Ronnie James Dio is, beyond question, a Classic Heavy Metal vocal legend. He’s one of The Hawk’s all time favorite singers – all that character and depth in his voice, never mind some of the classic songs he’s featured on. A ton of top Dio songs now coming atcha in this blog post!
The question remains though – did his eventual outsize ego, learned at the knee of other classic metal legends / egotists Richie Blackmore and Tony Iommi help his career or hinder it?
It certainly contributed massively to him losing the best guitarist he ever worked with in Dio – Vivian Campbell – and quite a few other musicians as well. Here, The Hawk traces that spell up to Campbell’s departure, and asks, was it really necessary? Strap in!
On A Mission
Ronald James Padavona was aways a kid on a mission. Even at high school, he’d figured out that Padavona didn’t sound very ‘rock star-ish’, so had given himself the stage name of Ronnie James Dio. He’d wanted something short, snappy, and mindful of an Italian Mafia boss, to go with his own Italian American roots.
And the new persona was soon on stage in a band – The Vegas Kings – with Dio starting out on the trumpet (which he’d learned as a kid), soon progressing to bass player and vocalist. Never trained as a singer, he was pressed into service when the band’s original singer walked out (musical differences!!) and found he was a natural.
That was the start of things – they evolved from The Vegas Kings to Ronnie and The Rumblers to Ronnie and The Redcaps to Ronnie and The Prophets to The Electric Elves to The Elves to (finally) just Elf. The usual story really – Dio was happy to serve his time. The band changed names and lineups often enough, but Dio was the ever present in front of the mic.
They started to write a few songs of their own, played (slightly) better venues, and got some management. As so often in these stories, fate played a hand, like some hidden puppet master pulling all the right strings.
In this case, 3 planets aligned perfectly. Elf’s manager also had a job at a New York booking agency, American Talent International (ATI) who also handled bookings for US shows by none other than 70s royalty Deep Purple. Purple were in the US touring, but a bout of illness for Ian Gillan meant they were off the road.
AND, having recently launched their own label, Purple Records, they were in the market for new talent. With time suddenly on their hands, Deep Purple’s Roger Glover and Ian Paice were happy enough to turn up to an Elf audition, which led directly to a recording deal.
3 Elf Albums followed, but more importantly, a regular touring slot supporting Deep Purple themselves. Here’s one of the numbers from their first album (‘Elf’, 1972), whose cover has Dio dressed as a weird and creepy looking elf.
Or compare that to this from their third and last (‘Trying to Burn the Sun’, 1975), an obvious progression musically.
Richie Blackmore Can Be Friendly!!
Anyway, the regular exposure to Deep Purple during this time meant that Dio and Richie Blackmore built up a good (if temporary) working relationship. They toured together, hung out some of the time, and even jammed together during down time at a little-known rock club called Winkers Farm near London in the UK.
Eventually, the 2 of them recorded a couple of tracks together, including ‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’, which was first made before Rainbow ever came into being, but ended up on their first album.
As regular readers of this blog (and Classic Heavy Metal afficionados generally) will know, this was a period of turbulence for Deep Purple. Ian Gillan had walked out by now, and new boys David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes were pushing the band in a funk / rock direction that Blackmore hated. The upshot was that Blackmore decided to quit, and form his own band.
Purple’s keyboard player, Jon Lord apparently warned Ronnie Dio off from working with the departing Blackmore, telling him that it would all end in tears. That proved to be prophetic, but c’mon, in the meantime, who could turn down an offer to collaborate with a great? Elf were doing OK, but this was a chance to move up to a higher league in the heavy rock hierarchy, so of course Dio accepted. He even got to take most of Elf with him, and now Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow was officially a thing.
The band was named after the Rainbow grill in LA, where Blackmore liked to hang out. Not imaginative, but there you go.
