Yesterday we brought you the news that Ronnie James Dio- metal legend and vocalist with Heaven & Hell– had passed away May 16th after losing his battle with cancer. It was devastating news to all who knew him and tinged the hearts of metal fans worldwide with sadness.
This morning we received the following tribute to Ronnie from the man who signed Heaven & Hell to Roadrunner Records, Derek Oliver. His words will ring true with all who knew him and/or admired him…
“THE TRAGIC news of the passing of Ronnie James Dio has come as a terrible shock to many of us. Ronnie’s presence, since the early 70s, on the international rock scene has become iconic– no matter who else failed us Ronnie was always there, singing better, looking better, working harder and continually building his reputation as one of the most respected men in rock. So, it does come as a seismic shock to realise that he is no longer with us – the flame of his experience and deep integrity has left us, just at a time when he was experiencing yet another career highlight with the mighty Heaven & Hell.
Sure, there are louder, perhaps more flamboyant frontmen in this business but Ronnie’s ambitions were always solely focussed on that voice. Look at photos of him in Elf (his pre Rainbow band) and recent Heaven & Hell pictures, and you’ll see a man who cared not one jot for the glamour and glitter of a preening vocalist. For Ronnie it was all about the music and his own personal beliefs. He wouldn’t do anything that he wasn’t 100% satisfied was the right thing to do, and to hell with the consequences.
I met Ronnie several times over the years, backstage here, backstage there, in passing at various functions and at times of great turmoil but one thing is for sure, he never walked past without a greeting or a friendly shake of hands. My wife once met up with him about a painting she was preparing for his Hear N’ Aid project and before talking he insisted on looking for and carrying a chair from another room for her to sit on. It may sound simplified but Ronnie’s caring and compassion for his fellow man was always at the forefront of his modus operandi and that I believe is why he connected with so many rock fans – even fans who may never have had the opportunity to actually meet him in such a personal way.
Ronnie’s voice was a testament to both his passion and power. Although he had been singing since the early sixties it wasn’t until his tenure with Elf and his subsequent liaison with Ritchie Blackmore and Rainbow that his true importance was fully realised. Indeed, 1976’s triumphant ‘Rainbow Rising’ album accelerated him into the upper echelons of rock vocalists, bringing together a career defining sound that literally stopped rock fans in their tracks. The Black Sabbath ‘Heaven & Hell’ album, issued in 1980, became yet another highlight of his career and so was his first solo album, ‘Holy Diver’ released in 1983. That’s three of the world’s most influential hard rock albums, all recorded within the space of just eight years. I believe – in fact I know – that Ronnie never once rested on his laurels during his entire career, always pushing forward to the next level of achievement, breaking down boundaries and making music that is still fresh and crucial.
It was with great pride that I, together with the rest of the Roadrunner team, worked with Ronnie and the other members of Heaven & Hell, releasing ‘The Devil You Know’ album. As a label we were all extremely motivated by not only the band’s music but also by their professionalism – especially Ronnie’s, his positive attitude, enthusiasm and drive was a key ingredient to the project’s existence and subsequent success. Having caught the band’s debut live gig at Radio City Music Hall in New York City back in 2007 it was clear that Ronnie and the rest of the band were not relying on past glory, preferring to forge new paths to musical posterity. It was Ronnie, in particular, who seemed totally reignited by this reconvening of familiar faces, singing with a magnificence that was truly inspiring. He looked great too – much had been written about his advancing years but the man I saw on stage that night could have run rings around the current crop of upstarts and yet his aura of stateliness remained fully intact. And what a voice he still had; determined, forceful and totally faultless.
Prior to Roadrunner actually signing the band and after witnessing them in concert at a series of live shows, one of the management team called me in to their office and let me hear the album in its entirety. It was a moment of crystal clarity. This wasn’t music created by old timers but by experienced men who were out to prove that they could create new music to not only shake foundations but also to build a fresh path to something indelibly impressive. When the track ‘Bible Black’ came into view, from its fairy tale opening (classic Dio in the grand tradition) and onto the elephantine riff, it was clear that this record would satisfy on every level. Another milestone for Ronnie and confirmation that his voice would continue to exert a massive influence on the hard rock scene. His voice was as good as, if not better than, earlier career highlights.
Ronnie was a real gentleman, in the truest sense of the word, a man with an instantly identifiable voice who could move mountains and sooth hearts all in the same breath. He will be sadly missed by not only those of us who were lucky enough to come into contact with him but by all those who marvel at his vocal ability. Myself and all the staff at Roadrunner Records extend our deepest sympathies to his devoted wife Wendy, their family and friends. Ronnie James Dio – a pure voice with a pure heart.
For, and on behalf of, Roadrunner Records”