Dio Day: How Ronnie James Dio changed my life

This post on the third anniversary of Dio’s death originally appeared on the Terrorizer website.

The 16th May, marks the third anniversary of Ronnie James Dio’s death. Dio was, without a doubt, one of the greatest, and most important frontmen heavy metal has ever had and his legacy is one that should be celebrated at every available opportunity. Today at Terrorizer we’ll be celebrating all things Dio, with some of our esteemed scribes penning their thoughts on their favourite Dio eras and sharing some of their favourite songs from that period. So, what better place to kick off than the Rainbow years; Terrorizer’s publisher Miranda Yardley has the floor…

Dio in the gatefold of 'Rising'
Dio in the gatefold of ‘Rising’

Dio changed my life. I was around 12 years old and tape-traded with a school friend. I was given a C90 cassette tape with Rainbow’s ‘Rising’ on one side and Rush’s ‘A Farewell To Kings’ on the other: the tape itself was a copy of a copy, and there was some compression at the start of side two of ‘Rising’ that I came to believe was part of the recording.

These two records have shaped my life, all that has ever interested me since is music. Three years after the passing of the man himself, I’m privileged to write about what Dio’s music means to me and present you with my own playlist of Dio’s music from his time with Rainbow.

After Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple in 1975, he formed Rainbow with four members of Elf, who had supported Purple on tour. Rainbow was essentially a Blackmore solo project with each album never having the same line-up and only one constant, the ‘Man In Black’ himself. Dio recorded three studio albums with Rainbow and with the release of ‘On Stage’, there were five 1970’s canonical Rainbow albums (including the Dio-less ‘Down To Earth’ in 1979):

‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’
‘On Stage’ (live)
‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’
‘Down To Earth’ (with Graham Bonnett on vocals)

Dio on one of the record sleeves in the 'On Stage' packaging
Dio on one of the record sleeves in the ‘On Stage’ packaging
Blackmore and Dio inside gatefold of 'Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow'
Blackmore and Dio inside gatefold of ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’

The importance of Dio’s contribution to Rainbow cannot be overstated, as singer, lyricist and frontman, he was a conduit of the early ‘Bach ‘n’ Roll’ that Blackmore pioneered, in Terrorizer #135 (September 2005) Damien wrote “when the roots of power metal are accurately traced one is inexorably drawn to Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and the sophomore 1976 masterpiece that is ‘Rainbow Rising’. This inspired work of genius has it all: fantasy artwork, lengthy epic gargantuan guitar solos, classically inspired riffs and arrangements, swirling synths, soaring vocals, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and lyrical content built around myth, mystery and magic.”

For these four albums, Blackmore and Dio were the constant members of the band, and together they produced a songbook of unrivalled power, influence and melody. The songs I have chosen to demonstrate Dio’s work from this period have been selected to showcase more Dio’s skills as a singer and lyricist, rather than Rainbow as a band, per se. The difficulty in doing this, though, is because he and Blackmore were a team who produced great music: in this context the singer, the guitarist and the band are inseparable, as Damien continued “the lyrical subjects are grandiose and the execution weighty… between them, guitar maestro Blackmore and vocalist Ronnie James Dio wrote the book.”

‘Self Portrait’ from ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ (1975)

'Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow' with the Oyster imprint.
‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ with the Oyster imprint.

I bought this record on it’s ‘Oyster’ imprint around 1985 from a junk shop in Manchester, having had a Polydor reissue for some years before. For me, the highlight of the album is ‘Self Portrait’. It has a(n unusual for rock ‘n’ roll) 6/8 time signature and boasts mind-blowing lyrics, a beautifully melodic guitar solo and a wonderfully clear vocal performance.

“Paint me a picture
Of eyes that never see
With flashes of lightning
That burn for only me”

(‘Self Portrait’, Blackmore/Dio)

‘A Light In The Black’ from ‘Rainbow Rising’ (1976)

‘Rising’ is the album that changed my life, or rather one of them: my copy has pen lines around the ‘Rainbow’ on the cover where I’d traced round it to transcribe the logo to stitch onto my denim jacket (a jacket which I sold in 1985 to finance a ticket and coach trip to see Deep Purple play Knebworth on their ‘Perfect Strangers’ comeback tour). This is an absolute pile-driver of a song including some utterly brutal drumming by Cozy Powell, unison scored instrumentation section, mystical lyrics and a rousing, crashing finale.

The iconic cover of 'Rising'
The iconic cover of ‘Rising’

“Breathed the air before
Heard the thunder roar
Never knew it was for me
Always looking down
Lost and never found
Eyes that looked but not to see
All my life it seems
Just a crazy dream
Reaching for somebody’s star
Like an open door
That you’ve passed before
But you’ve never had the key”

(‘A Light In The Black’, Blackmore/Dio)

‘Catch The Rainbow’ from ‘On Stage’ (1977)

I bought my copy of ‘On Stage’ in 1984 from someone at school. For years, this was the only live Rainbow album and drew on material from the first Rainbow album and ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’, only referencing ‘Rising’ briefly as part of a medley (’Starstruck’). ‘Catch The Rainbow’ occupied the whole of side two of ‘On Stage’. The track was on Rainbow’s first album and draws heavily from Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’, Dio introduces the song “‘Catch The Rainbow’ is this song” and Blackmore leads into a prelude based on Bach’s ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier: Prelude In C’ – which he was used again and again with Rainbow, including it in ‘Weiss Heim’ and it often surfaced in live performances of ‘Difficult To Cure’, itself based on the famous choral melody of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Beautiful, tender wistful lyrics compliment the gorgeous instrumentation (which includes a mellotron) and Dio’s vocal performance is outstanding: it is often the reworking of Purple’s ‘Mistreated’ that makes it to Rainbow compilations, but Dio’s force as a frontman is better evident nowhere else than on this track, as he screams “Catch the rainbow, and ride the sky.. make it shine, shine, shine, shine, shine, SHINE, shine shine… shine for you and I…!”

“When evening falls
She’ll run to me
Like whispered dreams
Your eyes can’t see
Soft and warm
She’ll touch my face
A bed of straw
Against the lace”

(‘Catch The Rainbow’, Blackmore/Dio)

‘Rainbow Eyes’ from ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (1978)

'Long Live Rock 'n' Roll'
‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’

This is the closer from ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’; the lyrics are forlorn and introspective with an almost autumnal sense of loss. This album marked the departure of Dio from the band (the album itself was born from an environment of personality clashes and personnel shifts) and, as you’re about to read, he went on to Black Sabbath (as Rainbow was heading in a much more commercial direction). This ballad includes a chamber arrangement and, of course, drops hints-a-plenty of Blackmore’s own future with Blackmore’s Night.

“Summer nights are colder now
They’ve taken down the fair
And all the lights have died somehow
Or were they ever there”

(‘Rainbow Eyes’, Blackmore/Dio)

 Words: Miranda Yardley

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