One Night In The City of London, next week, the emotional new Ronnie James Dio film, Dio: Dreamers Never Die, will hit the cinemas for a premiere, two days before the first worldwide release via Trafalgar Releasing and BMG.
MetalTalk’s Mark Rotherham recently spoke with Wendy Dio, widow of the Heavy Metal legend Ronnie James Dio, in a discussion broadly following Ronnie’s life and times. They also ended up discussing girl power, the uniqueness of the Brit character, the sensationalist media (never!) and chopped-off thumbs.
Dreamers Never Die is a fascinating and engaging watch. For Heavy Metal fans, it is great to see and learn about Ronnie’s history, and for Dio fans, there are plenty of new things to know.
Wendy says there was not much she found out for the first time while the film was researched, but the archives contained inspiring gems. “There were things we wanted to put in that most of the fans wouldn’t know anything about,” Wendy said. “Some of the doo-wop recordings I hadn’t heard before. Don and Demian, the directors, went the extra mile and dug deep into Ronnie’s younger days. They found things in Cortland and from Dave Feinstein, Ronnie’s cousin, and Ron Wray, who’s got pretty much everything you can imagine about Ronnie, right from when he was a teenager.”
As well as the doo-wop days, the film covers Ronnie’s terrible accident. “These are the things we wanted to portray,” Wendy says, “of Ronnie throughout his life.”
Before becoming a full-time musician, Ronnie studied pharmacology for a while. “He did that for his parents,” Wendy says. “They wanted him to do that in case the music fell through. I don’t think he was ever interested in it at all. Once that was done, it was done, as far as he was concerned.”
Ronnie took his name from Johnny Dio, a known gangster, and even claimed to be a relative. Ronnie and Johnny never met, although we read in the book that it came close. “In the beginning, Ronnie wanted this strong-sounding name,” Wendy said. “When his pretend uncle, Johnny Dio, found out that Ronnie was saying Johnny was his uncle, he had his people check Ronnie out to see if he was any good. I think he followed Ronnie’s career, and he thought, ‘okay, that’s fine, it’s good to have a rock ‘n’ roll nephew, so I’ll just go along with the story.'”
Most of us are familiar with Ronnie as the long-haired rock star, but it wasn’t always so. The early archive footage of him playing bass in what looked like a farmyard was fascinating. “That was in Cortland,” Wendy says, “before the Elf days, which is where Ronnie was from.”
As a fan, I always maintained that if you went to see Dio, you would be getting Rainbow and Black Sabbath somewhere in the live show. But many of the Elf songs were great songs, although they never got played live. “But he was thinking about it,” Wendy says. “David ‘Rock’ Feinstein, Ronnie’s cousin who lives up in Cortland still, was in Elf and then was in a band called The Rods. They were both still very close. I’m still very close, and he’s coming out for the premiere. They had been talking about doing something together. Ronnie did two songs, one on The Rod’s album and one on Dave’s solo album.”
I read a story that Ronnie lost a thumb in a gardening accident. “Oh yes,” Wendy laughs. “I was away at the time, but I had bought Ronnie this big stone gnome for the garden. It was a big, heavy thing, and I left it in the office. So, he decided he would take it and put it in the garden. So he went into the office and picked it up, and it weighed a ton. He put it on this hill in the garden, and as he did, it started to roll. He tried to catch it, and as he did, it chopped his thumb off. The gnome cut his thumb off as it was going down the hill.”
Ronnie picked his thumb up, rushed to the hospital, and they sewed his thumb back on.
“But when I came back,” Wendy says, “I realised they hadn’t done a very good job. So I took him to a specialist, who cut it off and put it back on again. It was quite a nightmare. He lost his thumb twice! We always said that the gnome attacked Ronnie.”
Wendy managed Dio, and they weren’t the only band she managed. “Ronnie was not easy to manage,” Wendy says, “but I knew exactly what I was doing, and he just trusted in me. Rough Cutt were a bunch of little (laughs), I tell you. They were a really hard band to manage, but I did it. I also had Alcatrazz with Graham Bonnet. I had Quiet Riot for a while when Paul Shortino was in the band. They were difficult, but you know what? They had to have respect for me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have managed the band. And they did have respect. But, yes, it was hard, especially when I had three bands on the road. I had Alcatrazz, Rough Cutt and Dio on the road at the same time, and that was very difficult.”
Ronnie and Ozzy were both singers in Black Sabbath, and both were managed by their wives. “When Sharon and I started as women managers, there weren’t any others,” Wendy says. “There were men telling us all the time that we didn’t know what we were doing and that we should relinquish it to them and so on and so forth. I took the road where I would listen, smile nicely, but then do my own thing. Sharon, on the other hand, took the other way and told them to F-off. It worked for both of us.”
Wendy has undoubtedly seen many changes across the music industry. “Now there are a lot of female managers,” she says, “and I think female managers are really, really good. They can multi-task, and they take on the little details that men would push under the rug. And those little details are sometimes very important to the musician. So, I think there are many women managers now, and that’s very, very good.”
The impression from reading the book is that there was more dialogue and less acrimony between Wendy, Ronnie, Ozzy and Sharon than the media liked to portray. “Absolutely,” Wendy says. “The media always like to make a big thing out of this. But, you know, Ronnie and Ozzy didn’t move in the same places. I’d see Ozzy and Sharon once in a while. I’d say ‘hi,’ and she’d say ‘hi,’ right back at me. I saw her a couple of months ago. There’s no animosity between us at all. We don’t move in the same circles. We’re not set friends or anything, we don’t hang out together, but there’s no animosity there.”
Mick Wall is undoubtedly one with a real history and friendship, who gives a heartfelt narrative during the film. Yes, he looks completely different in the footage of him playing pool with Ronnie, but was he the obvious choice for both the film and the book Rainbow in the Dark?
“Absolutely,” Wendy says. “This is a great friend. All through Ronnie’s career, Mick was there for him. Every time we were in England, we’d meet up with him. He was absolutely my choice.”
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
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/.