The emotional new film Dio: Dreamers Never Die is out in cinemas soon. MetalTalk’s Mark Rotherham spoke with Wendy Dio, widow of the Heavy Metal legend Ronnie James Dio about Ronnie’s life and times. In part three, they cover Dio, the band, the dragon and how happy Wendy is that people are still listening to Ronnie’s music.
One of the many fascinating events described is the story that Jake E. Lee was briefly in Dio prior to Vivian Campbell, before then joining Ozzy. Purely hypothetically, but having known many, if not all, of the people involved, does Wendy think things would have been greatly different if Jake had stayed in Dio and Vivian had joined Ozzy?
“Good question,” Wendy laughs. “Well, Jake E Lee, or Jake Williams, as I knew him, was in a band that I managed called Rough Cutt. And when Vivian left, Ronnie was looking for a guitar player, and he thought Jake would be a good fit. But when they played, it just wasn’t the right feeling. Ronnie wanted a different kind of player. So, that didn’t work, but I drove Jake to the audition for Ozzy, and he got the gig with Ozzy. So that’s how that went.
“Vivian? Well, I don’t know. He didn’t seem interested in the music that Ronnie was doing anymore. There were a lot of grievances about different things, so he went on to Whitesnake, had grievances with Whitesnake, left them and went on to Def Leppard. But, you know, whatever, life goes on.”
I’m not knocking Holy Diver, it’s a brilliant album, but I prefer The Last In Line. I have often wondered if there could be a thought Holy Diver overshadowed later Dio albums.
“Yes, it probably did,” Wendy said. “There are some great songs on almost all of Ronnie’s albums. Even Angry Machines, which is probably the least appreciated album he did. It’s got This Is Your Life, the most amazing song. So, yes, Holy Diver is always seen as the big album, and yes, it’s a great album. But The Last In Line is also a great album. Magica was one of Ronnie’s favourite albums. It depends on the time, who is listening to it, and what they like.”
Most people remember the hysteria in some of the media back in the day when they said Heavy Metal was the devil’s music and all about the so-called subliminal messages if you play it backwards and all that rubbish. In the UK, it was more of a story you read about rather than actually faced.
Wendy says that it was a big thing in the US. “We had a lot of protesters, down in the bible belt, down south, loads of protesters coming out, and so on,” she says. “On Ronnie’s passing, there was this group. I forget what they were called. They threatened to ruin the funeral. The fans were already mad about it, and I said to them, turn the other cheek, don’t give them anything. Just ignore it because what they want is for you to do something silly, so don’t take it personally. So everybody completely ignored them, and they just went away.”
And paradoxically, at about the same time as the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), the Hear ‘n Aid project was underway. This was an altruistic and selfless effort that existed simply to raise money for starving people on the other side of the world, people who’d probably never even heard of Heavy Metal. The song, Stars, is really good.
Ronnie did actually play it live once, with a number of other musicians. “There was a festival in LA somewhere, I forget exactly,” Wendy says, “but they did do that one show with a lot of the guys from Hear ‘n Aid. That was the only time that it was ever played live with big backing.”
For many people of a certain age, Dio were the first Heavy Metal band they encountered, even knowing anything about Ronnie and his past career. I listened to The Last in Line, and I was sold. If the first Metal concert you went to was the Sacred Heart tour, then there are no words.
Even watching the Philadelphia DVD show, it is not like hindsight, a rose-tinted thing. It was brilliant. Did Ronnie consider that stage show or that tour as something really special, or was it for him just another chapter, and then the next one would be different?
“No, I think that was something where he decided he wanted to give back to the audience,” Wendy says. “He wanted to make Disneyland. He wanted to give them really good value for their money. And, you know, that cost a fortune. The rest of the band were all moaning and groaning about what a waste of money Ronnie was spending, but hey, it was his money.
“And we had an eighteen-foot, fire-breathing dragon, a working drawbridge, the lasers. The lasers took up a whole truck, and we had about eight trucks out there. But Ronnie wanted to do that, so that’s what he did. Ronnie was in control for once in his life and could do what he wanted to, and that’s what he wanted to do, which was give back to the kids.”
The circumstances around Vivian Campbell being fired from Dio are well documented. Recently, Vivian said he regretted not having the chance to make amends with Ronnie. Does Wendy think there ever be a time of perhaps building bridges with him?
“No. He’s the only person in the world who has said such horrible things about Ronnie and lied about Ronnie,” Wendy says. “He never acknowledges the fact that for the last forty-odd years, he’s been getting royalties from all the songs and everything. He’s made millions from all the songs and the songwriting that he did. He gets paid for everything. Every single buck, he gets paid.
“So he’s had that money for forty years. Plus, he said that Ronnie gave him a hundred bucks a week, which is a total lie. You know, I saw the pay book for eighteen hundred dollars. For someone to say the things he said about Ronnie, I can’t forgive that.”
Over his career, Ronnie created incredible music. A constant of that career is that he always did it with one guitarist. Of course, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, and quite apart from suggesting it to either Ritchie Blackmore or Tony Iommi, did Ronnie ever want to or think about a two-guitar band?
“No,” Wendy says, “because he would have keyboards and guitar, and he liked that instead of two guitars. He felt that was more of a rounded sound than two guitars. He felt it was more of a deeper sound.”
Ronnie had a specific lyrical style for which he was famous. There are plenty of pictures of him alongside all the other bands he would tour with. Even though they made their music, and Ronnie made his, were his listening preferences very diverse?
“Oh yes. He loved Tool. He loved Metallica. He loved GWAR. Yeah, he liked all music,” Wendy says. “Ronnie said there was no such thing as bad music. He liked classical music, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. He was very well-rounded in his music. He liked all kinds of music, and he’d listen to the up-and-coming groups and young bands. He would listen to them to see what was going on.
Currently, there are Dio Disciples and Last In Line, both playing two different expressions of Ronnie’s music. As the ultimate advocate of Ronnie’s legacy, how does Wendy feel about both bands, either separately or together?
“I think that there are a lot of tribute bands out there,” she says, “and they’re all keeping Ronnie’s memory and his music alive, so I’m very happy about that. The more of Ronnie’s music that gets played, and the more that it’s given to the younger generations, the happier I am.
“I’m so happy that people are still listening to Ronnie’s music, and I hope that they continue to listen to Ronnie’s music.”
And just like that, the interview was done, like a shred-speed journey through Ronnie’s life and career, as seen through the eyes of the one who knew him better than anyone else.
There was no denying Wendy’s authenticity, focus, and belief in Ronnie and his music. As always, after an interview assignment, I felt that I knew her a little better, and then suddenly thought of a lot more questions I wish I’d asked.
Thankfully though, if we’re talking about Ronnie James Dio, there’s now the book to read, and as of next week, the documentary to watch as well, enough to satisfy the curiosity of the most inquisitive fan.
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.
You can read MetalTalk’s review of the film at https://www.metaltalk.net/dio-dreamers-never-die-a-solid-gold-testament-to-one-of-the-legends-of-heavy-metal.php.
Tickets for Dio: Dreamers Never Die are available from www.diodreamersneverdie.com.
See more Marko Van Haren DIO photos from IJsselhal, Zwolle, The Netherlands – 3 May 1986 at https://www.fusewire.nl/photo-gallery-4.
You can read about and donate to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund at https://diocancerfund.org/donate/.