Inside The Belly Of The Beast: KNAC.COM’s Ronnie James Dio Interview
Pacific Northwest Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2002 @ 1:35 PM
Ronnie James Dio Chats About T
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In the crazy and frequently scummy underbelly of rock n' roll, I’ve encountered many unique individuals; many with egos larger than the stadiums in which they once played, others with absolutely no respect for females (especially the ones sitting at home—which they are “supposedly” committed to), and rarely, some truly magnificent and phenomenal people. Ronnie James Dio falls into the latter category.
I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of interviewing and meeting Ronnie and his entourage many times. Always, he has stood-out from his peers with commanding respect and sheer star power. From his remarkable performances on stage to his private, personal life in which he and his wife Wendy work with the foundation, Children of the Night (which helps rescue children from street prostitution), Ronnie is well deserving of a standing ovation.
True to his passion, Ronnie is back in the studio with an album set to be released in May of 2002. New guitarist, Doug Aldrich (Lion, House of Lords), is now joining Ronnie along with longtime band-members—bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Simon Wright. Rumors confirmed, Craig Goldie has left the band because of family obligations. DIO will also be touring with Deep Purple and the Scorpions this summer starting in Las Vegas on June 1st, 2002. And, in the works is a sequel to the benefit album Hear n Aid (proceeds went to Ethiopia), titled appropriately ‘Hear n Aid II’—this time with proceeds benefiting the Children of the Night. Confirmed performances thus far by Dio and Bruce Dickinson with a release (hopefully) early next year.
For this article, I have compiled some questions from a couple of my interviews with Ronnie. His outspoken wit and timeless persona are truly charming. (And sorry Tenacious D, long may DIO’s torch burn!)
KNAC.COM: Do you like to tour?
RJD: I do. Or at least, I always want to tour, until I get on the road then realize what all the problems are. It’s always the beginning of the tour where you need to shake out all the bugs.
KNAC.COM: When you’re off the road, is it all music for you?
RJD: No, I really don’t need to do that anymore. I think early on I developed my own unique style. I know what I’m doing as a vocalist. I have really good technique. I’ve really never had a problem vocally. We only rehearse for a couple of weeks before a tour just to get ourselves loose again. A lot of bands won’t rehearse prior to a tour, they just figure it’ll be easy. But it ends up taking them a couple weeks before they hit their stride. We work very hard prior to our tours so we’re all fit to play those two hours every night, five nights a week.
KNAC: And most people, who have not tried that schedule, do not realize how grueling it can be. You add the fact that you not only have to be on top of your game with your performance, but add sometimes twelve hours of travel prior to that.
RJD: It is hard. But I’m very proud that we are able to do that and can still do it well. But when I’m home, I’m a real sports buff. I’m usually involved with whatever sporting event is on television or whatever I can see live. I’d love to see a football game, but being I live in L.A., I can’t really do that—nor am I too happy about it. Basketball is great though. I just completed another studio in my home, so that takes a lot of my time. Craig and Jimmy and I will lock ourselves away for a while. So it’s music and sports and I guess that’s basically what makes Ronnie a dull boy. I’ve always felt that you only have so much time in your life to do the things you love.
KNAC: You’ve been well respected in the music industry for many years. What do you think of the direction music is going?
RJD: Well, we’re talking generational stuff here. It’s what the kids want and there’s nothing wrong with that.
KNAC.COM: Yeah, and I suppose it’s gone on forever if you really think about it. From the infamous Frank Zappa back in the day, “It’s what the Debbie’s want.”
RJD: Exactly. It’s not the sound that I grew up listening to, I’m sure it’s not the sound you grew-up listening to. I mean I like to hear a melody. I like to hear songs that people have put some effort into making sound good. Even just a tiny little twist here or there—shows that you cared and that you used your imagination. And there are some great players out there, but I think when you put them all together, there’s not a lot of great bands out there like there used to be.