So, now Dio was part of the big league, and soon started to learn what that meant, ego-wise. Initially, it was fun, inspiring even. Dio and Blackmore worked together on some legendary songs like ‘Man on the Silver Mountain,’ which appeared on the first album laid down in Munich.
Who’s the Boss? (Not you…)
Dio was annoyed when the album came out under the moniker ‘Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow’, when he thought they had agreed to use both their names on the cover, but he didn’t make a fuss. It made sense commercially, right?
Then, Blackmore unceremoniously fired all of the old Elf musicians before the first Rainbow tour, thinking them insufficiently talented to share a stage with him. Bass player, drummer and keyboardist were all out, with Jimmy Bain, Cozy Powell and Tony Carey brought in as replacements. Dio was now without allies. He even had to take care of firing all his old Elf buddies, so that Blackmore wouldn’t have to get his hands dirty. Blackmore had many sides to his personality, was ‘an interesting bunch of guys’, according to David Coverdale. Dio soon got to understand what he meant.
An interesting bunch of guysDavid Coverdale on Richie Blackmore
Still, Blackmore and Dio remained close for a time, despite the many provocations. The album and tour did ok, commercially and critically, and things were still comparatively rosy in the garden when album #2, ‘Rising’ was laid down. Tracks like ‘Stargazer’ with added layers from the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra thrown in.
Keeping it Fresh
But Blackmore liked to ‘keep things fresh’, like a spoiled child who gets tired of one Christmas present and moves on to the next one on a whim. After the Rising tour, Tony Carey and Jimmy Bain were fired as keyboardist and bass player respectively for being…I dunno? Too American? Too annoying? Too much party animals?
Who can say? Bain got his marching orders the week before Christmas, so maybe Blackmore really was hoping for a better bass player as his main present that year. Bob Daisley was the final choice as replacement, though it was long after the holiday season by then. Davis Stone came in on Keyboards.
Album number 3, ‘Long Live Rock n Roll’ started life in a spooky French chateau with a recording studio on site – the Chateau d’Herouville. Blackmore insisted on nightly seances, which spooked everyone, and killed the vibe even more, especially after Dio’s wife Wendy fell down the stairs and claimed to have been pushed by a ghost. Luckily, she was only shaken up, and not badly hurt.
Amazingly, the subsequent tour saw a period of calm, at least right up until the US leg which was punctuated by fights, technical issues and even riots. Afterwards, Blackmore reverted to type by cutting Daisley and Stone from the band.
Dio Jumps First
Dio walked before he could be pushed and moved back to LA with Wendy. There, a chance meeting with Tony Iommi (at The Rainbow, where else) led to his next chapter. This was 1979, Ozzy was in the process of being fired from Black Sabbath for drugs, and the rest of them were hardly clean.
But anyway, Iommi and Dio took a limo right to the a studio that same night, recorded a rough cut of what would become ‘Children of the Sea’, and that was the start of his stint in Black Sabbath, already detailed by The Hawk right here.
Head over there for the full story, and we won’t re-cover that ground here (except to listen once more to ‘Heaven and Hell’, which is the high point of that particular collaboration.
An End to Power Politics?!
Suffice to say that it didn’t work out. Little things. Big things. Accusations. Counter accusations. Dio was the outsider, so an easy scapegoat when things weren’t going well. After endless arguing over the sound for the live album ‘Live Evil’, Dio quit / was fired, depending on whose version you prefer.
Twice in a row now, Dio had been the victim of power politics in bands he didn’t really have any control over. So, to prevent that happening again, Dio (the band) was born – an entity that would now be fully owned and controlled by Dio himself.
Vinnie Appice came along from Black Sabbath to play drums, Jimmy Bain (ex-colleague from Rainbow) was on bass, and between them, they unearthed a rare gem. 20 year old Vivian Campbell was from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was part of a band, Sweet Savage that had recorded an EP but nothing more.
But Bain knew him, convinced Dio to fly him to London for an audition, and before long, he was on his way to LA as a full on member of the band.
