Heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio, best known for his work with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, passed away today at the age of 67. He had been battling stomach cancer. His wife Wendy posted the following message on his web site.
"Today my heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7:45 a.m. May 16. Many, many friends and family were able to say their private good-byes before he peacefully passed away. Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all. We so appreciate the love and support that you have all given us. Please give us a few days of privacy to deal with this terrible loss. Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever."
I still remember the first time I heard Dio. A high-school friend had picked up the self-titled Elf debut album of '72, and we totally grooved on the guitar- and piano-driven boogie of tunes like "Hoochie Koochie Lady" and "Sit Down Honey (Everything Will Be Alright)".
Three years later Dio was blowing us away again with the self-titled debut of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, which was basically Elf with the addition of Deep Purple guitar hero Blackmore.
Then in '76, with a new band that included keyboardist Tony Carey—who would later score feelgood hits in '84 with "A Fine, Fine Day" and "The First Day of Summer"—and perhaps the greatest hard-rock drummer of all time, Cozy Powell, Rainbow released the monumental Rising album, which boasted fierce rockers like the eight-minute closer, "Light in the Black".
Perhaps Dio's greatest claim to heavy-metal fame was replacing the recently fired Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath and rejuvenating its career with 1980's landmark Heaven and Hell album after Sabbath had faltered with mediocre late-'70s releases like Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die.
Dio also enjoyed a successful career fronting the metal band Dio, which released ten albums between 1983 and 2004, including the platinum-selling debut Holy Diver. In recent years he performed with Heaven and Hell, which was basically the post-Ozzy version of Black Sabbath, but without the name for legal reasons.
As well as interviewing him on the phone, I met Dio in person once, and he was probably the nicest heavy-metal hero I've encountered. I took my teenaged nephew backstage to meet him in the '80s when he was playing the Pacific Coliseum, and he treated us like gold. I'd like to salute him now with the "devil horns" he so proudly flashed at his concerts.
Heaven just got a whole lot louder, I suspect.