(The ultimate Tiger Tamer was not born into his magnificent moniker, but grew into it as his powers grew. As many of you may not know, it was not the work of wizards young Ronald James Padavona set out to master, but the sultry spells of such crooners as Sinatra and Anka. Here’s some of what the interweb has to say about all that…)
Dio’s musical career began in 1957 when several Cortland, New York musicians formed the band, The Vegas Kings. The group’s lineup consisted of Dio on bass guitar, Billy DeWolfe on lead vocals, Nick Pantas on guitar, Tom Rogers on drums, and Jack Musci on saxophone.
In 1958, the band again changed their name from Ronnie & The Rumblers to Ronnie and the Redcaps. Musci left the band in 1960, and a new guitarist, Dick Botoff, joined the lineup. The Redcaps released two singles: The first single was “Conquest”/”Lover” with the A-side being an instrumental reminiscent of The Ventures and the B-side featuring DeWolfe on lead vocals. The second single was “An Angel Is Missing”/”What’d I Say” which featured Dio on lead vocals for both tracks.
Explanations vary for how Padavona adopted the stage name “Dio”. One story is that Dio was a reference to mafia member Johnny Dio. Another has it that Padavona’s grandmother said he had a gift from God and should be called “Dio”. Whatever the inspiration, Padavona first used it on a recording in 1960, when he added it to the band’s second release on Seneca. Soon after that the band modified their name to Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. The Prophets lineup lasted for several years, touring throughout the New York region and playing college fraternity parties. They produced one single for Atlantic and one album. Some of the singles (such as “Mr. Misery”, released on Swan) were labeled as being by Ronnie Dio as a solo artist even if the rest of the Prophets contributed to the recording. The group released several singles during the following years, until early 1967. Dio continued to use his birth name on any songwriting credits on those releases.
WILL YOU LOVE ME TOMORROW by RONNIE DIO & THE PROPHETS
In late 1967 Ronnie Dio and the Prophets transformed into a new band called The Electric Elves and added a keyboard player. Following recovery from a deadly car accident in February 1968 (which killed guitarist Nick Pantas and put Dio and other band members in the hospital briefly), the group shortened its name to The Elves and used that name until mid 1972 when it released its first proper album under the name Elf. Over the next few years, the group went on to become a regular opening act for Deep Purple. Elf recorded three albums until the members’ involvement recording the first Rainbow album in early 1975 resulted in Elf disbanding.
Dio’s vocals caught the ear of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in the mid-1970s, who was planning on leaving then due to creative differences over the band’s new direction. Blackmore invited Dio along with Gary Driscoll to record two songs in Tampa, Florida on December 12, 1974. Blackmore stated in 1983 that “I left Deep Purple because I’d met up with Ronnie Dio, and he was so easy to work with. He was originally just going to do one track of a solo LP, but we ended up doing the whole LP in three weeks, which I was very excited about.” Being satisfied with the results, Blackmore decided to recruit more of Elf’s musicians and form his own band, primarily known as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. They released the self-entitled debut album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in early 1975. After that, Dio recorded two studio albums (Rising and Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll) and one live album (On Stage) with Blackmore. During his tenure with Rainbow, Dio and Blackmore were the only constant members. Dio is credited on those albums for all lyrical authorship as well as collaboration with Blackmore on musical arrangement. Dio and Blackmore split with Blackmore taking the band in a more commercial direction, with Graham Bonnet on vocals and the album “Down to Earth”.
STARGAZER by RAINBOW
Dio left Rainbow in 1979 and soon joined Black Sabbath, replacing the fired Ozzy Osbourne. Dio met Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi by chance at The Rainbow on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles in 1979. Both men were in similar situations, as Dio was seeking a new project and Iommi required a vocalist. Dio said of the encounter, “It must have been fate, because we connected so instantly.” The pair kept in touch via telephone, until Dio arrived at Iommi’s Los Angeles house for a relaxed, getting-to-know-you jam session. On that first day the duo wrote the song “Children Of The Sea” which would appear on the Heaven and Hell album, the first the band recorded with Dio as vocalist in 1980.
The follow-up album, Mob Rules, featured new drummer Vinny Appice. Personality conflicts began emerging within the band. “Ronnie came into the band and he was doing whatever we told him, basically because he wanted the gig. The next album was a little different,” Iommi recalled. In 1982, conflict arose over the mixing of the Live Evil album. Iommi asserted that the album’s engineer began complaining to him that he would work all day long on a mix, only to have Dio return to the studio at night to “do his own mix” in which his vocals were more prominent. This was denied by Dio. The conflict led to Dio and Appice ultimately quitting the band later that year.
In 1992, Dio briefly returned to Black Sabbath to record the Dehumanizer album. The album was a minor hit, reaching the Top 40 in the United Kingdom and #44 on the Billboard 200. The single “Time Machine” was featured in the movie Wayne’s World, the tenth highest-grossing film of 1992. Soon Dio and Appice again left the band, citing an inability to work with Iommi and Butler.
TONNY IOMMI on RONNIE JAMES DIO
Wanting to continue together as a band, Ronnie James Dio and Vinnie Appice formed Dio, the band, in 1982. On guitar played Vivian Campbell and on bass Jimmy Bain, the latter whom he had known since the old Rainbow days. Their debut album, Holy Diver, included the hit singles “Rainbow in the Dark” and the title track, “Holy Diver”. That lineup recorded three albums, before the band changed members over the years and leaving Dio as the only original member. Except a few breaks, Dio, the band, were always touring or recording. They released ten albums, with Master of the Moon being the last one, recorded in 2004.
HOLY DIVER by DIO
On November 25, 2009, his then wife, Wendy announced that Dio had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and was being treated at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, but that he would be back on stage when recovered.
On May 4, 2010, Heaven & Hell announced they were canceling all summer dates as a result of Dio’s ill health. His last live performance was with Heaven & Hell on August 29, 2009, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The tomb of Ronnie James Dio (note the “throwing horns” sign on the flanking urns)
Dio died at 7:45 am (CDT) on May 16, 2010, of metastasized stomach cancer, according to official sources.
A public memorial service was held on May 30, 2010 at The Hall Of Liberty, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. The hall was filled to capacity, with more fans sitting outside the hall watching from a screen. Friends, family, and former and current band mates of Dio gave speeches and performed including Rudy Sarzo, Geoff Tate, John Payne, Glenn Hughes, Joey Belladonna, and Heaven & Hell keyboard player, Scott Warren. On the screen was an accompanying documentary covering Dio’s career from his early days with Elf to his final project with Heaven & Hell.