and there's a lot of people who are great. The Nora Jones of this world are very great singers. But I think it's getting a bit more musical all the way around, I think it's changed that way," Dio goes on.
"Business-wise I still think it's that same as we talked about in 2000. Which is that it's become a real big world and if you don't succeed initially, you're thrown away and the next big pen comes out to hopefully spew the ink out. I think that's not changed, it's still what are the figures at the bottom of the column? Are they in the black or are they in the red? And if they're in the red, then the people who are in the minds of the record executives of course, in their minds, they have to go." Dio continues, "I think that that's a real sin because the only way you get better is by being nurtured like we did in our early careers. We were able to release five or six albums with our record label and were given the opportunity to become better. If after that particular period you didn't become better then you deserved to be axed. But I still find that happening and it's sad to me."
Dio tells me how VH-1 used to be the "non-MTV" channel and now it is supporting the rockers who paved MTV's path of success. Satellite and Internet radio and other outlets are also helping musicians by providing more opportunities for their music to be heard.
"I think we have more positives than we had negatives in the past," Dio says.
As for the future, Dio is straight-forward.
"I would just like to think that we would be able to just carry on and make the consistent good quality music that we've always made," Dio states.
Dio has received several offers to host a radio program, like Alice Cooper and Dee Snider, where he discuss a variety of topics, not only music, but he's too busy right now.
He's also gearing up for another charity recording similar to Hear N' Aid. This time the proceeds will benefit Children of the Night, a Los Angeles based charity for runaway and abused children. Dio and others have been able to build the organization a school and a home in Van Nuys. Contributors include Johnny Carson, Hugh Hefner, Traci Lords, Rosanne, Ozzy, Richard Marx.
The recording for Hear N' Aid was one long song, plus other tunes to fill out the album. The same thing will be done this time, along with a DVD with footage from both projects. Work is planned to begin after first of year Dio is also hoping to complete his "Magica" trilogy and keep on touring.
"I'll take things as they come. I don't see my life ending for a long, long time musically, physically who knows? We never know if we're going to be hit by a bus tomorrow or not. But musically, I've got a lot more to look forward to. A lot of great people have supported me and I want to keep supporting them musically and the best as I can with my heart as well. I just see me carrying on in kind of the same pattern I've been going," Dio smiles.
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