Like last week, when I remembered the first listen to Paint It Black, curiously also in the case of Ronnie James Dio I remember exactly what happened on the day of his disappearance, which we commemorate today.
It was precisely May 16, 2010. A few days before I had moved from the chaotic Milan to the quieter Venetian suburbs. A recently former colleague, Marco, a worshiper of beautiful music, with an obsession for King Crimson, had sent me a message: “Ronnie James Dio is dead … but couldn’t Madonna die instead?”
From the laugh on an incredibly caustic joke slowly that day I thought that to the “rock hell” that I have dreamed of so many times, another soul was being added, precisely that of Ronnie James Dio. But let’s retrace his story, together to some curiosities and his greatest successes, to remember him 11 years after his death.
From Ronald Padavona to Ronnie James Dio
Ronald James Padavona (this is his real name) was born on 10 July 1942 in Portsmouth, United States, from an Italian-American family, as it is easy to understand from the surname.
As a child, Ronald learned to play the trumpet and his father made him take lessons for two hours every day. But the trumpet did not give the desired effects, especially on girls, so the young man learned to play the bass as a self-taught. In addition, as he grew up, Ronnie listened to a great many operas, and was thus vocally influenced by the American tenor Mario Lanza.
During high school, Ronnie also founded his first rock-n-roll group, The Vegas Kings, later called Ronnie and the Rumblers and then Ronnie and the Red Caps. Although Padavona started his rock-n-roll career with the trumpet, that he played very well, he added the singing and from time to time also the bass, which he had learned to play in order to pick up girls.
At the age of 18, Ronnie graduated from Cortland High School. He turned down a scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music and instead enrolled at the University of Buffalo to major in pharmacology. He did not graduate in this subject but, in 2000, he instead claimed to have a degree in history and English.
As mentioned earlier, Ronnie began to love and play rock n roll in high school with the Vegas Kings and, in those years, he transformed his surname from Padavona to Dio. There are various theories on the origin of the choice of “Dio”. One is that Dio is the Italian word for God, given by the grandmother, but the reality is that the stage name derives from the Italian-American mobster Johnny Dio, whose real name was Giovanni Ignazio Dioguardi.
Ronnie James Dio – career
To the Elf
In the early 1960s, Ronnie And The Red Caps changed their name to Ronnie Dio And The Prophets. Under this name, the lineup lasted a long time and produced several singles and an album. There was never a real “end” for Ronnie Dio and the Prophets or a “beginning” for The Electric Elves.
In this band Ronnie handled both vocals and bass while Nick and Ronnie’s cousin Dave Feinstein offered a double collaboration with the guitar. After recovering from a fatal car accident in February 1968, which killed guitarist Nick Pantas and put Dio and the other band members briefly in hospital, the group shortened its name to The Elves and used it until mid-1972, when released his first real album under the name of Elf.
After being noticed by Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice, they offered to produce an album for them. In April 1972 the band went with the two members of Deep Purple to record an album at Studio One in Atlanta, Georgia, America. The studio sessions produced the band’s debut album, which was simply titled “Elf”, and released for the Purple Records label.
In the mid-1970s, the incredible voice of Ronnie James Dio caught the ear of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Blackmore invited Dio along with Gary Driscoll to record two songs in Tampa, Florida.
Blackmore stated in 1983, “I left Deep Purple because I had met Ronnie Dio, and it was so easy to work with him. Initially he was going to do just one track of a solo LP, but we ended up doing the whole LP in three weeks, which I was very excited about. “
And, in the wake of this enthusiasm, Blackmore decided to recruit other Elf members and form a band, initially known as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. In 1975 the debut album was released. Later other albums were released. In these Dio is credited as the creator of the lyrics and for collaborating with Blackmore on the musical arrangement. A few years later, in 1979, the two broke up.
Just in 1979, thanks to a chance meeting with Toni Iommi, Dio joined Black Sabbath to replace the fired Ozzy Osbourne. Do you remember this story? We have already told you about it here. The two quickly formed a bond. The song they wrote together in a single day, “Children of the Sea“, appeared on the album Heaven and Hell, the first the band recorded with Dio as a singer, released in 1980.
