Dio was born Ronald James Padavona in New Hampshire, USA, in 1942. His stage name was inspired either by that influential grandmother, who thought he had a gift from God — Dio in Italian — or else by notorious Fifties Mafioso Johnny Dio, depending on the story. Childhood training on the trumpet, which Dio played into his university years, gifted him the breathing techniques that ensured his singing voice could always out-shine his peers.
He learned the bass too, and formed his first band, Ronnie Dio and the Redcaps, in 1957. These be-quiffed teenagers were doo-woppers to a boy, before rock’n’roll gained precedence. In 1958 they began releasing singles, some of which featured Ronnie’s love-struck vocals. Even at this early stage, his voice stood out as particularly expressive. Various 45s followed throughout the Sixties, and in 1963 the renamed Dio and the Prophets issued a live LP, Dio At Domino’s.
As musical trends developed so did the band, and by 1967 they’d become the Electric Elves, issuing a clutch of psychedelic pop singles on Decca and MGM. A year later they shortened their name to the Elves, and again in the early Seventies to simply Elf. By now purveyors of granite-edged rock, Elf issued three albums, Elf (1972), LA59, retitled Carolina County Ball in the UK (1974), and Trying To Burn The Sun (1975). They came to the attention of Deep Purple’s rhythm section, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, who produced their first album and booked Elf to open for them on tour. When guitarist Ricthie Blackmore eventually left Purple to form a new band, he took Elf with him and renamed the new act Rainbow.
Ronnie James Dio’s position as one of the great rock vocalist of the Seventies was secure, and he remained with Rainbow until 1979 when he left to join Black Sabbath, who’d just fired Ozzy Osbourne. Few men were able to walk in Ozzy’s footsteps, even less take his place but Dio stepped up to the plate with aplomb. He introduced his malocchio on stage to appeal to fans ruing Ozzy’s departure; Ozzy had been famous for his own on-stage gesture, the two-finger V-shaped peace sign.
Just as tensions within Sabbath had led to Ozzy’s exit, by 1982 Dio too felt disgruntled and quit, taking drummer Vinny Appice with him. The duo assembled a new group and the monster Dio was born.
Their debut album, Holy Diver (1983), was a pure, unalloyed metal classic. The rock press loved it. While its UK chart peak of No.13 obliterated its modest No.56 placing in the States, over a million US fans bought a copy, earning the album a platinum disc.
Given Dio’s track record, hopes had been high, and no one was left disappointed. Dio himself was a known, renowned, quantity, as were force-of-nature drummer Appice and bassist Jimmy Bain, latterly of Rainbow too and of his own band, Wild Horses. The unexpected prize was guitarist Vivian Campbell. He’d made a previous impact in Sweet Savage, pioneers in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) and now his stylish young shredding became a thrilling facet of Dio.
There’s the frenzied opening belter ‘Stand Up And Shout’, the supreme Sabbath sludge of the title track — check out the video in which warlord Dio wields his broad sword in some trademark medieval ruins. There’s the rabid AC/DC stomp of ‘Gypsy’, vamping anthems ‘Invisible’ and ‘Straight Through The Heart’, the pop metal of ‘Caught In The Middle’ and the hit ‘Rainbow In The Dark’. The original vinyl LP crescendos twice, once with each side closer, ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ and ‘Shame On The Night’, to create an exemplary Eighties album of full metal glory.
Dio devotees were left wanting more, and with 1984’s The Last In Line they got it. The follow-up was Holy Diver II in all but name. Keyboardist Claude Schnell joined the line up of Dio, Campbell, Bain and Appice and together they delivered another kickass consignment of top notch metallic goods. The chart stats improved too. No.24 US, No.4 UK. Another platinum disc.
