Ronnie James Dio
Maor Appelbaum of Alternative-Zine.com had this interesting interview with Ronnie James Dio, just a few weeks before Dio's final show on the 2005 summer tour ending in Tel-Aviv, Israel on the 29th of October 2005.
Maor: Hey Ronnie how are you? I've got like 2000 questions, but I narrowed it down (both laughing), first, what are you doing this days? Is there anything special?
Interview with: Ronnie James Dio (September 1, 2005)
at the moment just gearing up for the tour that we're about to start, because we leave on Sunday for Russia, we're doing a month in Russia and then a month in the UK after that and then we come to you and then we finish the tour on the 30th
of October, so really doing a lot of rehearsals and getting prepared for the shows.
Maor: So when is the beginning of the tour and when does it end?
the tour begins on the six of September in Russia and ends in Israel on the 30th
Maor: so the last show is in Israel, that's great as a final stage. (laughs), have you been in Israel before? And how do you feel about visiting here?
never been to the middle east before, I'm very excited about coming to Israel, I always wanted to go, certainly because of the historic nature of the place and we have very close ties with Israel here In the US so we know about it a bit more then people think perhaps, but I feel very good about it, very happy to be there.
Maor: we read in the news here that 70 percent of the religious Americans see the current hurricane in the states as a punishment from god for the current moving of Jewish settlers in the holly land, what is your take about that?
oh I don't think that that's true at all, I think that people use things like the disasters like this for their own benefit, for what they want to believe it to be, I don't know what this poor people did to deserve the tsunami, I don't know what the poor people in Japan did to deserve the earthquakes or all the other natural disasters that come along and of course it's not for them being bad, I think it's just natures way to show that we are insignificant and no matter what we try to construct it can be taken down very easily by the strength of nature.
Maor: are you a religious person or a spiritual person?
I'm not an incredibly religious person, I was brought up as catholic, and in very early part of my life I felt I didn't have to go to church to deal with what the choice of god might be, and I felt In my real life anyway, that they teach you more how to fear then how to love and that you should be afraid of god because god will punish you, or that need to be afraid from the things that you do because it will end in disaster for you, I think that put me off right away I wanted to make my own choices, so my own choices are that I believe that god and the devil, good and evil, are in all of us and that this is our own choice to make, this out heaven and hell right here where we live now, and that's kinda my religious belief , but I don’t follow a religion, I believe you should be as good a person you possibly can and your rewards would be given to you on this earth.
Maor: but you wear a cross as I remember, right?
yeah, I do wear a cross, but it's not meant to be a religious affiliation I could easily as well wear a star of David and it will say the same thing, but having brought up a Christian it's something I've worn all my life, and when I was in Sabbath, the guys from Sabbath all wore huge crosses as well so we all were crosses but it's not meant to import any kind difference between the religion I was brought up in, Christian or Islam, or Jewish religion.
Maor: one of the things you probably get in a lot of interviews is about the hand horn symbol, which from my knowledge, is a curse, an old Egyptian curse, old Egyptian tombs had that sign for protection against evil, how did you come up with it?
well, my grand parents, I'm Italian, from Italian background, my grandparents were born in Italy and came to this country, and I would always see my grandmother make that sign, so I guess what It proves is that no one has invented that sign because I'm sure 50,000 years ago some man in a cave did the same thing and it meant something else to him, but when I was in Sabbath Ozzy Osbourne was very famous for the peace sign, I certainly didn't want to do that, and I've been flashing the sign that I use before that, even in Rainbow days, so in Sabbath I felt it was a good connection between the darkness of the music and the darkness between what that symbol supposed to be , and I used it so much that I became known as the person who invented it, but I surely did not invented it I just used it more then anyone else.
Maor: you answered one of the questions I was about to ask, if you are Italian, because Dio In Italian means god, so what's you real name if it's ok to say?
yes, my name is Padavona, which means, someone who comes from the city of Padeva, but in the days that is started it was much too long, now you can do it, now no one cares what's your last name is, but then it was more fashionable to have a shorter name, and I wanted to retain my Italian identity so I took the name Dio, not knowing it meant god I had no idea, I only knew that it was short to the point and that it was Italian, only later on I found out it meant god perhaps if I knew that I would taken It away.
