Jim Catalano of The Ithaca Journal recently conducted an interview with legendary heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio (DIO, BLACK SABBATH, HEAVEN AND HELL, RAINBOW). A few excerpts from the chat follow:
On growing up in Central New York, relying on a blue-collar ethos to build his music career:
"There wasn't a whole lot of opportunity — everything was in New York City, and to go there was pretty foreign thing for people from Cortland, Ithaca and Binghamton, Whitney Point, Dryden to do in those days. You cut your teeth in those places, and once you went to New York you usually were pretty well prepared, because there were a lot of places to play back then. Unlike today, where there are hardly any places for a young band to learn their craft at all.
"So it was a great place to grow up, not only from a musical standpoint, but also for the people. People from upstate New York are real solid. They're like people from Chicago or Cleveland. They got one attitude: they work hard and they try to enjoy life to the max."
On HEAVEN AND HELL being greeted with an enthusiastic reception, selling out venues across North America:
"It all struck home when they put the Radio City Music Hall seats on sale, and they went in 20 minutes. We went 'Whoa!' That showed us that there was a lot of interest right away. Then the other places started to come in, and we did well there, too. And we had done a Canadian tour first, and that was pretty amazing. So I think we were surprised initially, but after that we were just grateful for it. Then we did what we always do, which is try to be as good as we can always."
On joining RAINBOW and later BLACK SABBATH:
"With a guy who played guitar like Ritchie [Blackmore] did and still does, and was a genius and who had this dark demeanor, it was perfect for me to get into a place where I could start writing darker and heavier things that I always wanted to do. Then SABBATH was absolutely the perfect vehicle for me — I could write as dark as I wanted to and that's where I've wanted always to be. That's why it's more pleasurable for me to be back in this band than it would be to be in RAINBOW, because that was a bit too bitsy and picky for me, with too many minds on it. (In HEAVEN AND HELL), we all feel the same and everybody know what's right and what's wrong without have to discuss it a whole lot."
On being well known for pitting lyrical opposites, such as evil and divine, dark and light, heaven and hell — not to mention using recurring images of dragons, witches, demons, tigers, etc.:
"The books I read as a kid were fictitious novels, mainly about fantastic subjects. I really liked science fiction a lot, because it's cloaked in a lot of medieval kind of darkness anyway. So that early reading was going to be something that was going to influence me as a writer. And I decided early on that I didn't want to write love songs, and saying 'Baby' a lot was not where I was at.
"Again, a lot of it is the people you're doing it with. But I realized early on, that if you're going to be successful, you've got to be unique, and no one was writing that way. No one wrote about fantasy, but I did because I thought it gave me a chance to say the same things that everyone else was saying, but put it in different words. We don't find other meanings of life, but we do find other ways to couch those meanings in words. So that's what I did, that's what I do, and I've been lucky enough to play with the people who've made that come alive."
On his time in BLACK SABBATH being somewhat under-recognized:
"That's true. It was a time in the band when there was a new generation of SABBATH fans. Their two albums before I joined the band were not the most successful of their careers — their earlier ones were — but they started to get to the point where it was kind of falling apart.
"Most of the fans who heard the first album, 'Heaven and Hell', that we did together went 'Who's this?' BLACK SABBATH? Oh that's cool.' And it created this whole new generation who hadn't heard of BLACK SABBATH with Ozzy before. And by coming back to it after all these, it shows you just how many people did grow up with that particular SABBATH era.
"Yeah, we certainly didn't get the notoriety because collectively we're not we're not wildmen like Ozzy is, and we're a lot more serious than Ozzy. And they've been doing the Ozzfest for the past 10 years, which certainly gave them a lot higher profile. He certainly got a lot more attention that we did, but it just shows you that it's not the attention you get, it's what people remember and how much they wanted to see you again, and how much they want to see us now."
On re-connecting with Tony Iommi in 2005 when Rhino asked them to record new songs for the compilation CD:
"The reason why we could get this back together again is because we absolutely do have this handle on how to write together and a real sympathy for each others as writers. We just think the same, and we always have from beginning to end. Which is always been surprising as to why we didn't carry on, or why these things fell apart.
"There are always reasons behind that, and good ones, too. Unfortunately, I'm not a very subservient person, so I have to do things my own way, and if they don't fit with somebody else's, well, that's too bad, and I'll carry on and do what I have to do. Which I have done, and have been able to create my own success that I'm very, very proud of. But it was great to create the success with this band. Three times—you'd think after the second time, we'd say, 'No more of this!' And I did think that way. But once this started again, I felt it was the right thing to do. We just fell right back into place, being the friends we've always been. That was never a problem.
"But this was the only band I would ever go back into, because these guys could be upstate New York guys — they could be from Cortland or Ithaca. Actually, they should be from there, because that have that working's man attitude. They all come from the same place (in England), their families are working-class people, they're Catholic; it's the same thing as me and Vinny. So it was always going to work, and that is the reason I would always go back to them, because it's the only way I would feel comfortable."
On touring with HEAVEN AND HELL through the end of 2007:
"I think it does make it an awful lot easier. We wanted to be sure we went into it with a definite end in sight. Knowing that there was an end in sight, it didn't put the pressure on what HAS to come. Now it's only a matter of, will anything come from this? And that's a decision that all of us have to make at some point.
"But it won't be too soon, because I have other commitments to the DIO band. And the other guys have some commitments to make, too. So putting a definite ending time made a great, great difference. It just took all the pressure away so we knew what we were going to do, and if anything was going to come out of it, it was going to be gravy."
Read the entire article at The Ithaca Journal.