Ronnie James Dio passed on today, a victim of a valient fight against stomach cancer. He was treated in Houston and passed away in my home town. I'm sure the folks at M.D. Anderson and the surrounding area were wonderful to his family when they were here, and on behalf of a guy who's become an old man himself, I offer my condolences to one of my favorite artists who I've never tired of listening to since 1975.
Ronnie played with a lot of great outfits, but I first heard him paired with guitar virtuoso Richie Blackmore in Rainbow when I was in high school. I thought his brief stint after that with Black Sabbath resulted in the only listenable Sabbath album where I actually was able to listen to every song on the tape without fast forwarding my Pioneer Supertuner's cassette player.
My favorite stuff was that of his own band in the early eighties. First of all, any band where Viv Campbell did a stint has to be rocking. But of course, Dio was rocking on his own, no matter who was playing in the band, which had many different members over the years.
Holy Diver and The Last in Line were my favorite Dio band albums, and in fact the only Dio (band) albums I bought. I bought a double CD Rainbow retrospective remastered set a few years ago, and of course it is just a fantastic piece of rocking music. Holy Diver was very critically acclaimed and per wiki, was considered by critics to be his best work.
Dio, above all other very talented heavy metal and hard rock vocalists over the years, was to me anyway, the master of the "Epic Rock Ballad" (or ERB).
I remember trying to explain the musical structure (and indeed, of it's paramount importance in the history and development of rock & roll music and inventive new song forms) of the ERB to a female friend in 1984 or so, in the midst of her complaining about the fact that we could be listening to new wave or something poppy instead of Dio's new album.
Rainbow in the Dark off of Holy Diver is a top contender for one of the best ERB's of all time. Although the tempo is restrained, almost with a dotted note feel at times, the song surges thorughout as if trying to hold back something. Yet at the same time, the band is playing HARD and Dio is BELTING it out. Very emotive.
Of course, Ronnie first hit my radar screen in the early portion of high school, when Blackmore broke away from Deep Purple (another favorite artist of mine, particularly their obscure 60's cut of Hey Joe...the weirdest ever cover of one of the most covered tunes of all time) and Dio was his vocalist. These were also the years of the legendary drummer, the late Cozy Powell. I could write for weeks about the cool drumming of Cozy Powell.
But with Dio and Rainbow, there were tunes like Man in the Silver Mountain that were great and hard rocking. Sort of a combination of the rocking force of Led Zeppelin with the hook and song format of a pop song. But rocking enough in nature to render the pop song structuring insignificant. It was new and it was the start of what would plateau in the 1980's with hard rockin' hair metal groups like Motley Crue and Guns and Roses. Janes Addiction took that same feeling and mixed with a punk element to get their sound, like the Red Hots merged these influences with r&b to get their funky metal sound.
With Cozy Powell on the skins, on the second and arguably best ever Rainbow album Rainbow Rising, Dio belted out absolute jams like Starstruck, which also featured later solo act Tony Carey on keyboards. This to me was the best Rainbow lineup, but then Blackmore went into a mode of replacing the band except Dio every album or so, and finally Dio left and founded his own band.
My prayers go out to their family and friends and to Ronnie.
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