Being something of a heavy metal connoisseur, I was saddened to hear the news of Ronnie James Dio's death on the radio last night.
Dio started playing in bands in 1957 and releasing records the year after. What a time his first full decade as a recording artist must have been, as rhythm'n'blues morphed into psychedelia which, in its 1970s incarnation as progressive rock, laid the foundations for the golden era of heavy metal in the 1980s. This, incidentally, was kicked off by Black Sabbath's release of Heaven and Hell, with Dio on vocals replacing Ozzy Osbourne, whose demons had nearly destroyed the band.
What marked Dio (born Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire) out as a giant was his eschewal of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, which he put down not to studying pharmacology for a year at degree level but because, he told an interviewer for dmme.net, "I saw how destructive it was, and how it dulled your sensibilities and ate up your talent and your life". On records his first instrument was the bass guitar, but before that he learned trumpet, which built up his diaphragm to the point where it would sustain his most powerful and nuanced instrument: his voice, which would come to international prominence with Rainbow and, after recording arguably the definitive Black Sabbath album, with his eponymous band as well as numerous collaborations.
Dio succumbed to stomach cancer yesterday after battling with it since late last year. This may be of little comfort to his widow at the moment, but his avoidance of the rock'n'roll lifestyle put him beyond the rock'n'roll death that follows on all too often. Not for him choking on vomitus after downing a handful of sleeping-pills like Jimi Hendrix; or alcohol poisoning due to mistaking Heminevrin for recreational tablets, which prevented Keith Moon's stomach ejecting the bucketful he'd had during a relapse; or, most cruelly, Phil Lynott sliding into the last goodnight due to liver failure while his mother wept.
All of these people have left us wonderful music, but Dio left something else alongside - a template for living well in an industry that has been known to eat its children. Thanks for the music, Ronnie.
Here's RJD as I like to remember him, singing about his beloved pop medeivalism with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow in 1975.
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