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The Quest For Metal Part II: Jeff Kerbyís Exclusive Interview With Ronnie James Dio

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, January 22, 2003 @ 1:29 PM


Kerby Continues His Conversati

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Ronnie James Dio is an individual who definitely doesnít possess the usual rock star mentality. Instead of clinging to the belief that the world spins in direct relation to the relevance of his career, Dio seems to have a very good idea of where his place is within the constructs of humanity and what his responsibilities are given his position. Whereas many other hard rockers choose to tarnish their legacy by staring in television shows with spoiled teenage brats or diminutive ex-child stars, Dio remains committed to his music by performing live with a high intensity whether the crowd he is playing to numbers in the hundreds or the thousands.

After interviewing more than one musician whose scope of knowledge seemed limited almost exclusively to what they had for breakfast, running across someone like Dio who is able to comment on a wide range of topics from music to technology to the state of the world in general poses a distinct contrast. Regardless of the subject, RJD always appears informed, opinionated and expresses himself in an articulate manner. Whether you choose to like Dio for his music or his ideas, you have to primarily respect him as a person who chooses to work for the good of mankind rather than distancing himself from it.

KNAC.COM: You could say then that fan appreciation would have to be the most important byproduct of creating music, wouldnít it? I mean, your effect on the audience or the way you connect with them, shouldnít that be the most important aspect?
DIO: It is to me, but thatís not true to Ritchie Blackmore, and that may not be true to other people you know likeÖwell, I donít want to mention who. I only know I have to do well within the confines of my own performance, but again, I think that itís the most important thing for me and for others it isnít. For others the ego really supercedes the audience. Itís like the audience is there because theyíre supposed to be there. What about the bands that you go see play and there arenít enough people there for their liking? Many times theyíll do nothing but exhibit a bad attitude and berate the audience -- theyíll berate the very ones who are actually there for them. They donít even take the time to consider that maybe the problem isnít with those who showed up. Itís true, there are times when you play for very few people, but itís not their fault -- the important thing to consider is that there are some fans who actually did come to see you. Those are the ones who care about you.

KNAC.COM: Thatís funny because a lot of people who acquire that egotistical attitude seem to carry it throughout their entire career. It doesnít matter whether the audience size changes or not they will always carry themselves as if they are still on that pedestal whether theyíre selling eight million copies or three.
DIO: Thatís right, they will. You know, to me psychologically thatís so, so wrong. Thatís that ego problem again that wonít let them admit that perhaps itís their fault. In my case, I was brought up really well by my folks who told me, you may do one thing really well, but can you fix your car? Can you fix your TV? Can you do this? Can you do that? Then why does what you do make you any more special than they are? So Iíve always gone through life with that attitude, and Iíve never let my ego get in front of me. Thatís much more important than anything. Iím extremely fortunate in that music has given me a wonderful living and a wonderful lifestyle, and Iíve had a chance to meet some wonderful people along the way as well.

KNAC.COM: How does the use of the metal sign fit into the spirituality of your music and the way you express yourself? There have been various statements attributed to you in the press regarding this issue. Do you think there is a certain power inherent in that sign?
DIO: I just think that it has always been connected to a darker side of music and that now its meaning has become diluted. In our shows it isnít though because Iím lucky enough to be the person identified as using it more than anyone else. At a show, I think itís merely a connection between the audience and myself and not between the audience and evil or me as the high priest of doom and the audience. People wait for me to do that, and itís become such a big part of my persona that if they donít see it, I think theyíve been let down. So a lot of times I can tease them with it for a while, and then when it comes up, whoa, weíve connected again. It had meaning to me as a kid, too. I used to see my grandma do it a lot. Iím of Italian-American heritage and my grandmother used it to ward off the evil eye or to give the evil eye to someone who was messing with her grandchild. I saw it a lot and it had meaning to me because it was a superstition.

KNAC.COM: But it was a superstition that had a certain duality to it -- just like in the way people interpret your music -- they can basically choose to fixate on the evil side of it or not.
DIO: Yeah, I definitely donít do it as an implication of evil. Itís just signifying a connection between myself and the audience. Itís like Ozzy with the peace sign -- people expect it. That was something I never wanted to do because the peace sign made no sense to me within the context of what Black Sabbath was. When it came time for me to want to have a connection with the audience, I decided that the metal sign was going to be my special connection there. Itís definitely held me in good stead all these years and its duality was pretty obvious to you and me.