KNAC.COM: It’ll be interesting to see who’s in the rock n’ roll hall of fame fifty years from now. But hey, you did get a tribute album by some of these young guys.
RJD: That was totally unexpected. I don’t consider myself what others may consider me. And it was wonderful, I was just knocked-out that someone took the time and there were enough musicians in this world that cared enough about Ronnie Dio to do something like that.
KNAC: So Ronnie, what is it like to be you?
RJD: It’s not an easy life. Once you trade-in your privacy for success, things become very, very difficult. And you have to learn how to deal with it. And there have been times I have dealt with it very well, and then there have been times I haven’t. But I’ve been doing this for so long now, I’ve learned to have patience. I think I’m lucky to be a “people-person.” And travel is hard, but again, I’m lucky because I like to travel. But it can be grueling. Probably the worst thing about being me is the stress I deal with on the road, anticipating and hoping that I will be able to sing to my standards. Hoping that I don’t get a cold, but knowing that a lot of people in the audience are going to be sick. And knowing that if I do get sick on the road, I will have to cancel a show. So it can be very stressful.
KNAC: How about your marriage. The rock n’ roll lifestyle and marriage rarely survive. How have you kept it together with your wife for so many years?
RJD: It all depends on who you are. I’ve always felt early on in my life that I was going to emulate my parents. My folks have been married for like fifty-five years. They’ve always been two very happy people who have respected each other a lot and I try to follow their example. I don’t take vows lightly. And you know there’s temptation on the road, but it’s a two-way-street—there’s also temptation at home for my wife. But we have respect for each other. And I’ve been very fortunate to have Wendy as a support and her brilliance for what she’s done for me as a manager. And it’s been a good life.
KNAC.COM: What’s the biggest misconception about Ronnie James Dio?
“Early on I developed my own unique style. I know what I’m doing as a vocalist. I have really good technique”
RJD: That I’m a control freak. I guess in some ways, maybe I am. But I think the misconception is that I insist that everything must be my way or I’m going to take my ball and go home. You ask anyone I’ve worked with—that has a brain—and they will tell you that I’m really tough to deal with because I expect so much of myself and the people I am working with, but I am fair. You’ll never find a better friend than me. I’m quick to anger, but very quick to forgive—it’s my big Italian nature! The people who do think that I’m a control freak and have nothing nice to say about me are obviously people that are not very bright. If that sounds like a condemnation of a few people’s names I wont mention, well that’s just the way it is. I’ve only given in my life, and all those people who have taken from me are the ones throwing stones. Luckily, in Dio, I have found people who do have my work ethic.
KNAC: If you could bring back one person from the dead, even for a day, who would it be?
RJD: A drummer in the first band that I played with that had any kind of success. The band was Elf. The drummer’s name was Gary Driscoll, who was my favorite person on the face of the earth. I would not only bring him back in an instant, but I would trade my life for him. He was the most wonderful person I’ve ever known. I miss him more than anyone on earth that is gone now.
KNAC: That’s so cool. Most people will say they want to bring back someone from history with some kind of notoriety.
RJD: Why would I want to bring back someone like Albert Einstein? I don’t care about his theory of relativity. I’d want to be with somebody that I love and that loved me. Now had it been my mom or dad who were no longer with me and luckily they are, I would of course choose one or both of them. And I know that it’s something I will have to face eventually, losing my parents, but thankfully they are both in excellent health. I only hope—and this is not for my benefit—that they die before I do. Because there cannot possibly anything more tragic than to have a child die before his parents.
KNAC: I’ve never really thought about it that way, but as much as I don’t want to see my parents die, it would be so much more devastating for them to see me go first. (big moment of silence) Okay, at the risk of sounding cliché, and repeating a question that I’m sure has been asked a billion times, being that you deal with a lot of “dark” things…are you a witch?