On the next album, with the arrival of drummer Vinny Appice, personality conflicts within the band began to emerge, until 1982, when a conflict broke out over the mixing of the Live Evil album. The conflict led to the two eventually leaving the band in the same year, but with a desire to work together again.
In 1991, Dio returned to Black Sabbath to record the Dehumanizer album. The album was a minor success, reaching Top 40 in the UK and position 44 on the Billboard 200.
In October 2006, Dio joined Black Sabbath members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and former Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice for a tour under the name Heaven & Hell. This name was chosen as Iommi and Butler were still at Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne and felt it was better to use a different nickname for the “Dio” version of the band.
The following year the band recorded three new songs under the name Black Sabbath for the Black Sabbath compilation album: The Dio Years. The next the band went on a 98 date world tour and released a critically acclaimed album, Heaven & Hell, The Devil You Know. They also planned to release a follow-up in 2010 which, unfortunately, was not realized.
Dio was indeed very prolific in life. In 1982, with the aforementioned Vinny Appice, he founded the band Dio, which released more than a few albums.
In 1985, today’s protegonist contributed to the response of the metal world to Band Aid and USA for Africa with the project Hear ‘n Aid. With an all-star heavy metal ensemble, Dio sang some of the vocals from the single “Stars” and an album full of songs by other artists, the proceeds of which were given to charity.
In 1997, Dio made a cameo in Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, an album of famous heavy metal songs while in 1999, he was parodied on the South Park television show, in the episode “Hooked on Monkey. Phonics “.
Tenacious D included a tribute song called “Dio” on their self-titled album. The song explains how to “pass the baton” to a new generation. Dio reportedly approved of him and made Tenacious D appear in his Killing the Dragon video “Push” in 2002. He also appeared in the film Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, playing himself.
In 2005, in addition, Dio was revealed to be the voice behind Dr. X in Operation: Mindcrime II, the sequel to Queensrÿche’s concept album Operation: Mindcrime.
On November 25, 2009, Dio announced that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. The following year, on May 4th, the band Heaven & Hell canceled all summer dates due to Dio’s health conditions.
On May 16, 2010, Dio died due to his illness. Two weeks after his death, a public memorial ceremony was held at the Hall of Liberty, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles.
The hall was so packed that fans followed the memorial on multiple giant screens to either side of the hall, which also aired an accompanying documentary on Dio’s career from his early days with the Elves to his final project with Heaven & Hell.
On the tomb of Ronnie James Dio are engraved the famous “horns” that he loved to do with his hand. In this regard we leave you with an anecdote: “I was in my yard trying to place this garden gnome on a slope”, he explained. “This is a really heavy piece of garden ornament, probably 60 pounds or so. Anyway, it fell, I fell in the bushes and then I began to slide down the hill. My hand landed on a rock and the gnome landed there, squeezing my thumb between the rock and the gnome. I just looked at my hand and the first thought that flashed into my mind was: ‘How the hell am I going to do horns now? That’s my trademark!
Speaking of horns, according to a version provided by the singer himself, the act derives directly from the classic Italian apotropaic gesture, which his grandmother usually made.
The legacy of Ronnie James Dio
50 years of career, lived with professionalism, passion and dedication, have made Dio one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal artists of all time and this is well summarized in the history of Dio’s possessions. We will tell you in a minute.
Even in Bulgaria, in the city of Kavarna, where various rock and metal concerts have been held over the years, a statue was erected in homage to Ronnie James Dio, who had walked the stage of that city a few years before his death.
After Dio’s death, exactly 666 of his possessions were sold at Julien’s New York auction in 2018. “I am delighted that Ronnie’s vast collection of items will go to his fans, museums and collectors around the world to show all to see and have fun” commented his wife Wendy. “These items are very special to me, but I recognize the historical importance of anything regarding Ronnie and he would like his fans to be able to own, like and see them for many years to come.“