KNAC.COM: Was there ever any actual back masking that occurred on your recordings or hidden messages present on any of their covers? There have been all kinds of bizarre claims and assertions made such as if you hold the Dio sign upside down that youíd see the word ďdevilĒ printed out or if a person were to play one of your records backwards it might say this or that. Did any of this ever intentionally occur?
DIO: I think it does exist in the eye of the beholder, but it is not something that I created. In fact, it happened twice to me -- once in Sabbath and once in Dio. The first time in Sabbath it concerned the Mob Rules album. Somebody came up to me and said, ďThat wasnít very nice what you did!Ē I asked them what they were talking about, and they said, ďYou put ĎKill Ozzyí at the bottom of the record.íĒ What the person was talking about was at the bottom of the record where it was signed you could, I guess, construe it as -- if youíre really demented -- so that you might be able to make out ďKill OzzyĒ at the bottom. Thatís just silly. It certainly isnít anything Iíd do or anything any of the guys in the band would have done either. The other time someone came up to me and told me how clever I was. When I asked him what he was talking about he said he was talking about the way Dio was written so that it spelled out ďdevilĒ when it was turned over. Perhaps it could look like ďdevilĒ if you want it to be that. It was just one of those coincidences, and again it was the same point where being in a band whose name is Black Sabbath conjures up nothing but evil. None of the people in the band were actually like that. I mean, everyone had dabbled in darkness perhaps -- but nothing to the point of babies being sacrificed -- perhaps reading the Book of Death and being interested in it, but it never carried on beyond that. Most of the guys were brought up as Catholics. You know, they were good guys, but we never defended it because I think it was probably foolish at that point for us to say, ĎHey weíre thinking of joining the priesthoodí at that point. Black Sabbath was just a name, and you have to let people believe what they want to believe because after all youíre in the business to sell your product, so we let the people believe it. It wasnít created, they just happened to be extreme coincidences and especially in the case of Dio we just chose the font for Dio and when you flipped it upside down it could have said the devil, but Iím never going to be the devil.

KNAC.COM: Did you find that writing more direct lyrics that related to social commentary as you did on the album Killing Machines was stifling creatively?
DIO: I find making social comments very useless. I say this because I have tried before to make social comments about the planet and humanity and thought that when I wrote those things that it was going to make a difference. I guess at that point I had enough of an ego that I thought the people would care what I said or change something in humanity. It absolutely did not, and neither Joan Biaz or Bob Dylan ended the war in Vietnam or stopped all the bodies coming home in bags. I know that they created some awareness, but their songs didnít stop the war. My feeble attempts at trying to change the social structure made no difference either, so I stopped doing that as well. If I do make a statement, itís for me or for those maybe who understand me or who always understood what I have tried to do. I know that to completely change the world with the music I wrote is an impossible task.

KNAC.COM: If thatís the case, do you end up just writing for your audience?
DIO: Well yeah, Jeff, but you gotta remember, Iím exorcising some of my demons as well. You donít just write for people. Itís kinda like the John Lennon thing where the guy popped out of the bushes and the guy said, ďHey, John, youíre great -- you wrote that song for me,Ē and John said, ďI didnít write any songs for you. I write them for myself.Ē Thatís exactly been the case for me with the exception of the few times I have tried to make a social statement. Mostly I just write the things that are in me, and Iíve been lucky in that theyíve affected people who have gone through the same things and understand what itís all about.

KNAC.COM: Even if you donít necessarily think your music promotes societal change, you still havenít given up on making a positive and significant contribution to those around you as your work in the Children of the Night suggests. Does your involvement stem from any particular event in your life or is it just one of your means of giving back to a portion of our populace who is in definite need of assistance -- that being the plight of teenage runaways?
DIO: There was never anything like that -- I was brought up in a way in which I was never abused myself. I may have been abused mentally by a few people, but certainly not by my folks or anything like that. The kids in need of Children of the Night typically run away from dysfunctional families, and they have to get away. Children of the Night happens to be a shelter for them, but my involvement stems from me being given so much that I felt that it was time for me to give back. Iím not Mother Theresa by any stretch of the imagination, so I donít want you to think these things Iím saying are created to make me seem like some archangel. That isnít true at all -- I can be a miserable prick like everybody else, but still I have been brought up to really appreciate what has been given to me because Iím not from a wealthy family or anything. Life wasnít that difficult, but it wasnít that easy either. Again, realize that I have to give back, and I wanted to do something that had an affinity to what I did in my musical life. A lot of these kids would go to LA, and thatís where the shelter is and where Children of the Night was started. As you know, the kids go to LA to be a movie star or a rock star and try to become like their idols. I just donít want to see even one of them pressed into prostitution or acquire something like AIDS which is what happens to most of them. I would just like to help the situation as much as possible. I became involved in Children of the Night about twelve or thirteen years ago when I saw a program on 60 Minutes regarding Dr. Lois Lee who is one of the great people on this Earth. I just wanted to be a part of that. My manager and my wife, Wendy, and I just threw ourselves into it. I may not put in the time or the care that she does, but we just decided that this was the charity that we were going to adopt, and it was important for us to do it, and I will continue to do it as long as there is breath in my body.

