If Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll, and if Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, then surely Ronnie James Dio must be the King of Heavy Metal. Not only was he the front man in bands like Rainbow, Black Sabbath,Dio and Heaven & Hell, he is also the one who popularized the sign of the horns in heavy metal.
He claimed his Italian grandmother used it to ward off the evil eye (which is known in Italy as malocchio). Dio began using the sign soon after joining the metal band Black Sabbath in 1979. The previous singer in the band, Ozzy Osbourne, was rather well known for using the “peace” sign at concerts, in an attempt to connect with the fans, Ronnie James Dio wanted to similarly use a hand gesture. However, not wanting to copy Osbourne, he chose to use the sign his grandmother always made. The horns became famous in metal concerts very soon after Black Sabbath’s first tour with Dio. The sign would later be appropriated by heavy metal fans.
Ronald James “Dio” Padavona was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Italian-American parents from Cortland, New York. His family moved to Portsmouth from Cortland as part of his father’s service in the U.S. Army during World War II, and they resided there for only a short time before returning to Cortland. Ronnie James listened to a great deal of opera while growing up, and was influenced vocally by American tenor Mario Lanza. His first formal musical training began at age 5, learning to play the trumpet. He participated in his high school’s band program.
It was also during high school that he formed his first rock-n-roll band, The Vegas Kings, which would later be named Ronnie and the Rumblers and then Ronnie and the Red Caps.
Dio’s musical career began in 1957, when several Cortland, New York musicians formed the band, The Vegas Kings. The group’s lineup consisted of Dio on bass guitar, Billy DeWolfe on lead vocals, Nick Pantas on guitar, Tom Rogers on drums, and Jack Musci on saxophone. The band changed its name to Ronnie and the Rumblers. In 1958, the band again changed their name to Ronnie and the Redcaps. Musci left the band in 1960, and a new guitarist, Dick Botoff, joined the lineup. The Redcaps released two singles: The first single was “Conquest”/”Lover” with the A-side being an instrumental reminiscent of The Ventures and the B-side featuring DeWolfe on lead vocals. The second single was “An Angel Is Missing”/”What’d I Say” featuring Dio on lead vocals for both tracks.
Explanations vary for how Padavona adopted the stage name “Dio”. One story is that Dio was a reference to mafia member Johnny Dio.
Another has it that Padavona’s grandmother said he had a gift from God and should be called “Dio” (“God” in Italian), although this was debunked by Padavona’s widow, Wendy, in a February 2017 interview. Padavona first used the name on a recording in 1960, when he added it to the band’s second release on Seneca. Soon after that the band modified their name to “Ronnie Dio and the Prophets”. The Prophets lineup lasted for several years, touring throughout the New York region and playing college fraternity parties.
In the history of metal, there are good singers and then there are legends – vocalists who are identifiable with the first note of song. Dio’s operatic vibrato was unmistakable and extremely versatile. His was a voice that could sooth like a soul crooner one minute and roar like vengeful tyrant the next. Even when he was embellishing tunes with melodic interjections like ‘alright,’ ‘yeah’ or ‘ooooohh-oooohhhh,’ he loomed high above most vocalists of his era – even though he stood at just about five-feet-four-inches tall.
In 1974, Dio sang on the Roger Glover conducted and produced concept album The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast. Along with other guest-singers, the album featured Deep Purple alumni Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale. Dio provided vocals for the songs “Homeward”, “Sitting in a Dream”, and the single Love Is All
But of course we all will remember him for his Heavy Metal work and especially that from the band named after him’Dio’. I think it is safe to say that there is no such thing as a bad Dio song.
Unfortunately he died on May 16,2010 from stomach cancer.