Ronnie James Dio has held one of my top favorite three album slots over the years with different groups and different albums. Never wavering from his strong metal convictions, Dio has always been a bright spot on my horizon. This new album is certainly one of his best. Here's a conversation we had on November 1 in the midst of rehearsing the tour that kicked off on November 7. I didn't even get around to talking to Dio about my favorite tune, "Golden Rules" and its excellent lyrics and "This Is Your Life" which is just Ronnie and piano.
Q&A with Ronnie James Dio
Sheila Rene': Hello, my friend. Good to have you on the phone.
Ronnie James Dio: I called the wrong number yesterday but here we are now.
SR: I've been reading all the comments, arguments and raves about your new album. I pulled up Yahoo and then Dio. There are some 14, 000 plus mentions of you in Usernet. Many saying that this is right up there with Holy Diver, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules.
RD: I've been hearing a lot of great comments such as it's the best album we've done in ten years or so. I agree with them.
SR: I have never disliked an album of yours. I've always said you could sing the New York phone book and I'd buy it.
RD: This one is more special and it has finally gotten us to the point where we want to be. This is the album we wanted to make. We wanted to take some of those chances but yet keep our traditional sound together which we did this time. I think the sound is a very important part of this album in that it's in-your-face not overly affected at all. That's why it's much more like a Holy Diver album when the drums were played live. It wasn't a matter of reverb being added. The same with this one. I've also heard people say that it is a Rainbow meets Black Sabbath. That's kind of what it was anyway, wasn't it?
SR: I never think or listen in those terms, Ronnie. I just take every piece of work as a stand-on-its-own basis. Everything is new to me.
RD: I never do either. It's totally different than anything else. How can it be what it isn't?
SR: I don't compare anyone to anything that has come before.
RD: Good policy.
SR: One place this is going to be read is on a new hardcore Internet magazine that I'm involved with for a three month spotlight.
RD: What's the name of it?
SR: Highway 666.
RD: Good title.
SR: It's such a joke this 666 business. You put out your last seven albums with Warner Bros. Records. What happened?
RD: When they had all their corporate structure change that's what made the difference for us. We were very, very close to the people at Warner Bros. Records for all those albums. Mo Ostin, Carl Scott and Lenny Warnaker were gone. For all those reasons and the attitude inside the label changed too. It became a matter of adding the figures up at the bottom of the column and they came back with the notion that they needed more Green Day-type bands. So it became a cold, statistical business there. Our last album on Warner was Strange Highways and it wasn't given any attention at all.
SR: I loved that Strange Highways album. You took some chances on that one and it sounded great.
RD: It was a excellent record and it deserved a lot more attention than it got then. It deserved a lot more, because people asking me in interviews for this new one, did I have another record out? We didn't know you had another one on Warners. Was it released here?
SR: Give me a break.
RD: At the end of the day it was good that we were gone from Warner Bros. Records and that we're on Mayhem. Now we're at a record company that is populated by people who are fans, the way it used to be at record labels. People who believe in us and who believe in themselves. They have something to prove for themselves. They have to fight the big guy. It's a perfect place for us. I couldn't be happier.
SR: I love it. I've been working with Paula Hogan for so many years. She is definitely a hard rock, heavy metal fan.
RD: She's a great person to work with. She's so cute too.
SR: If this was originally to be a conceptual album with the writing of "Institutional Man" what happened next?
RD: It was going to be comceptual in that I wanted to have a thread throughout the album. I wasn't sure what direction to take it in. We wrote several songs with "Institutional Man" being the first, followed by "Don't Tell The Kids." The first four of five tracks written were with Tracy G, Vinny, myself and occasionally with Jerry Best. When Jerry left Jeff Pilson came in and helped write. With all the changes that came in we couldn't keep that thread together. We ended up writing more or less individual songs which still has a thread.
SR: It certainly does.