‘Mystery’ and ‘The Last In Line’ pushed Dio’s commercial agenda without mercy, just as the machine-tooled riffing of ‘We Rock’ stated the obvious to no ill or clichéd effect. Similarly, the pummeling ‘I Speed At Night’. ‘One Night In The City’ and ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ threw predatory dark shadows into the mix, and the heavy’n’hard ‘Evil Eyes’ and ‘Breathless’ nailed down the band’s roots. The seven-minute doom finale ‘Egypt (The Chains Are On)’ sealed the album’s fate as another precious metal artefact.
Sacred Heart, released in 1985, was the last album by the original line-up and a watershed for Dio. A distinct bull-charge at the MTV centre ground it worked wonders in Germanic and Scandinavian markets and scored another No.4 in the UK. Its US reception was strong if slightly down on Holy Diver and The Last In Line. It became their best-known work, as new fans arrived en masse even while disaffected die-hards shrugged away.
Standout tracks ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Children’, ‘Hungry For Heaven’ and ‘The King Of Rock And Roll’ were heavy if a little less metal, but the videos for the singles were slicker and further removed from the band than ever. And what was with the fake live applause on ‘The King Of Rock And Roll’? Lovers of speed reveled in ‘Just Another Day’, and there was little to complain about the title track or the tours-de-force of ‘Another Lie’ and ‘Like A Beat Of A Heart’. The energy was high, the musicianship inspiring as ever (although those synths were getting rather syrupy), and RJD’s emblematic rainbows and dragons kept the lyrical content consistent. Ultimately, however, Sacred Heart was too much filler versus not enough killer —‘Fallen Angels’ and the final track, ‘Shoot Shoot’, often singled out as being particularly below par.
The core line-up began to now disintegrate and there was a Dio diaspora. Vivian Campbell was the first to leave and by 1990 both Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice were gone too. 1987’s Dream Evil, featuring the first of the new members — Craig Goldy on guitar — is a valid addition to the Dio discography but it’s by no means essential. The title track and ‘Sunset Superman’ have survived as band highlights, but in general, melody supplanted rock riffage and ‘All The Fool Sailed Away’ veered far too deep into power ballad territory and just simply wasn’t metal. Sales were still healthy though, and the album reached No.8 in the UK, but a disappointing No.43 in the States.
Lock Up The Wolves, issued in 1990, was the last album Dio recorded for their original label, Vertigo, and so it marked the end of an era. Remarkably, the new band sounded like the classic line-up, despite Dio himself being the only original member (although Bain and Appice received writing credits). New whizz-kid guitarist Rowan Robertson, then just 18 years old, got the job through sheer damn persistence after he repeatedly badgered Dio’s people for an audition. Teddy Cook took over on bass and the nimble-fingered Jens Johansson joined on keyboards. The drumstool was filled by former AC/DC man Simon Wright.
Musically, the album was a grower and a return to form, and the band bowed out of major label status on a high, even if sales were now certainly on the slide (No.28 UK and No.61 US). Melodies abounded and the slower tempos and blues influences (‘Evil On Queen Street’) were notable, as were a few fillers such as ‘Walk On Water’, ‘Twisted’, and perhaps ‘Why Are They Watching Me’ and ‘Night Music’. But there was plenty to get excited about too. ‘Wild One’ rips open the album at relentless pace, and ‘Born On The Sun’ and ‘Hey Angel’ sounded as if Campbell, Bain and Appice had never gone away. ‘Between Two Hearts’ and ‘My Eyes’ are heavy ballads, but darkest of all is the monumental eight-and-a-half minute ‘Lock Up The Wolves’.
And then, something totally unexpected happened when Ronnie put his band on hold and rejoined Black Sabbath for the 1992 album Dehumanizer. It was a difficult reunion, however, and Dio the band reconvened for 1993’s Strange Highways, and another decade’s worth of essential heavy metal — Angry Machines (1996), Magica (2000), Killing The Dragon (2002), and Master Of The Moon (2004) — before Ronnie’s untimely death in 2010. But that’s another story.