KNAC.COM: You had just mentioned the ďmiserable prickĒ portion of your persona, isnít that kind of a job requirement for fronting a successful band? Is it possible to achieve your musical goals without exhibiting this personality trait?
DIO: No, no you canít. Itís impossible. My most important thing has always been that Iíve never just been a lead singer -- Iíve always been a musician. I started when I was five years old playing the trumpet.

KNAC.COM: Do you get more of an appreciation of music from playing an instrument?
DIO: Of course. Musicians consider themselves different from singers. The lead singer is the miserable bastard, but probably to the singer, the lead guitar player is the miserable bastard. Maybe thatís the way it goes, but I hope Iíve never really had that attitude. Unless you have the means of communication as a musician, youíll never truly be respected by the guitar player, the bass player, the drummer or the keyboard player. Youíll never get that respect because to them, you donít know what youíre talking about. Youíre just the singer who wiggles his ass on the stage someplace and sings nonsensical words. Itís always been very important for me to be a musician and have that respect. Maybe that has given me the opportunity to make statements that make me sound like that miserable little prick, but I can back it up because I know what Iím talking about. You just canít abandon being a miserable person at times and still be the leader of a successful band.

KNAC.COM: Could you lead anything for that matter?
DIO: No, thatís true, youíre right. My attitude has always been that my bands have always been democracies with a dictator at the head because there always has to be a person who says yes or a person who says no. Otherwise youíre just like one of those little toys that bounces into the wall, backs up and then bounces back into the wall again. I just think thatís really unproductive.

KNAC.COM: Isnít that fair, though, since you are primarily accountable for whatever you create?
DIO: Thatís true because if you succeed, then everyone succeeds, but if you fail then you are the one who gets the failure tag put on you. Everyone shares in success, but the failure gets directly attributed to you. Thatís just the way of the world and you have to be thick skinned enough to realize that. If youíre going to take on the burden of being a leader, youíre going to have to take up the burden of failure as well.

KNAC.COM: As a literate, educated musician, can you assess how important the Internet has been in the promotion of Dio as well as just even the dissemination of information in general and how it has affected you?
DIO: Professionally, it does nothing but help. Letís face it, itís free publicity. People are on pages telling others who may not know you how much they care about you. That generates interest so that maybe those other people will buy your music. It may work to the opposite, too, though where someone may decide that they hate you. Thatís cool too, though because that eliminates that problem at least for me anyway. From a professional standpoint or a career standpoint, itís been good. I just think that maybe the digital world has diluted music a little too much. When I first started you had to prove yourself every step of the way and there had to kind of be this word passed down, and I think that in many ways it made us work harder. I think though that generally, youíd have to say that itís been nothing but a great tool for all of us.

Personally, the thing I loved the most about the Internet was the vast amount of information out there because Iím a very inquisitive type of person. If I need the answer to something, itís right there for me on the Internet. The dark side of it though is that maybe there is too much information perhaps -- being able to network with your terrorist friends. Yeah, there are some bad things, but thatís my whole point, life is both good and evil and you have to take them both. In my case, I try to only look at the positive aspects of what the Internet has to offer me, and I try to concentrate on that.

KNAC.COM: You just spoke previously about how computers may have diluted music in a way. Do you think that also hold true for the art of storytelling in general? As someone who has gained so much from reading, does that bother you?
DIO: It has to be another case of how the person uses the tools that are available to him. I think thatís the whole secret. I think that if you had given Ben Franklin a computer, he would have created some of the most incredible things we had ever seen in our lives because for me if you gave those same tools to Bach or Mozart, or any number of bright, intelligent people, exciting things are bound to happen. On the other hand if you put these tools in the hands of, as I suggested earlier -- a terrorist, youíll get a different product. In the end itís just a tool that is only as good as the person using it.

KNAC.COM: Which makes it just about like anything else that exists on this planet.
DIO: When you stop and think about it, isnít it really just a faster tool? At the end of the day itís humanity that controls everything on the planet. In a lot of ways I really agree with people who think that we havenít really gained much by our intelligence. Essentially, weíve just built bigger and better tools and bigger and better weapons of destruction and better ways to hate each other. The whole purpose was supposed to be this nirvana at the end of the rainbow when we could all live in peace as one, but thatís not in humanity. Dogs and cats are better than we are. All they ask for is unrequited love. They donít ask to be hurt. They donít ask to be punished. They donít ask for any of those things yet we as humans seem to need some of that as well. Iím not totally down on the human race, but there are times when I sit down and wonder how we can do this to ourselves and let our children suffer. Who is doing this? We donít deserve to be here -- look what weíre doing to this planet. Thereís overpopulation and all the things that we could mention donít speak very well for us as a race. Hey, weíre in it though, so maybe there are some of us out there who will use the tools and our own humanity to make lives better for those who canít fight against it.

For The Quest For Metal Part I: Jeff Kerbyís Exclusive Interview With Ronnie James Dio, click here.


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