When it comes to Ronnie James Dio, I am not going to lie. I am biased. I am a huge Dio fan, and when DIO: Dreamers Never Die came out, a two-hour documentary about the man himself, I thought to myself, surely the real fans will not be told anything they don’t already know, right?
And even having read Rainbow In The Dark earlier this year, watching Dreamers Never Die has still told me there is so much more to know.
This film is a very well put together package. The opening sequence is a collage of a typical early ’80s Metal fan with his own treasured vinyl copy of Holy Diver, perhaps portraying Craig Goldy, but surely so many other Metal fans as well. It’s then mixed up with live footage and personal quotes by Heavy Metal legends Jack Black, Rob Halford, and Lita Ford, all of them alternating between telling you how great Heavy Metal is and how great Ronnie James Dio was. That’s a heady mix to start things off.
With footage from inside Ronnie’s house, Mick Wall then really summarises Ronnie in a way that’s straight from the heart, showing just how much he had got to know him. A lot of the footage from Ronnie’s home was filmed at the height of his success, and Ronnie was the first to admit that it (probably) wouldn’t last forever.
If you have read the book, you will know about Ronnie’s trumpet lessons he had to take as a boy, and that very instrument is shown in the film, along with Wendy Dio’s personal narrative.
To begin, the film compliments the book, then it goes beyond it, giving us some similar stories, although this time we’re seeing and hearing instead of reading. And who would have thought that Ronnie James Dio, the man who gave us the devil horns, was an altar boy?
Something in there stranger than fiction?
And if, like me, you count yourself as the biggest Dio fan ever, meet Ron Wray, who, I have to say, is a bigger Dio fan than me. But hey, that doesn’t mean we can’t emulate him.
Again, if you haven’t read the book, you’ll find out right here how Ronnie Dio, born Padavona, actually got the name that we all know him by.
As well as people being interviewed for the documentary, there is also some great archive footage of Ronnie playing bass in what looks like a farmyard way, way before Elf.
But fifteen minutes in, there’s the 1968 road crash resulting in Nick Pantas’ death, which was tragic for the emerging band the Electric Elves. As in the book, Nick’s death is discussed at some length, and so it should, given the impact he had on Ronnie. And out of that low point, Ronnie Dio, the rocker, came through.
Some mysteries remain, though. You never know why Roger Glover and Ian Paice wanted to become producers, and you never quite know how they chanced upon Elf, but let’s be glad that they did because that’s the next part of the story right there: Elf and Rainbow.
And if you always thought Ritchie Blackmore was a bit strange, you will still believe that after watching this. Ronnie James Dio and Ritchie Blackmore are two single-minded, focused individuals who found each other. It would never last forever, but while it did, oh boy!
Blackmore’s Rainbow, what can you say that fully expresses the enormity of that Ronnie/Ritchie era? You can’t. Just be glad that it happened.
Then there’s a sublime mix of professional and personal, with shots of the Rainbow Bar and Grill where Ronnie and Wendy met mixed in with archive photos that really take you there.
Back to Rainbow, the band, and the schism between Ronnie and Ritchie. Both started wanting different things. Ronnie was happy as it was, loving the style he had found in Rainbow, but Ritchie wanted more. He wanted America, just like he had tasted it before with Deep Purple.
Did success over integrity govern him? That’s a serious thing to ask of someone of Blackmore’s stature, but still a valid question. The documentary also gives a big insight into the music business at the time, with no royalties for Ronnie from Rainbow until after he died.
Just goes to show you need a good manager. Cue Wendy, and cue Black Sabbath at a crossroads, needing a lifeline.
But Ronnie was stuck in the wilderness as well at the time, and this film really brings that home. It’s not some propaganda piece about how wonderful Ronnie was, and it’s surprising just how close it all came to an end. More than once.
Thank god it didn’t, though, right? Because who was the only person that could ever have taken over from Ozzy in Black Sabbath?
As the whole ensemble of guest speakers talk about the album Heaven And Hell, you get a real insight into the importance of the lyrics to Ronnie. We didn’t need to be told that, but that’s okay. We will get told it anyway.
And for those of you who didn’t know where the horns came from, that diabolical hand sign made famous by Ronnie, you get the lowdown here.
But who knew that Vinnie Appice didn’t know what ‘blimey’ meant? Priceless.
Two tragedies in Ronnie’s professional career were his leaving Rainbow and his leaving Black Sabbath, because who knew where both bands would have travelled if that hadn’t happened. But Rainbow led to Heaven And Hell, Mob Rules, Live Evil, and also the chapter afterwards. Out of change, even unwanted change, something new happens.
The forming of the first Dio lineup is like a mega-talented Heavy Metal version of it’s not what you know, but who you know. Ronnie teams up with his old mates Vinnie Appice and Jimmy Bain. Then the unknown gem Vivian Campbell gets the spot after a Chuck Berry improvisation. Even for the diehard fans, and lifelong fans, everyone’s finding out stuff with this documentary.
I wonder why Ronnie didn’t like Rainbow In The Dark? It gets a mention, and it’s just another unsolved Metal mystery. But now we are well and truly into Dio territory, and the Holy Diver album cover is already iconic. But the story of how it was created is just awesome. Your jaw will drop.