RD: It does, but it's not the conceptuality that I perceive. I look at the Who's Tommy as a conceptual album. If you can't do better than that don't do it. The next project is going to have to be a full conceptual album. That's the direction I've been aiming for all these years. It's time to do it now. You're right, it does have a lot of conceptuality in it. The conception mainly is that the first nine tracks speak about the bleakness of society these days and some of the problems involved. The final track shows that I haven't given up on humanity. There still has to be some optimism out there somewhere but it's directed to the individual. It's up to that person to change their lives for the better therefore changing all our lives for the better. This is your life...so if there is any conceptuality it starts with people locked up in prisons and ends with don't worry. This is your life, just do it.
SR: If you take control of your life and you live in the real world, you'll be okay.
RD: Yep, that's correct.
SR: You did eight months of writing broken up with a trip to South America.
SR: I just got some new figures in that says 44 countries in Europe now make up 95 percent of the sale of CD's and that's up 12 percent in the last six months. No wonder everyone is making sure that go there.
RD: Oh, really.
SR: Isn't that amazing? Europe beats out Japan, the U.S. and Germany.
RD: I'm glad we're heading back over there.
SR: Everyone's going there and most times before the U.S.
RD: You have to really. Everyone I talk to press-wise feels that the time is right for ...not a comeback that's the wrong attitude ...not a resurgence either. It's not the cycle coming back around again because music to be viable and be accepted again has to change. It has to become better. That's one thing I think is positive about the lack of attention of metal music, it's going to force those who are going to be given an opportunity to play, to be better at it first. They must be better or no one will play the product. I hear so much new optimism.
SR: My dear, I truly believe that metal is now the alternative to all kinds of alternative pap/pop. Metal lives outside of trends and people come back to it when they drown in the drone. You've certainly never compromised.
RD: Yes, it is. You're right.
SR: Thank God you've always stayed outside the trends.
RD: I always will.
SR: Did you have fun on the Internet debut on hardradio?
RD: Oh, yeah. I did as a matter-of-fact.
SR: A lot of people are talking about that experience on usenet-alt-music.dio.
RD: Good. That was a lot of fun. I had a great time and it was very productive.
SR: We just got the stats that on one recent Friday on HardRadio there were over 100 thousand hits. The feedback on the music and the interviews is incredible.
RD: Not bad.
SR: It's getting hits from all over the world including India, Croatia, Sweden, Austrialia, Brazil, France, Singapore, Poland, Malaysia, Italy, Spain, Norway, Israel, Portugal, Uruguay, Finland, Czech Republic, Canada, U.S., Thailand, New Zealand and 20 other countries I won't read off.
RD: Malaysia is supposed to be a pretty good sized market now.
SR: It's a new day and every time I listen to "Stay Out Of My Mind" I think of so many people's opinions on the Internet situation...
RD: I think it's one of the most exciting things that has ever happened. Look at how it has connected us all. The information out there is phenomenal.
SR: I spend at least eight hours a day just surfing away. The big news yesterday was that George Michael has admitted that he smokes pot.
RD: He admits that he smokes pot? Wow, I'm shocked.
SR: Don't you feel better now?
RD: I do, but I thought he was going to say something else. Where else but the Internet could you read something like that? I think Tracy G has a website up an running and if Vinny doesn't he will any day now.
SR: You've got lots of fans with pages up plus you have the label site.
RD: I know, but Tracy's is supposed to be really cool. He's got lots of movement and sound on there. I've got to take a look myself.
SR: Speaking of the band, were there ever any doubts about who'd be in the band. Jeff came in, but since I don't see his picture I don't imagine he'll be touring.
RD: Jeff is back with Dokken and they've finished the backing tracks. Jeff just got back into town yesterday I think. Now, they'll go down and work with Don since George and Don don't speak or relate very well to each other. This was their commitment for an album. I think CMC International will be releasing it. We both tried, but couldn't make it happen. We have a new bass player whose name is Larry Denison. He has played with Lita Ford and with Tony MacAlpine.
SR: I was hoping to see my old San Fran buddy, Jeff.
