Born in 1942, Ronnie James Dio had a history of singing in bands that went back to 1957, but it was when Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple and hired his entire band, Elf, except the guitarist and called it Rainbow that he was catapulted to stardom. He recorded three albums (plus live recordings) with Rainbow before being fired as that band chased a more commercial sound. He moved on to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, recording two albums there (and again, a live album) before again being fired due to fighting over the mixing of that live album. Sick of being a hired gun, he started his own band, called Dio. They released three classic albums before line-up changes and changing tastes caused a dip in fortunes. He went back to Black Sabbath twice, once for the excellent Dehumaniser album in the 90s and again under the moniker Heaven and Hell, releasing a well received album and touring for some time. Due to his commitment to this band, his solo work, which had also been getting stronger, was put on hold and in particular, the concept series Magica was never finished, Dio sadly succumbing to stomach cancer in 2010.
Dio is also famous for having invented the “devil horns” Heavy Metal sign, which he said he learned from his grandmother, who used it to protect her from the “evil eye.” He started doing this sign from stage while in Black Sabbath as a reaction to the fact that Osbourne was well known for doing the “peace” sign from the stage. Of course, others have disputed this claim, but Dio’s claim seems the most credible, not least because he never used it to try to gain a copyright.
Given his age, Dio was being influenced by music before Metal existed, but in later life, when asked, he would always cite influences like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. He also loved bands like Metallica. What’s clear as you look through his career is that Dio was a talented singer and musician (he played bass) who kept abreast of new musical styles and kept moving forward towards ideas that appealed to him, an instinct that held him in good stead at least until the ill-fated Dio albums of the 90s.
Classics (the albums even a casual fan owns)
Rainbow – Rising (1976)
The second Rainbow album was a tour de force that highlighted the guitar playing of Ritchie Blackmore and the vocals of Ronnie Dio. The embryo of Power Metal was arguably formed in these grooves. ‘Stargazer’ is always the standout track, but tracks like ‘Tarot Woman’ and ‘Star Struck’ were definitely ahead of their time and remain classics.
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (1980)
The departure of Osbourne had people writing off Black Sabbath, but after a few lacklustre albums with Osbourne, they came back stronger than ever. The title track is one of the greatest Heavy Metal songs of all time, and tracks like ‘Children of the Sea’ and ‘Die Young’ were the sound of a band pushing forward and defining Metal for a new decade. ‘Neon Nights’ remained the closing song for Heaven and Hell when they reunited in the new century.
Dio – Holy Diver (1983)
Having been kicked out of two bands, Dio knew that this was his big chance. With his name on the box, this was all down to him. He put together a band of crack players and turned out the album of his career. From ‘Stand up and Shout,’ to the title track, ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ to ‘Rainbow in the Dark,’ this is probably the standout album of his career. The title track is mainstream enough that it’s currently being used to sell cars on TV. Dio loved to be asked about the cover art of this album, which people called “a monster throwing a priest in to a lake of fire.” He loved to ask “How do you know it’s not a priest throwing a monster in to a lake of fire?” Always thoughtful, always smart, always a gentleman, this was the moment where Dio, in his own right, became a major force in Metal.
Fan Favourite (the album that didn’t make it big, but every fan loves)
Dio – Killing the Dragon (2002)
The sole Dio album with Doug Aldrich on guitar, this album was very popular, due in no part to the success of the single ‘Push.’ Dio released albums with Craig Goldy either side of this one, and they were very good, but this one seemed to have a little bit extra.
Next Steps (One step below, but these albums still shine in the catalogue)
Rainbow – Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll (1978)
The final studio album Dio did with Rainbow was not as strong as Rising, and the move in the songwriting to shorter, more commercial songs was obvious. For all that, it contained longer tracks in ‘Gates of Babylon’ and ‘Rainbow Eyes’ and long-term fan favourite tracks in the title track and ‘Kill the King.’
Black Sabbath – The Mob Rules (1981)
The second Black Sabbath album with Dio was also not as strong as the first, but still contained classics like ‘Sign of the Southern Cross’ and ‘Voodoo.’ Certainly, both songs were equally represented and stood head-to-head when the band reunited to play mostly songs from these two albums live.
Dio – Dream Evil (1987)
After Vivian Campbell left Dio in a cloud of acrimony to join Whitesnake (where he toured the 1987 album but never recorded with the band before moving to Def Leppard), Craig Goldy from Rough Cutt took over guitar duties and breathed new life in to the band, with singles like ‘Night People’ having some success. Craig was also the only Dio guitarist to leave and later come back, appearing on later classics like Magica and Master of the Moon.
Buy this last (Not all bands have a ‘bad’ album, but this is their least good one
Dio – Angry Machines (1996)
The 90s were a tough time for classic Heavy Metal artists. Dio had already produced Strange Highways with new guitarist Tracy G, in 1993. Angry Machines was the 1996 follow up. When an artist is so out of favour that they work hard not to sound like themselves, the results are rarely good, and this album was widely panned and its poor reception led directly to the return of Craig Goldy to guitar playing duties in the band, and the string of early 2000s albums that represented a return to form for fans and a new lease on life for the band.
Playlist (A killer playlist for your phone)
‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow)
‘Temple of the King’ (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow)
‘Long Live rock ‘n’ roll’ (Long Live Rock ‘n’ roll)
‘Heaven and Hell’ (Heaven and Hell)
‘Neon Nights’ (Heaven and Hell)
‘Children of the Sea’ (Heaven and Hell)
‘Mob Rules’ (Mob Rules)
‘Voodoo’ (Mob Rules)
‘Sign of the Southern Cross’ (Mob Rules)
‘Holy Diver’ (Holy Diver)
‘Rainbow in the Dark’ (Holy Diver)
‘Stand up and Shout’ (Holy Diver)
‘Don’t talk to Strangers’ (Holy Diver)
‘We Rock’ (Last in Line)
‘Last in Line’ (Last in Line)
‘Egypt’ (Last in Line)
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Children’ (Sacred Heart)
‘Hungry for Heaven’ (Sacred Heart)
‘Night People’ (Dream Evil)
‘Dream Evil’ (Dream Evil)
‘Wild One’ (Lock Up the Wolves)
‘TV Crimes’ (Dehumaniser)
‘Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost’ (Strange Highways)
‘Push’ (Killing the Dragon)
‘Killing the Dragon’ (Killing the Dragon)
‘Master of the Moon’ (Master of the Moon)
‘I Am’ (Master of the Moon)
‘Bible Black’ (The Devil You Know)
‘Eating the Cannibals’ (The Devil You Know)