Dio’s second album is announced, with that moment of ‘Home!’ from The Last In Line. It wasn’t just me that felt it the first time I heard it. But what a moment that was, launching me into Metal. It’s like a journey into my past as I watch the film, drinking up the details about Murray, Dio’s album cover beast. And yeah, maybe Murray isn’t as well-known as Eddie, but that depends on which fans you’re talking to. Eddie who?
By this point, I’ve realised that a good half of this film is, for me, an exercise in common experiences. Even the trite time in the mid to late ’80s, with the whole metal-is-the-devil’s-music garbage that for some reason was big news back then. Ronnie was a prime target for all that misguided nonsense, and I remember my own story. I was coming out of the cinema, wearing a Dio tour t-shirt (1990 Lock Up The Wolves), and this stranger came up to me and said, ‘if you turn that Dio logo upside down and back to front, it will spell Devil.’
A bit of media hysteria can have all sorts of rational people believing anything. Some things never change.
“I just cursed you, and you’re gonna die in hell,” quips Ronnie in response as he is interviewed about these things. Laugh? You betcha, but I bet the morally indignant didn’t.
But first prize for the most controversial quote goes to Craig Goldy, “Christians ruin everything.” You know, I can see what he’s getting at. But as Ronnie said, good and bad, make your choice.
The Hear ‘n Aid project gets a lot of footage, and rightly so. “How dare those Metal outcasts do something to help the hungry,” screamed the beautiful, established pop musicians. Fine. Metal wasn’t good enough for Band Aid or USA for Africa, so Ronnie did one better with the Heavy Metal effort and wrote the song Stars.
Which, by the way, is a fabulous track.
And you’ll fall off the sofa laughing when you hear what Spinal Tap’s David St Hubbins says about Yngwie Malmsteen with a J.
The Sacred Heart Tour was where I came into Metal gigs, and I can’t think of a better way to be introduced to them. We’ve all heard or read about the ruined castle and dragon onstage, and if you wanted entertainment or if you wanted to forget about your problems for two hours, then in 1985-86, you went to a Dio concert.
And then there’s so much more that even the super-hardcore fans won’t know about, such as a scrapbook that was (probably) made by his mum.
And if you want an example, another example of how this film isn’t just a Ronnie love-in, the whole Viv Campbell story is aired, giving both sides, and we’re left to make up our own minds. Just like the break with Rainbow and Sabbath, the music business always gets in the way of the music, and when that happens, no one is a winner.
Then we’re at the late ’80s and early ’90s, and Metal’s popularity wanes, probably not helped by the standard of some of the stuff on offer.
Cue the seismic, cataclysmic impact of grunge. Overnight, Metal gods are turned into old hippies and yesterday’s people. But as Rudy Sarzo says, “the MTV toilet needed to be flushed.”
A telling quote of what it was like in the ’90s is Mick Wall saying that he couldn’t get anyone to interview Ronnie James Dio. He couldn’t get anyone to interview Ronnie James Dio? Dude, put me in a time machine and ask me!
But good times or bad, Ronnie was a musician who would never retire. This documentary, unlike the book Rainbow In The Dark, is the complete story, going beyond the Sacred Heart times, showing the commitment and the hunger that remained and never faded.
And things (almost) came full circle with Heaven And Hell coming together as Sabbath/not Sabbath. The feel-good that all four band members had at that time was genuinely touching, talking about life being too short.
How right they were.
And who knew how ill he was on the last Heaven and Hell tour? And yet he still went out there and entertained.
Be warned that the last fifteen minutes are more emotional than you might think, even though you know what the subject will be. And I can’t deny that my own emotions were welling up as I watched.
This film, then, is a solid gold testament to one of the legends of Heavy Metal, and it’s told in such a sensitive, honest, respectful, and at times funny way that you can’t help but be entertained.
It’s put together in a way that Metal fans will instantly get. It’s got some hilarious in-jokes that Metal fans will love, but it’s also got a much wider appeal.
If you’re already a fan, you’ll still learn stuff you didn’t know, and if you weren’t a Dio fan at the start of the film, I would bet good money that you will be by the end.
Review by Mark Rotherham.
In Part One, Wendy discusses Ronnie’s severed thumb, those doo-wop recordings, her role as manager and her relationship with Sharon Osbourne and Mick Wall. You can read Part One at https://www.metaltalk.net/wendy-dio-we-wanted-to-portray-ronnie-james-dio-throughout-his-life.php
In Part Two, they cover Rainbow and Black Sabbath. You can read Part Two at https://www.metaltalk.net/wendy-dio-ronnie-loved-the-black-sabbath-camaraderie.php
In Part Three, the cover DIO, the band, the dragon and how Wendy is happy that people are still listening to Ronnie’s music. You can read Part Three at https://www.metaltalk.net/wendy-dio-im-so-happy-that-people-are-still-listening-to-ronnie-james-dio-music.php
See more Marko Van Haren DIO photos from IJsselhal, Zwolle, The Netherlands – 3 May 1986 at https://www.fusewire.nl/photo-gallery-4
Tickets for Dio: Dreamers Never Die are available from www.diodreamersneverdie.com.
You can read about and donate to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund at https://diocancerfund.org/donate/.