Monday, May 17, 2010

Ronnie James Dio

Hard rock vocalist Ronnie James Dio, best known for his stints in Rainbow and Black Sabbath as well as fronting his own band for many years, passed away Sunday after a long battle with stomach cancer. He was 67 years old.

He was born Ronald James Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on July 10, 1942; his family moved to Cortland, New York when he was a boy. While in his teens, he joined local group The Vegas Kings as their bass player, eventually becoming lead vocalist. He took his stage name from the Mafia figure Johnny Dio. During the 60's, Dio undertook a journey familiar to many other musicians of his era, moving from the rockabilly-oriented Vegas Kings and Ronnie And The Redcaps to the more "progressive" Ronnie Dio And The Prophets and Electric Elves. He honed a powerful vocal style that pushed his bandmates further into hard rock territory. By the early 70's, their name shortened to Elf, they earned a recording contract and a slot opening for Deep Purple. Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore took notice, and when he launched his solo career in 1975 selected Dio and other members of Elf to form Rainbow. Rainbow released four successful albums before Dio and Blackmore parted ways in 1979.

Dio next joined Black Sabbath on the suggestion of Sharon Arden, the daughter of that group's manager. (Sharon would go on to marry original Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osborne and become something of a celebrity in her own right.) Upon Osborne's departure, many pegged Black Sabbath for a long descent into mediocrity, a relic of a bygone time. But Dio's presence would rejuvenate the veterans of sludge rock, spurring the group to record Heaven And Hell, their finest hour. Dio's vocals seemed to light a fire under guitarist Tony Iommi in particular, while his lyrics, laden with medieval imagery, worked well within Black Sabbath's musical context. Heaven And Hell returned Sabbath to the top of the heavy metal heap, and a series of triumphant live shows cemented the resurgence. Dio would greet the fans at the start of each concert by raising a fist high in the air with the first and fourth finger extended, a gesture he picked up from his grandmother. The corna, or sign of the horns, has many connotations in Italian folk culture, including the power to ward off the evil eye. Although probably not the first to flash the horns on stage, Dio would help popularize the sign into an internationally recognized symbol of rock and roll.

Black Sabbath's followup LP with Dio, Mob Rules, was a huge disappointment, returning the group to the murk of their pre-Heaven And Hell releases. The Sabs rebounded somewhat with a strong tour supporting the album, replacing drummer Bill Ward with veteran Vinny Appice. Dates from that tour were recorded for the Live Evil LP. Tensions flared between Dio, Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler during the album's production, with Iommi and Butler accusing Dio of tampering with the mix behind their backs to highlight his vocals. Dio claimed that the other band members knew what he was doing, and that Iommi and Butler gave him permission to mix his vocals as he saw fit. Mutual dissatisfaction with Live Evil led Dio to part company with Black Sabbath in November 1982, taking Appice with him.

He would go on to form the band Dio, also featuring Appice and guitarist Vivian Campbell, releasing a credible debut Holy Diver in 1983. By now, Dio's style was well established, and his band would go on to release discs through the 80's and 90's, each successive release digging the creative rut a bit deeper. The group would enjoy a bit of an artistic comeback after 2000, as notable musicians such as Rudy Sarzo and Doug Aldrich would spend time in the lineup. Dio also reunited with his Black Sabbath bandmates from 2007-09, touring and recording under the name Heaven And Hell.

Although not immune to the bombastic excess that plagues the metal genre, Ronnie James Dio possessed one of rock's distinctive voices, and when at his best was capable of electrifying a recording studio or concert stage. The title track of Heaven And Hell became a signature performance, and this vintage clip from his Black Sabbath days captures him in fine form.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Party like its May 1

There was also a little rhyme we learned in junior high school (where else?) that went something like this:

Hooray, hooray, it's the first of May!
Outdoor fucking begins today!

You could try that at Pole Hill today, down by the crick, but you'd get plenty wet, and perhaps hit by lightning as well. If it wasn't raining today I'd probably be out mowing grass.


Thought I'd better check in, just in case somebody still checks this place once in a while, only to regularly have their hopes dashed by the lack of new material. I don't get around like I used to, and a big part of that is due to what they've done to us at work. Around the first of the year they started blocking Blogger on an intermittent basis. Some days I can get in to see my blog, some I can't. I'm almost never able to get to my dashboard to post. As for other blogs, it's the same thing - it seems that it is all at the whim of Websense and our network administrators. Nearly all of you that I follow regularly have gotten a 3 AM visit from me at some point, as I used to get caught up with my blog rounds during the dead times at work. I can't do near as much of that any more. Frustrating for me, but someone, somewhere should be glad that certain government employees aren't wasting time on the computer any more. I try to get around as I can at home, but there's a lot of other things needing done here as well.


Ah, yes. I had a talk with my doctor a while back. My blood sugar is up, and he says I show signs of being pre-diabetic. Not good. He recommended a series of pushback exercises for me, as in pushing back from the table. But the most difficult part for me went something like this:

DR.: Also, starting today, you need to stop drinking alcohol.

ME: But I only drink a beer or two after work.

DR.: No.

ME: Not even one beer a week?

DR: Not even one a week.

ME: How about one a month?

DR: I said NO!

Not like I was an alcoholic or anything, but I liked to have my beer to wind down, and now I'm cut off, apparently for the rest of my days. I'm managing OK so far, but when we go up to St. Louis for the baseball game next month, it will be a challenge. But I want to be around as long as I can, and stay in reasonably good health. Jenn and the kids give me even more incentive to do so.


My blogroll is once again filling up with dead links, and is needing my attention. It will get a revamping in the next few weeks. Our old buddy the Farmer is one of those who have changed his digs recently. Check out his new place, have a few laughs, and maybe even learn something.


Back to the beginning of this post, today is the day that most of the rest of the world celebrates Labor Day. By the mid-19th century, the international socialist movement had already adopted May 1 as a day of solidarity. American labor groups, not wishing to be seen as aligned with the radical left, eventually decided upon the first Monday in September for our Labor Day celebrations. Today, though, is still a special day for old labor guys like me to take a moment to recall the struggles of working people around the world, and to stand in solidarity with them as part of the worldwide fight for justice and dignity for all who work for a living throughout the world.