Maor: a lot of people don't know about the beginning of your career, a lot of people think that you've started as "the elves" and I know you've started even younger In bands like "the Vegas kings", and "Ronnie and the ramblers", and "Ronnie and the redcaps" am I right ? I think that was in 57?
oh god, you remember when I started, I started so long, you know it was like anything else, you must start somewhere, you start with musicians that probably don't know how to play, we didn't know how to play, we didn't really know what we were doing, but that was the best part, we didn't have any rules we had to follow so we started to play other people material like everyone does and then started bands with names like the ones you've mentioned, up to "Ronnie Dio and the prophets" and from that up to "the elves", but it was all just the learning process that every musician goes through to get from a point of beginning to a point of success and those were the best times because everything was a new experience.
Maor: but those weren't just school bands, these bands actually released something, you released albums at a very young age.
it was important to have what was back then called records, to be played on radio so people would know who you were and so you could move up from the area that you were in and go around the world which what I've been able to do and yes we did quite a few recordings for ourselves some successful some not successful but once again it was all about the experience so that was important, That's what gets you to the final place.
Maor: Usually musicians that study at early age succeed in live performances or but not a lot of them release albums or EPs or singles at young age, at what age did you release the first thing you did with the Vegas kings?
with Vegas Kings we never recorded anything, that was too early for us but in "Ronnie and the Redcaps" we released the first thing we did, the first thing we wrote and the first record that we had I've must have been around 13 or 14 .
Maor: As I remember you're also a bass player, did you play any bass on Dio?
No. not in Dio, I played in "Elves", but not in Dio, at that point we got another bass player, cause I wanted to concentrate entirely in being a singer so we had another bass player on the last "Elves" album.
Maor: at what age did you start playing bass guitar?
I think around the time I was 12 or 13 years old, I started playing music when I was five, I started as a trumpet player so that was my musical influence as a kid from that particular point, playing classical music and getting older still continued playing it in symphonic orchestras and had a scholarship to Julliard university here in the united states but I didn't want to carry on as a trumpet player, I was to fascinated by being a bass player and being in a rock n' roll band, so you know my musical life started a long long time ago.
Maor: at what age did you leave the trumpet and start with bass and singing?
I stopped playing the trumpet when I was about 18 years old, late 17 I think, I played bass before that, I played bass and trumpet at the same time, in one of the bands I was In , "Elves" my cousin who was guitar player Dave Feinstein who also played trumpet, so we played two songs together , but I always played bass at that point anyway.
Maor: I know you have a long list of participation in albums like Roger Glover's, and David Coverdale's, right? And a band called "Heaven" as backing vocals or vocalist?
not really, I mean of course with Roger Glover, yes, vocals, that was from the Butterfly Bowl album we did, in the others I just sang the chorus, we just showed up at the session, we went to see David when he was recording and he said "come on and sing this", so we all just got together and sang, so mainly I did chorus part and nothing else, that's all.
Maor: I understand the bands Elf and Elves were with the same people right?
yes, but the "Electric elves" were with different people of course and "Elf", well the first album was played with the same People who were in the "Electric elves", and when we became Elf we were the same people again, myself and the guitar player and keyboard player and drum player and then at the last two Elf albums I didn't play bass, that's when I stopped playing bass and another bass player came in and another guitar player also came in, so we did make some changes at the end there.
Maor: why did you call your mascot Murray?
because it sounded silly, I think something that is suppose to be so evil and so dark deserves a silly name, just like Eddie from Iron Maiden.
Maor: the same thing with Denzil the dragon?
yes, but he was called Denzil by everybody else, we called him Dean, it was Dean the dragon, which is more silly.
Maor: Tell me about the "hear N' aid" benefits".
well it was the idea of out guitar player and bass player at the time who felt there was money to be made from the metal organizations as well as metal bands everybody else was doing that, singers like Michel Jackson and others so they thought it was a good idea to do that and to raise some money so they started contacting people they started to write a song which we eventually wrote together and then I produced the album for the song "Stars" from "Hear n' aid" and I think we raised about 3,000,000 dollars, which was a wonderful thing but the credit goes to Jimmy and Vivian which started the project and was their idea, I just helped a bit with the production.
Maor: another thing that interests me, in which songs did you play keyboard and in which did Jimmy Bane played keyboard, I understand that at the beginning you didn't have a keyboard player Claude wasn't with you.
Jimmy played keyboard on "Rainbow in the dark" and the rest of the things in generally were voices being played or some kind of distant orchestra being played, we weren't very good with being keyboard players so we kept it very simple so we just switched back and forth on some of the things we did with keyboards parts, we didn't use a lot of keyboards.