RD: The show is really going to be fun to do. There are a lot of interesting songs and we've decided to do a couple of songs from the Dehumanizer album. We're not going to do "Man of the Silver Mountain" but we'll do something else from Rainbow that'll be interesting and surprising. And, of course, songs from Angry Machines and a couple from Strange Highways. We'll throw in some staples from Holy Diver, "The Last In Line" to "Rainbow In The Dark."
SR: Tell me you're doing "Jesus Mary Holy Ghost."
RD: We are.
SR: Oh, damn I love that song.
RD: Get there early because that's the first one.
SR: Don't you worry, I'll be in San Antonio with bells on.
RD: I know.
SR: The first time I listened through this I thought you had left the quirky samples and didn't carry over anything from that Highways album. Wrong.
There are some wonderfully different special effects and orchestrations on this one.
RD: There are. Most of the good effects are done with the music itself. It changes so rapidly from place to place that it errantly goes where it wants to go but it works. Tracy is, of course, into his usual effect-y kind of playing which is wonderful. We put this neo-classical piece in the middle of "Stay Out Of My Mind" which makes it an effect unto itself. They are pretty well hidden. You have to listen to this album three or four times, if not more, to really be able to digest it all. Anyone expecting it to be Holy Diver are going to be sadly mistaken and probably pretty confused.
SR: No, no, no. I've heard it for four days straight.
RD: That's be best thing. It's like looking at a piece of art and seeing something different every time.
SR: I love the strings, oboe and brass sound in there.
RD: Don't tell Scott you like that stuff. He'll keep playing it forever.
SR: Scott is going to be out with you.
SR: I don't think I've ever asked you this question. What was the first band you ever saw that was rock and roll to you?
RD: It was a band from near my hometown. They were called Rick and the Rickettes. The first rock band that I saw with any stature was the James Gang who were on the same show as The Who and Humble Pie. It was unbelievable for me because I really loved the James Gang. I loved the Who and I thought Steve Marriott was one of the greatest singers who ever warbled.
SR: That was during the Peter Frampton days.
RD: Frampers was playing with them, yes. It was the first album and they were doing "Stone Cold Fever" and things like that.
SR: I was just curious about what you listened to first in your young life.
RD: It was a guitar-oriented band that had a guitar, bass, drums and vocals just like it's supposed to be. Rick and the Rickettes had that lineup, the classic lineup and that was the first rock and roll band I saw. I was still playing trumpet at that time. I had a band but I was playing trumpet. I didn't consider us to be what they were. They were down to the bare bones which is the way it's supposed to be.
SR: "Black" is such an important song. It says...there are no champions.
RD: It' a very different song for us. It's a little bit on the funky side but it says what it has to say, I think, about the word, black. Just as in the garbled, knarled chord Tracy plays. In fact, I told him I wanted to write a song entitled "Black" and did he have any ideas? He played that chord and I knew that it was the one. It was so quick to write. We wrote it in four or five hours. It's a very natural thing to play. It actually seems like a simple song but it's not a simple as it seems. It's simple to us from where all the other songs went. It was a fun song to do but I doubt that we'll do it live, in fact, I know we won't play it live. It's a bit too funky for us.
SR: Funky maybe, but the lyrics are wonderful.
SR: There are no champions...who saves the lonely ones in the corner? Sport figures have fallen, rock stars have fallen, the movie stars and the parents are going down. There's only one person to rely on and that's yourself who has to live in the real world.
RD: That's exactly right. That's what this album is all about...the real world. You have to deal with it. We can't escape anymore. Personally, I can't be Mr. Wizard and Mr. Witches anymore and tell people about their dreams coming true because once you come back to the reality from that escapism, it's so damn dreadful these days. It's like a kick straight into the crotch. That's why this all very reality based. I mean "Black" tells you that you may as well enjoy it because there's one thing you can be damn sure of and the only thing you can be sure of and that's you're going to die. While your doing that there are no champions and who'll save the lonely ones? The answer is that it's up to the individual again. If you have no champions, then become one yourself.