Dio wanted a British NWOBH influence in his new band, and was delighted with his line up. They had chemistry, creativity, and put out some great work. ‘Holy Diver’ (the album) came first in 1983.
Then ‘The Last In Line’ came out in 1984. Dio argued with his record label, who wanted to make the sound more commercial and bring in Ted Templeman (of Van Halen fame) to produce. But Dio got his way – it was his band now after all.
Promises Easily Made…
Now problems – and those Blackmore / Iommi- esque tendencies began to surface. At the start of Dio, Ronnie put the others on a weekly salary, and promised them that by the third album, things would be put on a more equal footing in terms of merchandising, concert receipts and all the rest of it. He’d take the financial risks in the meantime, and bank whatever rewards were left after everyone else had been paid.
(Dio dances around this point in his autobiography, ‘Rainbow in the Dark’, but doesn’t deny having made the promise. Nothing is as simple as it sounds, he says, and I was still the risk taker.)
No doubt this was an easy promise to throw out – at the start, nobody knew if there would be a third album, or any success at all for that matter. But anyway, now here we were, and the band expected him to live up to his word.
At first, Dio fobbed them off, played for time. He said they had an album to record, and he’d deal with business when it was done.
But then there was a tour in the offing, with plenty more stress – no time to talk about money then either.
In the book, Dio says they were working up an offer for Campbell during a break in the tour, but that Campbell had a lawyer call them with an ultimatum. They reacted badly, and he was out. He then goes on a winding diatribe about how he treated everyone fairly, and anyway, he plucked people from nowhere, and they’d all be nothing if it weren’t for him.
If you want to here the Campbell side directly it’s here.
And, not wanting to take sides or anything, but the point about chemistry is unarguable. Freddie was stronger with Queen, just as they were with him, and the same goes for Dio’s band.
But now, the mental gremlins had set in, and the Blackmore ‘keeping it fresh’ attitude had taken hold. Or, more accurately, a regular hire and fire regime will remind everyone who’s the boss.
Now, obviously Dio continued to put out decent music, but they never quite recaptured the magic of the original line up. How could they? According to The Hawk’s count, before his death in 2010, Dio had worked with 5 guitarists, 4 bass players, 2 drummers and 2 keyboard players after he broke up that original lineup. Bain and Appice only lasted one more album after Campbell had left. So all that intangible creative spirit was lost.
Plus, Campbell was, in The Hawk’s view, clearly the best guitar player ever to appear in the Dio band. Only Warren De Martini (previously in Ratt) could hold a candle to him, and he didn’t even last long enough in Dio to record anything before musical differences got in the way.
Still, on Campbell’s side, after a short stint in Black Sabbath, he found a long term home in Def Leppard after Steve Clark’s death, so at least we still get to hear all that.
And, after some years of fall out and bad feeling, Dio and Campbell seemed to bury the hatchet, at least in public.
It’s funny how many band leaders seem to go this way – it starts so well, but after a while, all the ego and politics starts to get in the way. We could name many of the usual suspects, and Ronnie Dio certainly isn’t / wasn’t the worst. This blog isn’t meant to single him out. As Dio said himself:
If they thought I was a moody and stubborn man, try working with Richie Blackmore. Try Tony Iommi if you think I’m a tough guy.Ronnie James Dio
But yeah, if you’re comparing yourself to the worst in the business when it comes to dealing with colleagues, don’t expect too sympathetic a hearing.
Pity. Especially when you go back to that original lineup playing ‘Sacred Heart’, the title track of album #3. They kicked off that tour in Japan, where fans were first to see the new set. They’d have to wait a little longer to see Ronnie Dio battling Dean the dragon, as he would many times over the coming months. It should have continued longer.
Whose side are you on in the Dio vs. Campbell dispute? Should they have carried on? Or did you prefer anything that came later? Let us know in the comments below.