Maor: are there any backward messages stuff in your albums? Because in the 80's there was some fashion of putting backwards messages and stuff like that.
yeah, there are some backward messages we did, I think we did two of them, one in "Shame on the night" and the other one I don't remember, but we did do two, we did one on the first album and one on the second album as well, there might have been two on "holy diver" but I know we did it only twice.
Maor: I know you have one on "shame on the night"…
yeah, "Crucify the diver" because what we did is that we took the first two words and put them In the backward message and took the last word and put it in forward again so when you turn around one of the words it will always be something you won't understand, and I really don't remember the other one, it wasn't important to me, it was more of a joke because everyone was complaining about the backwards massing.
Maor: which album in your entire musical career do like the best?
I think "Heaven and hell" is my favorite, I really enjoyed making that album, I thought it had such great songs and such great playing on it. It was the rebirth of Sabbath, which gave me great satisfaction, so I'll say 'Heaven and hell".
Maor: Who do you think is the king of Rock N' Roll?
well, I always thought Elvis was the king of Rock n' roll myself.
Maor: I had a feeling you'll say that (both laugh), are your lyrics based on life experience?
sure some of them are, a lot of them are about what you go through some of the time, "rainbow in the dark" for example , I personally was having problems, I think maybe I felt like a rainbow in the dark, at that particular time. So yeah you draw from your own experiences at times, but I write about people, I write about what people always do, they always do the same things, they always do stupid things or they always try to be more powerful then the next person, or they try to be hurtful. I got a tendency to write songs about people who are considered to be too tall, too short, too thin, too fat and all things the go along with opposites, and try to tell them that It doesn't matter, it's what inside the package that counts, how big your heart is, not how it looks on the outside, so I draw a lot from those kind of those kind of attitudes and times that I write about things that annoy me, the song "children of the sea" with Sabbath was more about what we're doing to the planet then anything else and I've written a few of those kind of songs and I think that at the end of the day I find that it only relieves pressure from me and it doesn't do any good initially I would like to write those songs and think that someone will hear what I'm saying and make it a better world but I find that this never really happens, so I don't do that a lot anymore.
Maor: So you've changed your perspective of writing?
well. Not changed it but perhaps just didn't go there so many times. Just decided there might be a better way to get the message across then telling people how much wrong there's been done, I think we all know how much wrong has been done, if only I knew what to do to make it right.
Maor: I must say that when I read your lyrics I like the way you work and write, it gives the listener the option to think.
well that's exactly what I'm trying to do, I've written, probably, the same stories that everybody else have written about, except that I put it in a different time and a different place and a different language. I decided early on that make people what your saying is oppose to feeding them, forcefully has always been best for me it also makes your writing style much more unique I think, so again I always try to not force people with what I'm trying to say but again, put it in a different time and place, a place you don't know about , because you have to use your imagination , no one knows what a dragon really looks like if there were dragons, because we don't see them, and we haven't seen them and we never will see them, so in that case you have to use your imagination yourself of how that dragon is going to be and so I do try to do it a lot in my writing.
Maor: in your old albums 'till I think "Lock up the wolves" you never had lyrics expect for one song, is there a reason?
well at the beginning I didn’t want to put them on there I didn't think it was that important ,didn't know how important it was for people. I always prodded myself for being someone who not only speaks well so you can understand him but sings the same way and try to make sure that the words are understandable so I felt that there was really no need for that and everyone else were doing it so I didn't want to do it, I think for those two reasons we didn't do it but then we had so many people ask for the lyrics so we decided to put them on the albums, and sometimes to me , looking at lyrics, just looking at them because there are things that are repetitive that don't tell the story I want to tell it or don't tell the story the way I want people to see it that it seems a bit silly to me, because you're singing the song, there're lyrics but you're singing them and when you sing them, especially in my case' I sing around the words at times, I'll make up a whole new story at the end of the song just because that's how I feel like doing it ,because it's natural and emotional to do, but when I have to put them down for people to know what I've written I just felt it was a bit cold.
Maor: so why did you put the lyrics for that one track?
just to get a feedback I guess, "OK, if that's what you want" and then eventually we had to put them all.
Maor: I notice that in your old videos and live shows keyboards were off-stage, is there a reason for that?
in the early days we weren't a keyboard oriented band and we didn't want to be one, we wanted to be guitar bass drums and vocals and that's what we were, so we didn't want someone to appear on the stage who actually in the first place didn't play on the album, and on the album "Holy diver" our keyboard player Claude Shnell who became our keyboard player did not play on that album so to include him up there I always thought it was the matter of the audience saying "who the hell is that guy?" and we did the same the next album because again I didn't want it to be keyboard oriented following that Claude was apparent all the time, he was there, plus the fact that a great musician like Claude agreed to not be on the stage I think it was quite commendable of him and I thought he deserve to be part of this band at that point so then he was on the stage.
