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Monday, May 16, 2011

Ronnie James Dio: One Year Ago Today

Among the very last songs Ronnie James Dio ever recorded was “Metal Will Never Die,” an ode to the fist-pumping power and glory that Dio, himself, personified. It’s been just one short year since his untimely death, on this day in 2010, and those words echo as loudly today, if not louder, than when the diminutive metal god with the golden voice first delivered them. Dio’s death, though not surprising to the legion of metal fans who knew he had been ill for quite some time, galvanized the heavy metal community in an unprecedented way. 

Born Ronald James Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1942, Dio’s ascension from trumpet and French horn player, which were his first musical instruments, to heavy metal god is the story of perseverance, passion for rock ’n’ roll and undeniable talent.
Dio’s musical career began in 1957 with a band called The Vegas Kings, which later changed to Ronnie and the Rumblers, then Ronnie and the Redcaps, then in 1961, Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. In 1967, Dio and Prophets guitarist Nick Pantas formed the Electric Elves, which shortened its name two years later to Elf. The band’s success eventually landed them an opening slot for Deep Purple, which exposed Dio’s remarkable voice to Deep Purple’s guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, who later recruited Dio and other members of Elf for his new band Rainbow.

After three studio albums and a live album, Dio left Rainbow, and in 1979 he replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. Dio’s first album with Sabbath, the platinum-selling "Heaven and Hell", was the shot in the arm Sabbath’s flagging career needed. Next up was the album "Mob Rules", followed by the live disc "Live Evil". Disagreements during the mixing of "Live Evil" prompted Dio to leave the band and strike out on his own.

In 1982, Dio and former Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice formed Dio. They recruited 19-year old Irish sensation Vivian Campbell on guitar, as well as bassist Jimmy Bain. Dio’s debut album, "Holy Diver", remains of metal’s landmark albums. Over the years and through numerous personnel changes – Dio would remain the only constant member of the band – the band released 10 albums.

In 2006, Dio reunited with his former Black Sabbath bandmates Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi, and along with drummer Vinny Appice, they formed Heaven and Hell, a name they decided on because Butler and Iommi were still in Black Sabbath with original singer, Ozzy Osbourne. Heaven and Hell’s debut album, "The Devil You Know", was received with both critical acclaim and commercial success. A 98-city world tour followed in 2008.
Plans for a European tour and a 2010 follow-up album were scrapped when Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer. His death was announced in a statement released by his wife, Wendy: “Today my heart is broken. Ronnie passed away at 7:45 am 16th May. Many, many friends and family were able to say their private goodbyes before he peacefully passed away. Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all. We so appreciate the love and support that you have given us. Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever.”

Despite widespread knowledge of Dio’s declining health, his death was still a shock to the metal world, and tributes poured in far and wide from his millions of fans and fellow musicians.

Slash told Rolling Stone: “He was a huge influence and was probably one of the key heavy metal singers of all time. He is seriously going to be missed.”

Geezer Butler wrote on his website: “He was much more than a friend, fellow musician, bandmate. If I have a soul, then he is part of it. I truly believe God, fate, destiny, whatever it’s called, brought us together again in 2006, after not seeing each other for 14 years, to do one final tour, which turned into 3 major tours and an album.”

Tony Iommi said: “Ronnie was one of the nicest people you could ever meet, we had some fantastic times together. Ronnie loved what he did, making music and performing on stage. He loved his fans so much. He was a kind man and would put himself out to help others. I can honestly say it’s truly been an honor to play at his side for all these years. His music will live on forever. … I will miss you so much my dear friend.”

Ozzy Osbourne said: “I was very saddened to hear (of Dio’s passing). Metal has truly lost one of its greatest voices.”

Vinny Appice, who played with the singer in Black Sabbath, Dio and Heaven and Hell, wrote on his personal website, “Ronnie was everything to me. He was my best friend, he was my brother. Every night he sent chills down my spine with his singing, inspiring me to push it further and play the best I can to the limit. I always knew how lucky I was to be in a band with him, but to become friends was even more special.”

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