This is the obituary I wrote for Ronnie James Dio this past summer:
Ronnie James Dio has died. Who was Ronnie James Dio? By the mid-80s, he was already old. He had joined Ritchie Blackmore after Blackmore left Deep Purple in the 70s. Later, when Black Sabbath fired Ozzy Osbourne, Dio was hired as the replacement. By 1982, he was pushing 40, the short ethnic guy behind the 2 other guys.
But, miracle of miracles, his best work was still ahead of him. He formed his own group, called DIO, and wrote songs like I SPEED AT NIGHT, and RAINBOW IN THE DARK, which remain 2 of the best metaphors heavy metal ever got. His band was better than the bands that launched him, and he has still not been given enough credit for that impossible achievement. It would be like if Robert Plant & The Honeydrippers had proven superior to Led Zeppelin.
He was also the greatest voice in metal. Forget everything you’ve heard about the genre. Ronnie James Dio sang . His voice had a power and sophistication that no one could touch, except possibly Bruce Dickinson. But Dio was a generation older, and that was precisely his advantage. His voice was ancient, like a nightmare coming at you from the ages.
Dio was the elder. He was the one who started making devil horns with his fists: he had taken the gesture from his grandmother, who used it to ward off the evil eye. This was typical Dio. Metal did not interest him because of its capacity for evil–but because of its power to mesmerize.
Presumably, that is what motivated the surprise fans got whenever they turned a Dio record upside down: the name, DIO, was written in an ornate gothic font, and it spelled DEVIL when flipped. But he wasn’t going for shock value. In Italian, his name means God. He was summoning both deities at once: the Lord and the Beast. Ronnie James Dio went for stuff like that. Light in the darkness, virtue in the occult, etc. He was the type to get away with naming an album of heavy metal songs “Sacred Heart.”
I’m not saying he was a genius because he favored simple contradictions. If he had been a novelist, it would have held him back. But he was no novelist. He wrote heavy metal songs, and only a man with his fixations could dare to bring such melody and enchantment to heavy metal, the darkest of arts.
Now, at last, Ronnie James Dio has slipped into the night once and for all:
You’ve got some stair to heaven
You may be right
I only know in my world
I hate the light!