Maor: what kind of sound you prefer, the old analog sound or the new digital sound?
well I was stuck on analog for a long time because its hard when you're used to one thing and you know it works to change, but eventually before 5 years ago I went digital and found it's a better media plus the fact that no one is using tape anymore you have to stay current and in the present and not in the past, it doesn't bother me anyway I like digital sound I have no problem with it once or ever, I think its what your ear hears it's how you mix that. You can make any digital sound sound like analog you just have to put a little bit noise on it.
Maor: when you did the "Dehumanizer" album with Black Sabbath how did you feel to return to a band you played with almost one decade earlier?
I was looking forward to it, I love playing with that band and I felt we had a lot more to offer I thought we stopped too soon and it was fun, I enjoyed doing it, I think it's a great album I think it's a very underrated album, it was fun to be back there again, I guess the only bad part is that you forget sometimes why you left and those same things keep come up again, but it was a great experience and I'm very proud of that album.
Maor: who do you think is the best vocalist today?
there are so many types of vocalist this days , I think Chris Cornell from Audioslave is a great singer , really excellent, I really love his voice, I think he's top notch, Bruce Dickinson is a really good singer as well, you know, I'm sure there are others out there but those are some of the people.
Maor: what do you listen to nowdays?
I haven't been listening to many new things, I haven't got much time to listening to new things, not a lot to tell you the truth. I love the latest Robert Plant album.
Maor: I understood you recently starred in a new tenacious D movie, can you tell us how did that get going?
well, I know Jack Black, he was in one of our videos when he finished he told me he was writing a film and would I be in it, and I told him I would, and two years later he sends me a letter that says "I'm finally doing the film I want you to play the part of Ronnie James Dio" so I called him back and said I'd be happy to do it, and so I did, my part is I sing a song to him as a young boy after his father has thrown his guitar out the window and I come alive from a poster and sing him this song and tell him what he has to do, so I'm kinda mentoring him.
Maor: what do you think of Ozzy's reality show? Would you do such a show yourself?
no, I would never do that kind of show, you try all of life to be private, and when your privacy is gone it's horrible, I wouldn't open myself to something like that, and I watched the shoe a few times and it makes me very sad to see the condition that Ozzy is in, I think we should remember him as one of the people that started heavy metal and Black Sabbath then someone who appears that way I think that's really sad so I don't watch it, it makes me very nervous to watch it.
Maor: you are probably one of the originators of fantasy in power metal, do you keep yourself updated about the current scene?
no, to tell you the truth, I really don’t. I think I've approached it in an individual way at this point I haven't heard anyone that gets to that standard., so I think you get a lot of people who copy styles but I haven't heard anybody yet that is that original.
Maor: your influence comes from movies and books ?
yeah from books, I like to read very much, they come of books of science fiction, books of medieval times that I read a lot, especially science fiction and a lot of times in sci fi it is fantasy and I love the writers who write that way and I just wanted to carry it on within a song structure.
Maor: Do you like "DR. who?"
it has its moments, but I think it's more of an English thing you know, the English love "Dr. who" it's good stuff, I prefer "the prisoner" myself .
Maor: you wrote a song called "Give her the gun" about violence against women and children, do you support the death penalty for child molesters and wife beaters?
absolutely, yes I do, I think that they should be removed from society, and the only way to do that is not to give them the opportunity to get back out again, I think there's nothing worse then child molestations, the damage it does to a child when the grows up, and of course the devastation while the child is growing up and experiencing that I think it's horrible, because you are preying on the weak and defend less.
Maor: How long do you see yourself continuing touring and making albums?
I don't see any problem in continuing on, so at the moment I don't see any end in my near future but I'll stop when I'll think I can do it properly anymore, because I don't want to be one of this people who hang on with no reason, so at this moment, forever I guess. I'm immortal.
Maor: How do you compare the 80's era, and the 90's and current years from a recording, doing live shows point of view?
well, the 80's were good for us and the end of the 80's were good for other people, and 90's were good for Rap and 2000 great for rap punk, I feel that there are generational trends that have to happen, I think that each generation people should come up with their own music, music is just a fashion trend, and this is what its become, just a natural progression that each generation has to embrace its own music.
Maor: Thank you very much for your time and patience, waiting to see you in Israel
thanks, take care man.