RJD: (laughing) Why yes I am. No, I’m kidding. It just happens to be the way I write. I write in a really dark way because it’s imaginary. I like fantasy. When you write this way however and you’ve been in Black Sabbath and you don’t tell people what your feelings really are, which I try to stay away from, people right away try to put this label on you. And I’m really not a dark kind of guy, but I do like to think in dark terms because I think heavy metal music lends itself to that so much; It’s broad, dark, and somewhat gothic. But no, I’m not a witch, but Jimmy Bain is! (Jimmy, who is across the room laughs and adds, “Ah, but I am a good witch!)
KNAC: Speaking of witches, many years ago—I saw you at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Many of your fans were dressed in long red robes, sitting in circles and just seemed to be pretty darned serious about the whole Satan thing. The whole show just seemed so surreal and to this day, I’ve never been to a show quite like that one.
RJD: It’s really weird. I can remember a lot of gigs, especially down south in the Bible belt where we were picketed. Our fans were warned outside that they should not go in and that there would be babies sacrificed—and it’s like, “come-on!” Again it all comes back to the fact that we don’t protest this stuff. We’re not out there chanting, “We’re really good people. We don’t do that stuff.” And when you don’t say anything, people draw their own conclusions. Especially when you’re in a band called Black Sabbath. The name itself tells you what it’s supposed to be all about. I remember being at Madison Square Garden with Black Sabbath. This guy came-up on stage and tried to stab Tony [Iommi]. Fortunately Tony moved away and the guy stabbed his cabinet instead and was arrested. And at another gig after that one, we were up on stage playing and I felt this presence behind me. I turned around and this really tall guy was standing behind me dressed-up like a bishop. I immediately thought back to what happened to Tony and thought “uh oh, this is it.” But he bowed down to me and had a bible in his hand, and said something to me and got-up and walked off the stage. Again, if you don’t say anything, people make their own conclusions as to what they think you’re about. I think that some people need to believe or need to have that connection with myself or anyone else for that matter without having their image of that person ruined by someone telling them what they are supposed to believe in. As long as it doesn’t turn into an obsession, or a death, then what can it hurt?
KNAC: Is that probably the most extreme experience you’ve had with a fan?
RJD: Actually, there was a sniper in Rainbow. This guy wanted to shoot Richie Blackmore. It never happened obviously. That was a bit extreme though. And then there was the time my appendix nearly burst and I was in the hospital. I was lying in a hospital bed with drool coming out of my mouth when this nurse burst into the room shouting that she had to see me. I cleaned-up a bit and did visit with her. It turns out that she was a fan posing as a nurse just so she could see me. But that just shows you the lengths that people will go to, to love you or to hate you.
”I was lying in a hospital bed with drool coming out of my mouth when this nurse burst into the room shouting that she had to see me. It turns out that she was a fan posing as a nurse just so she could see me.”
KNAC: I guess that’s the peril of having celebrity.
RJD: Sure, you’re up on the stage everyday and there is nothing stopping you from being someone’s target. Especially when your dealing with the darker side of life, no matter what the reality is, there is going to be someone who is taking it seriously. Especially with matters of religion.
KNAC.COM: You wonder which is worse, the ones advocating against it, or for it.
RJD: Well look at the evangelists who are robbing these poor elderly people of everything they have. They’ve got to be the worst criminals around!
KNAC: And in the name of religion, they’re socially accepted if not exalted.
RJD: Exactly. These guys pray to the God of money, not the God of love.
KNAC: So do you speak to Geezer Butler or Tony Iommi?
RJD: We haven’t spoken in person. I’ve heard from friends that they’ve said to say hello to me and frankly, that means about that much (holding out his two fingers with less than an inch showing). Thank you for the sincerity. I mean, what about when it all fell apart? You don’t remember how hurtful that was—especially after all I felt I did for that band? How much I cared about that band. And all for the sake of money. In a lot of ways I’d like to tell Tony and Geezer that I said to ‘go fuck yourself’. But I’m not that kind of person. It’s easier to say, ‘It was part of our lives that happened and that’s the way life turns out’. Just tell them I said hello and to have a wonderful day.
KNAC.COM: Do you think fences could be mended?