After playing a major role in five positively classic heavy metal albums of the late '70s and early '80s (three with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow and two with Black Sabbath), it seemed that singer Ronnie James Dio could truly do no wrong. So it wasn't all that surprising -- impressive, but not surprising -- when he struck gold yet again when launching his solo vehicle, Dio, via 1983's terrific Holy Diver album. Much like those two, hallowed Sabbath LPs, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, Holy Diver opened at full metallic throttle with the frenetic "Stand Up and Shout," before settling into a dark, deliberate, and hypnotic groove for the timelessly epic title track -- a worthy successor to glorious triumphs past like Rainbow's "Stargazer" and the Sabs' "Sign of the Southern Cross." But subsequent metal anthems like "Straight Through the Heart," "Invisible," and the lycanthrope lullaby "Shame on the Night" were no less inspired; and by injecting uncommonly catchy melodies into the heavy rock riffery still dominating more accessible numbers such as "Gypsy," "Caught in the Middle," and hit single "Rainbow in the Dark" (where the singer himself played rather spotty keyboards), Dio proved himself perfectly capable of competing with the increasingly commercial hard rock fashions soon to come. Although most fans would agree that Dio would arguably never again replicate the simply sublime symbiosis of beauty and brawn achieved by the all-time standout "Don't Talk to Strangers." And, to be fair, aside from Ronnie's unquestionably stellar songwriting, Holy Diver's stunning quality and consistency owed much to his carefully chosen bandmates, including powerhouse drummer (and fellow Sabbath survivor) Vinny Appice, veteran bassist Jimmy Bain, and a phenomenal find in young Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell, whose tastefully pyrotechnic leads helped make this the definitive Dio lineup. So, too, is Holy Diver still the undisputed highlight of Dio's career, and, indeed, one of the finest pure heavy metal albums of the 1980s.
Words: Eduardo Rivadavia
Dream Evil is by no means a departure from the Dio formula that was so successful for his first three solo albums. All of the elements that made them so successful are yet again retained here. However, what makes things different this time around is that Dio has more of a melodious side to him, which he puts use here rather than relying on the riffs and delivery he learned at the school of Sabbath. He even touches on the power ballad (a sure sign that the style had fully infiltrated metal) with "All the Fool Sailed Away." The title track and "Sunset Superman" also proved to be two of Dio's most well-known, and most loved songs in his massive catalog. Not an essential release, but one that diehard fans will be sure to want in their collection.
Words: Rob Theakston
Following the extremely warm reception given his self-named band's well-deserving debut album, Holy Diver, Ronnie James Dio figured there was no point in messing with a winning formula, and decided to play it safe with 1984's sophomore effort, The Last in Line -- with distinctly mixed results. Although technically cut from the same cloth as those first album nuggets, fist-pumping new songs like "We Rock," and "I Speed at Night" curiously went from good to tiresome after just a few spins (a sign that the songwriting clichés were starting to pile up...read on); and the otherwise awesome, seven-minute epic, "Egypt (The Chains Are On)," inexplicably lost it's strikingly sinister main riff halfway through, in what sounds like a mastering snafu of some kind. On the upside, more dramatic, mid-paced numbers such as the title track, "One Night in the City," and "Eat Your Heart Out" -- as well as the driving "Evil Eyes" -- delivered enough compelling riffs and melodies to outweigh Ronnie's once endearing, but now increasingly troublesome repetition of words like "rainbow," "fire," and "stone" in seemingly every song. Finally, the distinctly more commercial pairing of heavy rocker "Breathless" and the power ballad/single "Mystery" gave undisguised notice (along with the slightly sleeker production throughout and more generous keyboards from new member Claude Schnell) of Dio's intention to broaden their audience by tapping into the rising tide of pop-metal. This would bring dire circumstances on their next album, Sacred Heart, but despite the telltale signs of decline cited above, anyone who loved Holy Diver will likely enjoy The Last in Line nearly as much.
