Wendy Dio / “Ronnie loved the Black Sabbath camaraderie”

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 two, they cover Rainbow and Black Sabbath.

It was shocking to realise in the film that Ronnie received no royalties from Rainbow while he was alive. Who was his manager at that time? Did individual musicians have managers back then? Was Ronnie’s story common in the seventies?

“Yes. Ronnie’s manager at the time was Bruce Payne,” Wendy said, “and when Ronnie went into Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore said to Ronnie, ‘I don’t like my manager, what about yours?’ Ronnie said, ‘He’s great.’ So Ronnie’s manager became Ritchie’s manager, and then he became Rainbow’s manager.

“When Ronnie wasn’t wanted in Rainbow anymore because he didn’t want to write love songs, Ronnie said to Bruce, ‘you’re still going to manage me, aren’t you?’ But Bruce didn’t want to manage Ronnie at all. He had Rainbow then, so Ronnie was kicked to the ground. Bruce didn’t care about him. And that’s when Ronnie and I left to go back to L.A.”

Ronnie James Dio in Ranbow
Ronnie James Dio received no royalties from Rainbow while he was alive

Ronnie had already made the commercial sounds when he was younger. By the time Ronnie left Rainbow, he had found himself musically and just wanted to do his thing, his way.

By contrast, at the same time, Ritchie Blackmore started out by finding himself, then wanted to go down the more commercial route, or so it seemed. Was that really how it was, or was there something deeper behind Ritchie’s profound musical change at the time?

“I think the record company were pushing to have more commercial success, and that’s also what Ritchie wanted, commercial success,” Wendy says. “The record labels whispered the same thing in Ronnie’s ear, but that’s not where he was. Ronnie never cared for that. He only cared about writing the music and playing the music the way he wanted to. That’s what he was like all through his life. He didn’t care about money. He didn’t care about fame. He just wanted to play his music to the fans. That’s what he wanted.”

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One of the book’s most memorable and entertaining stories was when Ronnie had just landed the gig with Black Sabbath. Ronnie smoked a celebratory joint, got arrested, and then caught so much hell from Wendy for possibly blowing his ride with Sabbath that the police felt sorry for him and gave him back, saying Wendy would be harder on him than they would.

Ronnie has always been known as a strong character, so just how angry did Wendy have to be to give Ronnie James Dio a telling-off?

“I’m probably the only person who could have done that,” Wendy says, “and I did it many, many times. I’m a very strong person, too. When you have two control freaks who are going through life together, I just wouldn’t put up with his malarkey at all. There were many times when I yelled at him and told him off. One time, he had flown somewhere with his PA, and I’d spent some time with the band and the crew, and we were all due to get the bus to the next destination.

“But instead of getting a bus with sleeping compartments, we got a standard sit-up coach. So we had to make this long, seven-hour journey, and Ronnie was sitting in the airport lounge, drinking with his PA. I said to Ronnie, ‘Come on, let’s go, let’s go.’ And Ronnie said, ‘Well, I’m busy drinking.’ So I left him for about half an hour, and then I went back and said that we had to get on the bus. He replied that he was busy, and I just lost it. I said, ‘Do you know what? It’s all about you, isn’t it? I’ve had enough of this. You go out there right now, and you apologise to everybody sitting on that bus.’ So, the next week, he bought me a pillow, and on it was written, ‘it’s all about me.’ So that’s the kind of relationship we had.”

Black Sabbath 1981
Black Sabbath 1981

When Vinny tells his story in the film of not knowing what ‘blimey’ meant when he first joined Black Sabbath, there should be some smiles. Of course, Ronnie was very much an anglophile. As a fellow Brit yourself, it must have felt good, especially when living in the US, that he was someone who ‘gets’ us?

“Oh, absolutely,” Wendy says. “Ronnie had a very English sense of humour, which a lot of Americans don’t get. And Ronnie, when he was in Elf, had done several European tours with Deep Purple, and he got to really, really enjoy England and Europe and also hang out with the English guys.

“He also liked the English way of playing. He liked the British guitar players. He liked the camaraderie and the banter that goes back and forth. British people have a different way about them. They tease people all the time. It’s just said jokingly, but sometimes Americans might find it abrasive.”

In the book, Ronnie said that if he had stayed with Black Sabbath, they would have become the biggest band in the world. Does Wendy have a sense of just how big Ronnie was thinking, big like Iron Maiden or Metallica, big like Springsteen, or big like the Stones?

“I don’t know,” She says. “You would have to be inside his head to know that. It was probably something he said whimsically one day. But I don’t think he really cared about that. He loved to go and play live, but if you noticed, he’d go out and play in arenas, hundred thousand seaters, festivals, and also in places with just five hundred people, and he still gave it his all, no matter what. So, I just think that’s something he whimsically said one day.”

Photo of the band Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath

In the film, the sense of friendship among the Black Sabbath members coming together as Heaven and Hell shines through, especially how they all said it felt right.

I remember reading interviews with Ronnie when he said that being with Black Sabbath was his favourite time. If Ronnie were here right now and he had to make a choice to be in just one band, Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath or Dio, does Wendy know which he would pick?

“Black Sabbath,” Wendy says without any hesitation. “I’m so glad that he got to go back with the guys before he passed away. Because he loved the camaraderie, he loved their playing. They were amazing together.

“I mean, you’ve got Tony Iommi, the greatest riff-master in the world. You’ve got Geezer Butler, the best bass player you’ll ever hear, and then you’ve got Vinny Appice. And the four of them were just dynamite, just unbelievable, and I’m so glad that he got to do that before he passed away.”

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 Three, they 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

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.

You can read about and donate to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund at https://diocancerfund.org/donate/.

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