I can remember my first encounter with the enigmatic Ronnie James Dio almost like it was yesterday, when in reality it seems like it was a lifetime ago. When I began high school in the fall of 1980 little did I know then that in a relatively short time the gates to my musical universe would soon start opening a little bit at a time, because let's be honest what does a twelve year old really know about music at that stage of his life, not a lot.
It began just a few short weeks into the school year when coming home one day with a friend of mine another kid came up to us and asked us if we had heard the news that John Bonham had died. I didn't say anything at the time, instead opting to let my friend handle most of the talking but inside I was thinking, John who? Led what?
I was fortunate that our school had its own radio station that would broadcast over the speakers at recesses and at lunchtime, so it didn't take long for me start establishing a relationship with Led Zeppelin as songs from their swan song In Through The Out Door filled our school. As the days slowly grew longer John Lennon's just released Double Fantasy record was another great discovery at the time, and like most people my age I can remember being absolutely stunned as I watched the news on the television the evening of December 9th as I learned that the ex-Beatle had been murdered in New York City the previous evening. I don't' remember what my grades were that first term but needless to say there was a lot going on in my young brain, what with trying to get adjusted to high school and at the same time trying to soak in all the new music that was coming my way, along with trying to process what the deaths of John Bonham and John Lennon meant to me at the time. I don't think it was until a few years down the road where I was finally able to comprehend what their immense contributions meant to modern music, which finally brings me to Ronnie James Dio.
Fast forwarding a few years to 1983 -84 and our art class has been turned into a safe haven from the real subjects like math, history and French. Not to mention our teacher was a really cool guy who believed that we should listen to music while we created, and for this purpose he had an old turntable hooked up to a cheap amplifier and some speakers. The deal was each class one individual was chosen to either bring in his or her own album or select one from his collection and we would listen to that album throughout the duration of our class. I remember this is where I heard Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon for the first time; this environment would also serve as my formal introduction to Dio.
George's hair almost touched his collar and he was always walking around in the halls between classes flashing his friends the infamous devil horn salute. What the f**k I thought was this guy all about? George was always asking me if I had heard Dio and if I hadn't then I definitely had to because he was "God". Ok… I thought. It wasn't long before it was George's turn was up for to choose the album in class, so you can guess who he brings in, it's Dio's second album The Last In Line. I don't think any art masterpieces were created that day as most of us, including myself doodled aimlessly away while the mighty sounds of "We Rock", "Mystery" and "The Last In Line" filled our classroom.
It's funny now that I think of how many of my earliest and greatest musical discoveries have gone backwards. What I mean by that is, it seemed I was rarely discovering music in the present; I would usually stumble upon an artist through whatever album of theirs was current at the time and then inevitably work my way backwards to really get into the meat and potatoes. Yet right from the first time I heard The Last In Line and Holy Diver I already sensed that Dio the man was a larger than life figure in the metal world and obviously I was not alone in this assessment. Those couple of years between '83 and '85 a lot of great metal slowly started invading my record collection. There was Iron Maiden, early Queensryche (their first EP was another of George's art class selections), Tokyo Blade and Raven to name just a few. At the heart of it all Ronnie seemed to be the ambassador for all of them. It would still take a lot more digging before I could fully understand and appreciate Dio's invaluable contribution to hard rock and metal which came while I was combing through his back catalogue of work with Rainbow and Black Sabbath.
Metal has definitely served me well over the years and throughout my formative years as a teenager and a young adult it helped define who I was and who I would become. As I grew older and continued to further broaden my musical horizons Dio's music, whether it was Rainbow, Sabbath or his solo work, was never far from reach and it remained and will remain with me until I leave this mortal coil. Thank you George wherever you are, I hope you are still flashing people the horns and turning people on to Dio like you did for me twenty five years ago, but more importantly thank you Ronnie because "the magic that we'll feel will last a lifetime".