RJD: Personally, definitely. But it was hurtful, and that’s why I would never work with them again. You always find out that a leopard does not change its spots. You go back and it’s the same situation.
KNAC: More an issue of integrity?
RJD: To me, it’s more that you play with the people that you like. I mean the music is important, but not as important as the people you play and tour with. Because overall, it is us against the world. In Sabbath, it was totally disoriented. It was them and it was me. And that’s just not the way it’s supposed to be. In Dio, we interact with each other. We always have and we always will. I guess when your ego shines above your talent though, that’s when you lose it and everyone, including your audience will know.
KNAC: Would say you almost always get along in Dio?
RJD: We’ve always gotten along well. But you know, life takes its twists and turns and things happen sometimes. A lot of times, especially in the height of success you get people whispering in your ear “ah, you don’t need him” or “you don’t need her.” Success is overwhelming at times. I’d like to think I’ve never changed. (Ronnie says this as the tour manager Ian brings him a drink) “Thank you, you prick,” he says to Ian. “Ah, that’s Mr. Prick to you buddy” (Ian replies laughing). But seriously, how can I go out on stage with some kind of false façade of having a good time with some guy I hate standing next to me? Like with Sabbath. I wasn’t happy being up on stage with them, nor were they happy with me being up there with them either. And you know, there are those who do it because it puts money in their pocket. But that’s not happiness! You have to be true to yourself. A band is family. A family is only happy if you’re getting along.
KNAC.COM: And if you think about it, given this flaky business, there is not a lot of job security even in the best and most successful situations, so it is almost imperative to be around guys you can trust.
RJD: If you’re lucky, being a guy in a successful band will last about three years. We’ve all been pretty lucky. Jimmy and I have had many successful careers within this business.
KNAC: It must be wonderful to be able to do what your passion is. To be able to go to a job that you truly love.
RJD: It’s the best job on the face of this earth. But then again, we came at the right time. It’s hard now. I would never tell anybody to not try to do this, but the odds against you are so overwhelming now.
KNAC.COM: How about Vivian Campbell? Would you want him back as your guitar player?
RJD: I’ve always had really phenomenal guitarists. The fans seemed to have a real problem with our last guitar player Tracy however. And we loved Tracy as a person. He was just the wrong player for our band. He was too industrial and too noisy, so Craig gives them what they want. But I do think the fans would like to have Vivian Campbell back. But those things just don’t happen. Vivian has been with Def Leppard for a while now. That band I think honestly has become a waste of time. They just keep doing the same thing over and over again. And Vivian just blows every body in that band away as a player anyway. But it’s whatever he’s happy with.
KNAC.COM: Do you guys ever have to deal with any big egos?
RJD: The horror stories about Yngwie are pretty notorious. But again, he’s never ever been that way with myself or Jimmy Bain either. I think he respected us so much as musicians that he would never be that way with us. So that’s not from my perspective but rather from rumors.
KNAC: So tell me, it’s a pretty well-known fact that Japan really likes our American rock bands—and that many of our once well-known-but-now-forgotten- bands go there to survive—how do you feel about that?
RJD: I could actually care less. And they do love us. But it’s not one of my favorite places. I’m happy that we’ve not had to be one of those bands that could only succeed in Japan. I’m happy to go back there, and I do have some wonderful friends there. But they never gave us the consideration that they gave all these other ‘hair bands’. They never really supported us. And I remember things like that. I mean, we’ll go to Japan and we’ll play the gigs and be happy playing for them and I’ll see the people I really care about, but other than that, they can just wait for Dokken to come back.
KNAC: So where is your favorite place to play?
RJD: Probably Germany. They’ve always been a strong support for this kind of music. They’ve never turned their backs on us. I think Scandinavia would be my second favorite and then followed by Spain and South America. I like to go places where people really care about this special form of music that we make.
KNAC: Why do you think you get such strong support in other countries and here in the U.S. you get a fickle bunch of people?