SR: Who did the arranging on this album? For instance, "Stay Out Of My Mind" which has such a great arrangement.
RD: The bulk of the song without the neo-classical thing was all written by Jeff Pilson but the orchestrated part in the middle and the tag at the end was written by myself and Scott.
SR: "Double Monday" a big winner with that cool guitar opening. And lyrics such as 'like a fly against the wall, just when you think you've seen it all...you lose your special place to hide...so get ready for the ride..
RD: We're going to do that one live. There again there's that brashness of Tracy G. I'll tell him you said that.
SR: How easily do these lyrics come to you?
RD: Sometimes with difficulty and sometimes with ease. Some things flow, like "Black" which was very easy to do. It just flowed out of me. Some of the other times I have to sit down and think about. I have to think about them for a reason other than just their creative process. And that is when you've made as many albums as I have and you've written as many lyrics as I have, the danger is always to repeat yourself. God knows I've done that in the past. So some of the tunes have to be really thought about. I can't repeat myself here, I've used that before. It becomes a real methodical process. It's the melody that counts. Once you get the melody and one verse no matter what the word are. I can't sing a song unless the first line is important and it makes sense to me. Once that's in place whatever comes after it as long as the melody is in place it doesn't matter. I'll sometimes just sing the first verse over and over while we're trying to put the song together and then take it away with me and scrutinize it and make sure it's not repetitive. I try to make it as clever as I possibly can. Because, again after a while, you should know this because of the writing you do, you tend to fall into your own little formula, your own routine. You have to change that.
SR: You bet.
RD: But you can't change it too much because then it's not you anymore.
SR: Do you have any goals into the 21st Century? Can you believe that it's almost here?
RD: You know I haven't really thought about that at all. I mean my goals are just around the corner for me or just in front of me. I don't think in terms that far in the future because I've learned much as some of these songs say that life is to be lived now and make the most of it now. Go along your path very observantly and slowly as opposed to rushing headline into the wall or falling into the pit. I just know that after doing a record like Angry Machines that I have planned only to do another one that is going to be stunning and very different. That's the goal I have. Meantime it's on the road and I don't become very far thinking on the road. It can be a real grind and my worry day to day is am I going to be able to sing properly?
SR: Do you spend much time on the Internet?
RD: Oh, yeah I do.
SR: Do you have anything to do with any of the websites that are about you?
RD: I don't, no. I think Vinny has more to do with that than I do. The one that gets the most information is the one in Finland by a guy named Toppio. We're in the middle of putting together our own web page now. It'll have all the things necessary, pictures and albums, things people don't have and things they want to know along with some great graphics.
SR: I got rid of AOL where I was known as diobabe.
RD: You see that they're now coming around with the monthly charges.
SR: Didn't they come into line quickly after the servers offered unlimited access for $19.95 a month?
RD: They had to didn't they? I would have never gone with those people. Never in a million years. Screw them. I'm so sick of seeing those discs in all the magazines anyway.
SR: Tell me about Paul Gregory. He's a new artist for you isn't he?
RD: It's the first album that he's done. He's a English guy who we were connected with through the European label. He had done some work for Molly Hatchet, Uriah Heep, Motorhead and Paul Rodgers. When it came time for the artwork the guys in Europe suggested Paul Gregory. We checked him out and sent him the title Angry Machines and he came back with this cover with just a few changes. He's really a good artist. I'll be very interested in the conception he comes up with on the next one.
SR: You told me the easiest song to write. What was the most difficult.
RD: It was "Hunter Of The Heart." Mainly because it was the simplest song on the album, therefore, it was the hardest one to write. It was most like the songs we've done before. It was hard to get back into that mindset of not just going off on some tangent that never could have been understood.
SR: Is big staging gone from the scene for a while?
