The CEO of the company behind the hologram of Ronnie James Dio says that the technology is "allowing the younger audience to be able to experience" the legendary singer's music.
Dio died in 2010 at the age of 67 from stomach cancer. His hologram was created by a company called Eyellusion and made its debut at the Wacken Open Air festival in August 2016 in front of more than 75,000 fans.
The production uses audio of Ronnie's live performances from throughout his career, with the DIO band playing live, consisting of Craig Goldy on guitar, Simon Wright on drums and Scott Warren on keyboards, along with Bjorn Englen on bass. Also appearing with them are former JUDAS PRIEST singer Tim "Ripper" Owens and LYNCH MOB's Oni Logan.
During an appearance on the latest episode of the "Talking Metal" podcast, Eyellusion CEO Jeff Pezzuti confirmed that the Dio hologram is being "tweaked" in time for the next leg of the "Dio Returns" tour, which is scheduled to take place in early 2019.
"We put it on the road" in Europe last December," he said. "We're super proud of what went on the road. But that being said, we can make it better, and our intention was always to make it better — to make it the best it can be. So, yeah, we're slightly tweaking the content. We're adding two new songs, which will be 'Neon Knights' [BLACK SABBATH] and 'We Rock' [DIO], which will be for the U.S. run. And potentially one more, which we're talking about right now. So we're gonna have Ronnie on stage more, and the show will be a little longer as well."
"We've actively started, just yesterday, we started doing the new songs, and what's interesting about 'We Rock' is this will be the first time that there will be an actual — you can't call it a 'duet'; it's three singers — but all three will be singing together," he continued. "So Oni, Ripper and Ronnie will be on stage together, each taking a vocal and each singing the chorus together. So it'll be a true grand finale."
According to Pezzuti, fans in North America will finally get to experience the Dio hologram for themselves next year.
"Our plans are March of 2019, we'll be doing a full U.S. run," he said. "And we've already talked to our agent, we've already talked to a bunch of people who want the show. A lot of people actually reached out post-European tour. People — not only the promoters but the actual fans — the ones who were actually at the shows said… You wouldn't believe the messages or e-mails or things that I got personally and I know Wendy's gotten" — referring to Ronnie's widow/manager Wendy Dio, who is also a member of the Eyellusion team — "it was a pretty emotional experience for a lot of people, especially because Ronnie was near and dear to a lot of people's hearts, from both a family perspective as well as a music perspective. So it's interesting."
Based on video footage of the first leg of last year's tour, Dio fans had mixed reactions to the a hologram of their favorite singer, with some loving it and others thinking the performance didn't live up to the real thing or that it was just plain creepy.
Pezzuti has a pragmatic attitude about the online criticism, saying: "There's a couple of different things playing at the same time. One is that you've got this metal community, or whatever community, speaking out against something that they haven't seen. That's one. Two is people that don't feel like it's right. And I think that's kind of a selfish attitude, honestly, because there's a lot of people that wanna see Ronnie that are younger or that never saw him. Watching it on YouTube is not the same — it's not the same as seeing a live show. So by doing that, you're actually not allowing — because you feel it's not right, or somebody feels it's not right — you're not allowing the younger audience or the next generation to be able to experience this music. And the third part is there's gonna be a period in time when these people, they lose a lot of these… these bands retire and aren't out there at all. I mean, we all go to live shows and we like it. So what are we gonna do as an alternative? We're gonna just stop going?
"We have to look at it as a metal community, or as a rock community, and say, 'Okay, we wanna pass this music down, because we're so proud of it,'" he continued. "All of us that are fans of it love it for a reason. It really hit us usually at a young age, and it really hit a chord with us, and we don't want it to go away.
"As a fan of the music, and as a fan of all music, I just feel like there's so many great bands that are out there that we wanna make sure that they get passed down. And we could actually do shows with these bands — AC/DC and GUNS N' ROSES — where we can put full lineups together and actually make it happen, and still experience the show.
"When I see the negative responses, not to say I don't pay mind to them — everyone has a right to an opinion — but I always say that usually an opinion is based on something you've seen," he added. "Like if you had a negative opinion and you went to the show, that's one thing. Looking at it on YouTube is not the same. And people who are actually judging it — and not to say it's wrong; they can do whatever they want — but people who are judging it based on the overall idea of it, that I think is wrong, because I think you're looking at it very selfishly."
Owens said in an interview that Wendy Dio "spent a fortune" creating the Ronnie James Dio hologram and ultimately just "wants to please the fans." Goldy also disputed the assertion that he was doing the "Dio Returns" tour as a way of "cashing in," explaining that he is "always out of pocket on these things."
Craig added that while he is aware some of Dio's fans have an issue with the hologram tour, "many people understand the simplicity of this. It's not anything other than a grand gesture with the lights from the same gifted man who was the lighting director on the 'Sacred Heart' and 'Dream Evil' tours, the images on the two screens on each side of the stage, and only a handful of songs done with the hologram," he said.
Eyellusion recently announced it has raised $2 million of series seed funding from Thomas Dolan to expand its work in the hologram concert market. Dolan currently serves on the boards of Madison Square Garden and AMC Networks, and will serve in an ongoing advisory role for Eyellusion.
Eyellusion is also in production on the highly anticipated "Bizarre World Of Frank Zappa" tour that is based, in part, on never-before-seen performance footage from the early seventies, with longtime and legendary Zappa players performing live on stage. This production is also set to begin touring in early 2019.
Eyellusion's holograms and live productions are supported by a team of live music and special effects veterans, including Ahmet Zappa, EVP of business development, Wendy Dio and veteran rock manager Todd Singerman who leads industry relations, and Kenny Aronoff, world-renowned drummer, who supports technical live production efforts. Chad Finnerty is Eyellusion's creative director, working directly with clients to bring every project vision to the live stage. Legendary Hollywood digital effects executive Scott Ross advises Eyellusion on overall content creation for all productions.