By Jon Roig
Arizona Daily Wildcat April 3, 1997

The Magic and The Mystery


[photograph]


Friggin' Dio, man. He looks like a normal guy ... even kinda acts like a normal guy. But he'll mess you up with that laser beam every time.

Well, at least in the old days; when my editor, Dorothy, was 14, she found herself at a Dio show in Vancouver. Swedish guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen opened. Dorothy's friend almost got beat up for wearing a Saxon T-shirt - apparently, there was some rivalry.

There were lasers and dragons and demons and glow-in-the-dark drumsticks and armies of die-hard Dio fans who packed the venue.

That was over a decade ago. Metal is gone, but Ronnie James Dio is not.

To change is to sell out, and for better or worse, nobody ever accused Dio of selling out. But, the thing is, he's remarkably normal for having played metal for the last 27 years. He's had a hit song ("Rainbow in the Dark"), played shows for over a hundred thousand people with Black Sabbath, and has recorded more than 20 albums -

He's Dio. He's a legend.

But 1997 is something of a turning point for Ronnie James Dio. His new release Angry Machines is a step away from the escapist side of metal toward the socially conscious one. "Don't Tell the Kids" is a song about divorce, "Dying In America" takes aim at social decay and "Institutional Man," the album's opener, addresses the nation's growing prison population directly. Prisoners send him letters and tell him how much his music means to them.

The sentiments are real, if a little melodramatic. But that's what metal has always been about. The musicians who comprise Dio are masters of the fine art of metal. And there is an art to it - drummer Vinny Appice and guitarist Tracy G stand out in a genre that prides itself on virtuosity and raw chops. Not just anybody can sound like this.

Which is what brings me to Pat Boone. Dio - the man, not the band - sang a version of "Rainbow in the Dark" on Boone's recent heavy metal release, No More Mr. Nice Guy. We had a chance to talk about it over the phone last Friday, just days before the start of the U.S. leg of the Angry Machines World Tour, which began in Tucson last night with a show at the Outback.

Pat Boone never shot anyone with a laser beam. His fans went ballistic upon the release of his new album, calling him a Satanist and burning copies of his record. In a way, Pat Boone sold out - and completely alienated his core audience in the process. Dio shared his unique perspective on Mr. Pat Boone and the current state of metal with the Wildcat ...

Wildcat: So ... tell me about this collaboration with Pat Boone.

Ronnie James Dio: I think collaboration is the wrong word - I don't know where people got that idea. All I did was the same as what some other people did. Ritchie Blackmore did a guitar solo on it, and he didn't collaborate with him. Pat chose to do certain songs and he called the artists to ask if they would lend him a hand if he needed it, or do a solo on it or sing a small part. So that's really what happened - all I did was go down to the session. I was knocked out - the musicians they had were absolutely unbelievable. And I sang one little part with Pat, that's all.

WC: To be honest, I haven't really even heard Pat Boone's album yet.

RJD: It's big band arrangements of those classic songs. And, they aren't the songs that Pat should be singing, but he did the best he could. It was a joke from the beginning anyway, and it turned into a serious joke at the end of the day. It got Pat in a lot of trouble, but the thing is ... I never thought I'd have the chance to meet Pat Boone. I mean he's Pat Boone - that guy's a legend. I mean, he was like Elvis when Elvis was Elvis.

So, just to get the chance to meet him. And then when I did . . . what a cool guy he is. A really smart man, really really bright musically, too. Just 'cuz he doesn't sing brilliantly, he's at least OK on the songs. But that's beside the point - smart man, nice guy, and he loves the songs. He really really loves metal music. He loves it. He's genuine about it . . . he says, "Man, I missed these songs all my life. They're so deep and great - I just love 'em." So he's a cool guy.

WC: What do you make of Pat's attempts to reinvent himself?

RJD: That's not really how I look at it. What happened was, Pat was on a late night talk show and somebody said to him, "So I guess that's about the end of your career, then isn't it."

And he said, "No no, I'm doing a heavy metal album called Pat Boone in a Metal Kind of Mood." So they all had a laugh about it. A record executive was watching the Tonight Show or whatever one it was and said "What a great idea!" He called Pat's people the next day and said, "We wanna do it!" And Pat Boone, not being a Superman and probably needing money like everybody else, went ahead and did it. So that's how he was introduced to the whole thing and became rather serious about it, after a while.

No, I don't think he was trying to reinvent himself. I think he had an opportunity to do something different from the humdrum crap he did every day of his life. He just took advantage of it.

WC: I don't know... I'm only 21, but I feel like I missed out on the epic rock era of the 70's.

RJD: Well, you did.

WC: I keep waiting for people like you to bring it back...

RJD: I think it would be nice if that were possible, but unfortunately I think it's only Pink Floyd that can do that now... and maybe U2.

WC: They seem kind of pretentious about it, you know?

RJD: U2 has their own vibe - they try hard and believe in what they do. Pink Floyd is a bit over the top, but it makes great show. My attitude has always been, why on Earth would people not want to go and see and hear the music of the band that they like, and also get to go on a Disneyland ride for the same price? I think its more the audiences that killed the big stage thing... and maybe its the pretentiousness that did it, too. People kept getting slapped in the face with all that pretentiousness and said, "Hey, screw this! Let's go listen to punk music." Things got a lot more alternative, and that's cool - especially a lot of metal bands, making the same album over and over and over again with no progression at all. As soon as people heard something a little bit more fresh, they left. It's just a theory of mine, but I think its pretty valid - music has to stay exciting and current, and has to deal with taking steps forward instead of staying on one place. That's why radio stations can't sell commercials on stations that play metal music.

WC: Do you think this stuff comes in cycles? Will we see a return of metal after "Alternative" dies... a revival of great musicianship and the epic stage show?

RJD: We can only hope that that's going to be true, but you have to remember that bell bottoms came back for 10 minutes, too. If that happens, that'll be cool because great musicians make great music. Unfortunately, the marketplace has gotten pretty diluted with some pretty bad ones. Metal has to keep the tradition - but do some progressive thinking.

I like Tool a lot, especially the videos. I always loved Soundgarden - they're just a good example of great musicians with a great singer, well written songs, but yet experimental. Very much more modern. And I think that's the kind of thing that metal has to be made of.