RD: It certainly is at the moment. There's no desire it seems on the part of an audience to go to an arena big enough to support a big stage. That puts the cabash on it aside from the economics. It's not feasible these days. You have to play big arenas and fill them to be able to take that kind of staging out. We'll dress our stage up on this tour. We're using our lighting designer from our Holy Diver, Last In Line days, Paul Dexter. He's a great lighting director and what he's got put together is going to be very interesting. It'll be a lot more robotic and a lot more black and white. More stark than other shows.
SR: What memories I have of your stages over the years.
RD: And, me too. Thank God we got all of them on video. There were so many things we never got down that we should have and that goes back to Sabbath too. We did so many shows and a few videos have ever turned up. It's a shame that it couldn't have been captured at that time, but such is life.
SR: I'm working on a site in Austin for a restaurant. What's your favorite food. I'll name a dish after you.
RD: Curry. Lamb vindolou is my favorite. I'll send you my recipe. You should have all the people you interview send you their favorite recipe.
SR: Great idea Ronnie. In this usenet section the thumbs are way up for Vinny's drumming on this album. They're saying he's playing harder and he's mic'd better.
RD: They are. I absolutely agree with that. I think the engineer we used, Winn Davis, is just brilliant. He's the only guy Terry Bozzio will allow to record his drums. As soon as I heard that I knew who I wanted to work with. We knew what we wanted. We wanted the drums to be up front. We didn't want them to be affected or reverbed out. We asked for a natural sound and that's what he gave us. Plus the fact, unlike most producers or people in control of their band, I give Vinny as much leeway as he wants. I've played with people before who would have crapped in their pants if they heard what I've let Vinny do on some of these albums. With Vinny, if there's a hole there, he'll fill it. That's what makes Vinny special and that's what made Keith Moon special. That's what I see in Vinny. I see him much more in a Keith Moon attitude than any other drummer I've ever seen. Not only does he fill every hole, but he can fill every hole he hears musically and very well. We're individual players that are blended to be a great band.
SR: I believe that. The tour starts on November 7 in Ventura, Calif. Who's going out with you?
RD: The first few dates we're doing ...out of the first ten or twelve shows two or three of them are with Great White. Most of the rest will be with local bands which is great with me. We pick up Motorhead in Washington, D.C. So all the east coast dates will be with Motorhead. Then we're going to Europe on December 4 and do three weeks with Motorhead in Germany. Then we'll come back here and start around your old stomping grounds on January 13 in San Francisco and then carry on with another tour across the country again. We may revisit a couple of places and we'll certainly catch all the places we didn't hit the first time. Then we'll go back to Europe again for the summertime and then to Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and all those other countries you mentioned earlier. I had heard that we were going to have Pist-On with us but I don't know where that came from because I never heard anything about it.
SR: It's being talked about a lot in the usenet.alt-music.dio section. There was some talk about a Rainbow tour.
RD: That was going to happen. There was going to be the Rainbow/DIO show but that isn't happening at this time. Ritchie has decided he doesn't want to tour with his latest album, I guess. He wants to do another one so that fell apart. It would have been interesting because everyone out there would have been waiting for me or Ritchie to get together at some point in that show to do one of the songs we had done before. You know that would be in the cards. It has opened up all the questions about us reforming. No, I'm going to do that because we don't make the same kind of music anymore.
SR: Everybody has their dream team.
RD: You got it.
SR: What's your take on all the '70s and '80s bands coming out again?
RD: My feeling usually is that I think they couldn't succeed after their original bands broke up and now there seems to be an interest in revivals. It's okay with me if a band reforms and they give a viable product as we did with Dehumanizer. Once you set upon a course to reunite and you want to make a great product, that's fine with me. With far reaching products which were different than what you did before which is again what we did in Sabbath. I don't think that's going to happen in the case of any of these bands who are getting back together. They may do an album, but I doubt that it'll be any different than what they did before. I just think the only viable reunion so far has been KISS. And only because of moms and dads and brothers and sisters have made sure that their kids know about this band that they never had a chance to see before. Now they have that chance and aside from that musically they haven't done anything new. That's okay they're KISS. But the rest of them, until they prove to me that they're making an album that'll be making steps forward and not just be a blast from the old past then I just don't believe in it.
