I got to know the legendary Ronnie James Dio a little bit back when I was a full-time music journalist in the 80s and 90s. I always found him to be a very real person and always genuinely interested in conversing with his fans at record store appearances and after shows. The first time I met him when I went to cover a Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow Show at Passaic, NJ’s Capitol Theater in early 1978 for the NJ-based music weekly The Aquarian. I was fortunate in those days as the theater always allowed backstage access to Aquarian writers. I walked past a moody-looking Ritchie Blackmore and straight up to RJD for an interview and he obliged in a friendly manner; we did one in a closet-sized dressing room as he relaxed with a glass of wine. I still have the signed wine bottle from that evening and have to say that it was so kind of RJD to be willing to do an on-the-spot, unplanned interview with a 17-year-old who probably had only about six music-based articles in her clippings portfolio at the time!
The second time I met RJD was in 1983 when he formed Dio and their first album Holy Diver was released. I had an hour-long interview with him at the Warner Brothers Records conference room where at the end of the interview he showed me some of his piano chops even though he’s not known for those. Later, before the interview ended, we discussed food favorites and he revealed he was going to an Indian restaurant with a promo exec but that he would like for me to come along. I believed that RJD invited me since I made it clear that I never had Indian food before. We ate some of the hottest vindaloo on the planet after riding over there in a stretch limo (even though the restaurant was only seven or eight blocks away). I easily drank 10 glasses of water at dinner as my mouth was on fire. It was a wonderful time, but the promo exec did not speak one word to me during the whole two-hour dinner.
Other times, RJD was equally gracious, and I met up with him at several meet and greets after arena shows and did a couple of phone interviews with him for Circus and Hard Rock Video magazines. I also remember going backstage at a couple of his arena gigs in 1983 and 1984 thanks to my publicist friend Sharon Weisz and he was always very cordial and remembered where I was from, etc. My last Dio moment was when I got to attend the pre-party for the Julien’s Auction of RDJ’s estate items. I hung out with Wendy Dio for a bit on top of the Hard Rock marquee in Times Square which is almost directly under when the New Year’s Eve ball drops. I was sad that I could not take up Wendy’s offer of hanging out with her and her friends over at The Royalton but I was booked to the gills with restaurant reviews to do as well as family obligations the next day and through that weekend. I thought that was so kind of her to want to include me in the other Dio auction celebrations.
I was very saddened to learn that he got stomach cancer and passed away in 2010. I know that in the end he was going for experimental chemo of some kind in Texas and was hoping that it was going to be the real cure.
Fast forward to July 2021. I was dying to read Dio’s autobiography Rainbow In The Dark, co-written by Mick Wall and of course, Wendy Dio. when I about heard it coming out on July 27th. I was lucky enough to get an advanced PDF file of it through my friend Sharon (yes, the same one who has been Dio’s publicist for many years and still handles the different events in his name as well as the book’s publicity).
Being the kind person who genuinely loved what he did as well as conversing with fans, I knew that Rainbow In The Dark would be a positive book and there would not be able real “dissing” of anyone that he has worked with. You can tell that he really tried to keep challenging working relationships like the ones he had with Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi going as smoothly as possible but, in the end, he got tired of being a side man and not being paid what he deserved. I was shocked to learn that in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow he was paid only $150 per week (plus given a house and car) despite being the band’s lead singer and co-songwriter.
The book does give you an inside view on Dio’s Italian American middle-class upbringing in upstate New York and his early days in pop bands. He seemed to walk the straight and narrow apart from the fact that he and some friends went through a period of using cars from the local car dealership after hours and returning them before closing thanks to one friend knowing where the car keys were kept. (Not sure if this counts as stealing or borrowing.) A sad memory is when RJD’s best friend died in a car accident that put the singer in the hospital with a swollen head for a couple of weeks.
RJD goes from joining local pop groups with slick pre-Beatles haircuts to moving on to his first foray into hard rock with his group Elf, which has many incarnations in the 70s. I had to laugh when RJD said he could sleep in the overhead racks of their tour buses because of his size! Elf’s big break came when they got to open for Deep Purple—or almost big break. They signed to Purple Records but did not get much traction here in the US. When Ritchie Blackmore decided to leave Deep Purple, Dio was one for the first people he thought of to be the lead singer for his new band. The best parts of Rainbow In The Dark are reading about Blackmore’s spooky shenanigans including holding constant seances and making his band stay in haunted hotels and houses. They even recorded in a studio in a haunted house in Europe where they saw apparitions. Blackmore was apparently a world class javelin thrower as well and liked to throw brooms around which often hit people and things, LOL! He also fired band members without consulting with anyone else in the group.
Joining Black Sabbath was RJD’s next big move and helped bring the band as well as the heavy metal scene back to prominence with the legendary album Heaven And Hell. Dio had to work closely with guitarist Tony Iommi and respected his talent but ultimately did not like being under anyone’s thumb. When he walked away from Black Sabbath and formed Dio in the early 80s, he was “a man with a plan” as they say. He put his head down and got to work and immediately assembled a group of strong musicians including young axe man Vivian Campbell who eventually went on to Whitesnake. Dio quickly became an arena rock attraction and after years of hard work, no one deserved it more.
There is not much sex and drugs in Rainbow In The Dark—but plenty of rock and roll. Dio comes across as likable in his book as he did in real life. He did not really do any drugs other than pot and as described hysterically in the book, the one time he did cocaine at a famous LA club, the cops came! Talented manager/wife Wendy was not happy because it happened right before a big tour with Sabbath.
I strongly recommend Rainbow In The Dark not just for Dio fans but for people who want to hear about the inner workings of hard rock/metal bands and how egos and personality clashes seem to be the bottom line between players. There are also a lot of fun times with crazy players in this book—like the time Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell decided to break into a closed bar and played bartender to his pals—as well as strong bonds of friendship.
Dio was a real rock and roll warrior and does not ever get as much credit as he deserves for sticking to his guns and never intentionally “going commercial” for a hit. As depicted in Rainbow In The Dark, he always seemed to be a voice of reason and the guy who gave his all even in the middle of complete chaos.
I thoroughly enjoyed the conversational tone of the book—it is like RJD is talking directly at you in his Renaissance inspired living room in Encino. What is missing? Call me fussy, but I would have liked to find out something more about his days in college as a pharmacy major, his first wife who did not get to go out on the road with him and his adopted son whom I understand is quite an accomplished science fiction author. I would also like to have known if he was friendly with Ozzy Osborne after taking over his spot in Black Sabbath. My overall rating: 9.
(Photos courtesy of Permuted Press—except for Dean The Dragon shot courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.)