Words: Eduardo Rivadavia
Although relatively strong sales at the time of its release would appear to refute this claim, Dio's third album in three years, 1985's Sacred Heart, was a terribly divisive affair, and is largely viewed as a disappointment in retrospect. This is because, although many brand-new yet fickle-minded fans were attracted by the album's noticeably more commercial hard rock songwriting, almost as many of Dio's most loyal, long-serving supporters were turned off by this new direction -- as well as the already stagnant clichés being recycled from prior triumphs. If only writer's block had been to blame, but the unnecessary live audience added to the album's obviously self-referencing opener, "King of Rock and Roll," seemed to point to a single-minded and egotistical leader instead. So when he wasn't putting his ever more despondent (and soon to be terminated) henchmen through the motions on rote metallic anthems like the title track, "Like the Beat of a Heart," and "Fallen Angels," singer Ronnie James Dio seemed intent on strangling every last creative spark out of them in a bid to score a pop-metal hit. Among the top candidates, the synth-drunk "Hungry for Heaven" and the deplorable "Shoot Shoot" proved especially forgettable and contrived, and even though "Rock 'n' Roll Children" succeeded in cropping up frequently on MTV at least, Ronnie's distinct lack of sex appeal (not to mention his 40-plus years of age!) killed any possibility of true crossover success in image-conscious America. In the end, selling out with Sacred Heart plunged Dio's career into a steep decline from which it would never entirely recover.
Words: Eduardo Rivadavia
Ronnie James Dio has issued quite a few live albums and videos since departing from Black Sabbath in the early '80s, but as evidenced by its title, 2006's Holy Diver Live is a bit different. Keeping in step with a phenomenon started in the '90s with veteran rock acts performing a classic album in its entirety, Dio revisited his 1983 solo debut, Holy Diver. Recorded at the Astoria in London on October 22, 2005 (not 1995, as the CD booklet erroneously lists), the double-disc set also includes a second disc comprised of highlights from Dio's Rainbow and Black Sabbath days, as well as a pair of tracks from another strong early solo release, 1984's The Last in Line. Dio is in fine voice all these years later (something that can certainly not be said of the majority of rock singers his age who have to rely on backing vocalists or prerecorded tapes), as evidenced by such standouts as "Rainbow in the Dark," "Holy Diver," "Heaven and Hell," and "Tarot Woman." And headbangers worldwide have to be happy whenever the woefully underrated Dio/Sabbath-era gem "Sign of the Southern Cross" gets an airing on-stage. Despite guitarist Craig Goldy not performing on this night (due to an arm injury, Doug Aldrich took his place), Holy Diver Live is quite possibly Dio's finest live album yet -- from both a performance and set-list standpoint.
Words: Greg Prato
A recording of the 1993 performance of the then newly reformed Dio on the last night of their European tour. The concert was recorded at Hammersmith Apollo in London on Deember 12th 1993. Includes performances of 'Stand Up And Shout', 'Holy Diver', 'The Mob Rules' and 'The Last In Line'.
The final Warner Bros. release for Dio after an 11-year run of hard-edged post-Sabbath recordings, Strange Highways is almost a return to early '80s form for a group that hadn't done anything particularly inspiring since 1984's Last in Line. Joining the band's namesake vocalist Ronnie James Dio on this 1994 release is an all-star lineup, including long-time drumming cohort Vinny Appice, bassist Jeff Pilson (most notably of Dokken, and an nice addition to the group, especially live), and unknown guitarist Tracy G. Dio is in fine voice as usual, especially on "Hollywood Black" and the emotive opener "Jesus, Mary & the Holy Ghost." G. provides a nice, generally staccato guitar flow that harkens back to the glory days when Vivian Campbell filled the six-string slot in the group's finest lineup. Original drummer Appice seems to have lost some energy, tone, and sharpness by the time of this release, which is too bad considering that he had formerly personified all those qualities. As a unit, however, Dio prove they can lay down some deadly riffs, as songs like "Pain" and "Firehead" keep a nice momentum going throughout this return to solo work for Ronnie James Dio after a brief second tour of duty with Black Sabbath. Strange Highways is a solid effort with some of Dio's better late-career material, powerful singing, and strong performances from G. and Pilson.
Words: Jason Anderson