SR: I've been listening to Ritchie Blackmore's latest one.
RD: I'm sure it's very good. I know that Ritchie continually makes the same record. I heard that this latest one was more reminiscent of what we did when we first formed the band. That's fine. That's up to Ritchie, he likes one style of music and he stays inside of it. It's just not something I could ever do. I need to go to different places. My attitude is different. I'm a lot more industrial than Ritchie. He's a very romantic player and I'm a lot more realist player.
SR: You've got to be really proud of all the bands and all the albums you've done from Elf to now. I was always told that I couldn't talk to Johnny Rotten about the Sex Pistols. I just asked him one day why he was ashamed of his historic place in music. He said he wasn't and I said then why aren't you doing it now? You have such a great history. I can't imagine that you have a problem with ever being a part of all the great bands you've worked in.
RD: I'm not ashamed of anything I've ever done. I've loved all the people I've played with and we've made some good records. We've had some great times doing it and that has led me to this conclusion..to what I am today and where I am today. The only thing about the Pistols reforming and what I thought was so charming about it was that Johnny Rotten said yeah we're going to reform for the money. At least he's telling the truth as they always did. I have no problems with their getting back together again, because he's so honest about it. It's wonderful to have dreams and it's wonderful to think you can succeed, that's what it's supposed to be about. But, when I see that it isn't happening for the musical values or belief they have or that they are actually good, it's because they can. Not for any other reason. Let's have Ratt get back together which I think is going to happen.
SR: I talked to Stephen Pearcy and he said that none of his bands have ever died. I can go back to any one of those and I might.
RD: There's all that space in between and what's happened then? It's like lifting weights. As soon as you stop, you can't lift 300 pounds anymore, you're back to ten. It makes no sense to me. Actually, Warrant's latest album is quite good.
SR: I really liked it. I talked with Jani recently.
RD: I was very pleased with Jani. I thought he did a hellava job.
SR: I didn't like Warrant's album on Columbia at all but I had to talk to him on this last one, Belly To Belly Vol. 1.
RD: Neither did I. They never really stopped. He just went off for a while and reformed it.
SR: I've seen and heard so much in my blues years in Texas and then 30 years in San Francisco. I would love it if everyone could see what I've seen and experienced. Sometimes, as in the case of the Sex Pistols, then that's great even if it wasn't the first time around.
RD: You know, everything comes back around. It just comes back around packaged a little differently. I'm glad that Johnny Lydon is back and that he's just so damn outspoken. I love people like that. Much like Pulp. The singer's name is Rupert. He's the guy who took his pants down in front of Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards. You don't know about that one do you?
SR: No, can't say that I do.
RD: Michael Jackson was in the part of his show where all the crippled children are healed when they touch him as he comes down this big ramp. One by one they become straight, pure and as if God has touched them. The lead singer from Pulp just couldn't take it anymore so he jumped up on stage and turned his backside toward Michael and pulled down his pants while he said 'This is a load of bollocks.' They arrested him, hauled him away and he became a hero in England as I think he should be. Jackson's ego has gotten so incredibly strange. That's something Rotten would do or Sid would have done. I just love that kind of spontaneity, I really do.
SR: I can't wait to read a book of Ronnie James Dio's experiences.
RD: Well, you're going to. As I told you, I've got almost half of it finished. Again, I won't be able to finish it until we finish touring which will be easily another year from how. Then maybe I'll have time to continue on with it. I'm pretty sure it's going to easily be another year or two before I'll have the time to finish it unless I decide to write on the road and I'm sure I won't but maybe I should think about it. It's in the works and so far everyone is loving what I've written. I should send one to Ritchie and see what he thinks.
SR: On that note, I'm going to let you go. As always, thanks for your time. I'll see you in San Antonio on November 18.
RD: Let me apologize again for calling the wrong number yesterday.
SR: I'd wait forever for you.
RD: God bless you. Thanks. I'll be looking for you in San Antonio in a couple of weeks. Bye, now.