RJD: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re spoiled. We’ve always had television, and free radio. In those countries, they’ve basically had everything government controlled. They’ve had to fight for the music. I can remember being in Bulgaria, and this guy who made these beautiful tile icons presented one to me and fell on his knees crying, saying that he had followed me all his life and that I was God to him. We talked for a while, and I asked him what it was like when he wanted to hear rock n' roll? And he said that if you were found with a rock record, you were put in prison. So everything that this guy had was bootlegged and illegal. He risked being put in prison for music. So I asked him, since they now had some freedom, and you no longer have to hide your music, would you do it again? And he told me he would and that music was the only thing that kept us going. Also, heavy metal music is a very classical form of music. It’s full of classical orientations. That’s the music that most Europeans grow-up on. So that explains it for the Europeans, as far as the Japanese, well they’re just nuts! (laughing). Actually, the Japanese are very focused and they love everything Anglo.
KNAC.COM: Who came-up with the idea for the benefit album Hear n Aid?
RJD: Really, it was Vivian Campbell and Jimmy Bain. We wanted to do something nice for [Ethiopia], and we weren’t invited to do the "We Are The World" gig, so they got on the phone and got the ball rolling. Then Wendy got involved and she started to take control and it evolved. Everyone kept thinking that there would be no way to get all these musicians in one room, if not because of touring then just egos. But we were amazed. People flew in from all over the world. The energy in the studio with all these musicians you’d never see in one place was just amazing. Rob Halford was the greatest. We called him first and Rob said, ‘When do you want me there?’ And I was like, “How about Thursday, it should only take about a day.” And Rob says “Look, I can be there for a week, a month, whatever you need.” But really, all the guys were great. Way over the top. Geoff Tate, Dave Meneketti, Yngwie. Another guy that really stands out was Neal Schon. What a phenomenal guitarist. For the song “Stars,” Neal came up to me and said that he had a problem with it. He said that he didn’t think we should be referring to ourselves as ‘stars’. I explained to him that it had nothing to do with us. And after discussion, and realizing that the song was not saying ‘look at us, we’re stars’, he was okay with it. But he was the only guy that had that contemplation. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to be called a star. Stars fall. Call me a planet instead.
KNAC.COM: OK, so is it Mr. Planet, or just plain ol’ planet? [laughs] Who else did you have songs from for the album?
RJD: We had songs from the Scorpions, the Jimmy Hendrix estate, Rush, Accept. Again, the response was way over the top. The next one should be great as well. The proceeds will all go to Children of the Night. We’ve got a lot of people ready to give us things. I think we’ll probably ask Klaus and Rudolf from the Scorpions to give us something live, and we have someone named Doro Pesch from the German band Warlock singing a song called “Children of the Night.”
KNAC: Is it possible to tour such a huge thing as this, or perhaps a benefit show or two?
RJD: That’s hard to say with everyone’s schedule. But the benefit show is a great idea.
KNAC.COM: I know that with working with Children of the Night, you’ve probably seen a lot of horrible things. It must be heartbreaking seeing some of these young children being manipulated into such an abusive lifestyle.
RJD: They’re tough little kids. They’ve seen things I’ve never seen before. I have a hard time talking about this. But you can’t show them pity. That is not what they want nor what they deserve. It certainly puts you into the perspective that you need to be put into. That you’re not special. You’re just exactly the way these kids are. Most people will tell these kids that they need to put their trust in God and again, some people need religion to explain things and to lean on. But these kids have been through so much, they don’t really lean on God. They look at the world with such a real perspective. Through different eyes.
KNAC: I think it’s awesome that these kids have people like you to help them.
RJD: It’s not me. We only talk about this project because we want it to continue. Not because we want people to say how wonderful we are. You know who’s wonderful? Dr. Lois Lee (founder of Children of the Night). She is my hero. She’s been beaten-up so many times, put in the hospital and she still drags these kids away from prostitution. She is wonderful, tough and gutsy. This charity is truly wonderful.