It was six years ago today that one of my music heroes passed away. While his musical legacy was perhaps not as widely known as that of Bowie or Prince, Ronnie James Dio was to me, a legend, a talent and a gentleman of unparalleled kindness in a music world populated by self-centered egotists. Outside of metal circles he was most often associated with the “devil horns” hand gesture pictured above and now aped by every rock musician in the hard rock world. As he once explained in an interview, this was a gesture he learned from his grandmother, an old world Italian who when angered often threatened to put a hex on someone while making this hand gesture. To those of us on the inside, he was the master of the art form. Standing barely five foot four, the man’s voice was an unequaled ten feet tall.
Born Ronald James Padavona in 1942 this diminutive giant held sway over multiple generations of hard rock fans from the early 1970s until his passing six years ago today. His legacy of music from Elf, Rainbow (one of my personal favorite bands EVER) to Black Sabbath, The Dio solo years and to a final Sabbath reunion project called Heaven & Hell, is one kick in the pants of awesome. What is not awesome, not one bit, is that his tragic death in 2010 from metastasized stomach cancer was most probably treatable. Following his passing doctors who knew the truth stated that had he had the proper colonoscopy and regular medical check-ups, this early death at 67 might have been delayed and the genteel avatar of metal might still be with us. I urge everyone to keep tabs on their health as both men and women who reach a certain age become more susceptible to certain conditions that we may not be able to cure but early detection and treatment can certainly retard their development and perhaps stave them off. I miss Ronnie and feel it very keenly today. His music has been a part of my life longer than the life I knew before him. People. See your doctors. Before I go I would say one thing. People celebrate the lives of Michael Jackson, or Bowie or Prince or other pop stars when they pass…and in the popular press very little was said about Dio except a short blurb on the news. Here is something most of you might not know about this kind hearted man. Back in 1985 when Stevie Wonder and other pop stars were taking steps to fight hunger in Africa and staging events like Live Aid and the great “We Are The World” single that sold millions of copies and generated a tremendous amount of money for hunger relief, Dio and dozens of other hard rock artists were excluded from participating in those events. They did not snub “We Are The World”. They were not invited to participate. This hurt Dio’s feelings tremendously. Together with his friends and band mates Jimmy Bain (who also passed away earlier this year almost unnoticed by the media) and Guitarist Vivian Campbell (who now plays with Def Leppard), Dio wrote a song and invited legions of heavy metal artists popular in those days to perform with him, contribute their talents and film the subsequent music video. They called themselves “Hear n Aid” and the song is fantastic.
I won’t list everyone who appeared on this amazing project but some of the notables include: Neal Schon of Journey, Tommy Aldridge, Adrian Smith & Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, Don Dokken of Dokken, The Metal God, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Mick Mars of Motley Crue, Ted Nugent and Geoff Tate of Queensryche. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Today, on this sad anniversary, I salute with fond memories Ronnie James Dio and all that he did for the music I love so much. Enjoy the single from Hear n Aid.