This is an extended version of the Ronnie James Dio interview from late 1996 from which this LA Weekly article was drawn. It was the day after Halloween. We warmed up by talking about boxing, a favorite sport of Dio's, and the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight that was to occur a week later. “I'm afraid Tyson will murder him,” said Dio. Holyfield actually won in an upset, and in the June 1997 rematch, Tyson famously bit off a piece of Holyfield's ear. Tyson lost through disqualification, and his boxing license was revoked.
The move to Los Angeles.
“It was the weather, the opportunities. The things that were happening here were a lot more vital than the things that were happening in New York. I'd trade the weather gladly for an earthquake or two, a bout of crime. The Valley's okay. I like the neighborhood aspect.”
"All Wagner, Ring, whatever. The stories, I find 'em all pretty damn banal. It's always a love story, or somebody screwing his mom, or the mom screwing the dog or whatever. The whole Valkyrie thing was cool, 'cause it was so tied into metal. I like Wagner's strength, just the pureness of it. I like a couple of Mozart things, but mainly Wagner.”
Time as an altar boy.
“I was only an altar boy so I could drink the wine. The priest was out there doing his thing, and we were getting sloshed all the time. Not a very good reason for doing it, but, you know, the Catholic Church thing was summed up on our last album with a song called “Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost," which was about growing up, being a Catholic as a kid, being first introduced to the Catholic religion, and being shown a stone statue and being told this was the Mother of God. You know -- 'Really?' 'And this is the Son of God, he's nailed on a piece of wood somewhere, and then there's the Holy Ghost' . . . 'The holy what? You mean there's a ghost, and he's holy?' You know, shit, I'll never get anywhere with that. So it was all scare tactics that I hated so much that, being a Catholic kid, luckily I was able to assimilate all that and get into the pickiness of it, and go, 'What a bunch of bullshit.' But I saw kids frightened to death of all this stuff. I just think it's the wrong way to introduce God to someone -- the fear tactics, the blind-faith tactics. We live in a time when things should be explained, and they can be explained these days. Shift a little bit more toward the scientific, because we've got a pope who's got to be the biggest asshole on the face of the Earth. 'Hey, I've got an idea. We're overpopulated -- have more kids and fuck the communists!' Come on, Pope, gimme a break.
"For a while there, they started including bands in the masses. The kids were out there going, 'SNORRTT -- hey whoa, man, heavy shit,' you know. 'You goin' to church tonight?' 'What, to hear that crap? You're joking.' And it was a concession to the older members of the parish. Give 'em folk music, which is clean, safe and cool, and everybody's going, 'My-kull rooow, the boat ashore.' It's not the real world. But half the church hasn't lived in the real world for a long time.
“Weddings were great, cause you'd make money at weddings. You always got an envelope with five bucks in it, you'd go, 'Yeaaah, the good stuff.' I never got paid for funerals. And they were always too early in the morning, too. They were always on a Wednesday at 6 in the morning, and you hated that. But weddings were cool, they were Saturdays, they were usually 10 in the morning. At that time you could go play baseball afterward, and have five bucks on top of it. Right? Good stuff. But, you know, altar-boy experiences were the same for everybody. You got to drink the wine, and maybe you copped a host once in a while, and chewed that up, and you thought, 'Well, I'm gonna die, goin' to hell tomorrow.' But you never did. So as an altar boy, you kind of learned a little bit, plus you got a little bit of Latin experience. I can still 'mea culpa' with the best of 'em. Though I never say mea culpa, never in my life -- I've never done anything wrong, I've nothing to be ashamed of. No, I should be doing it all the time.”
The band's lack of metal bad-ass attitude.
“We'll wait till you leave -- we thought we'd put up a good front here. The upside-down crosses go up after you leave. And Murray the Devil is behind Tracy's amp. We're mature people. We've done all that stuff in the past. We've chucked our TVs out, and we've sexuated ourselves across the country more than enough times, you know, and we're grown up now. You grow up, and your values change.”
“I've always hated shouting at the audience and berating them. Because I think the audience is a collective, and they go, 'What's he shouting at? What's he screaming for?' I mean, how many times can you go, 'Yeaaaah! Rawk un rowwwl!' Yeah, well no shit! Is that what we're here for? I thought it was a wedding! You know, I'm an altar boy again. It makes no sense to me. I think people like to be talked to, not lectured. That's another thing I never do -- lecture them. I mean, these are people who have got their own opinions.”
“I have an affinity for people who are young and innocent, because I feel the same about myself. I don't think I've ever gotten past a certain age, not so much from a maturity standpoint, but just from always wanting to just be and feel young. I remember what it was like as a child, to have to go up alone, and try to succeed, and eventually to succeed, and I know what it's like to succeed and to fail. So I can equate to the people who are the buying public.”
The Children of the Night charity.
“I saw Dr. [Lois] Lee on "60 Minutes," and they were doing a retrospective of her life -- the woman who had gone into the bad parts of Los Angeles and had virtually grabbed people away from pimps and drug people and had gotten beaten up in the process two or three times. I was so impressed with the fact that she was dealing with kids that buy our records: 'Well, here's something that I should be involved in.' I wanted to be involved in a charity that had a direct impact on my life, and that was the one.
"We built a shelter for kids, 24 beds, a real nice place in the Valley. The kids stay there till they're 18 years old -- they're not sent back to the dysfunctional family they came from, which is what a government agency will do. A private agency does not have to do that. After 18 years old, they're prepared, and away they go. Unfortunately, a lot of them are AIDS victims, but they're prepared to deal with their problem, and to face the reality of death at this point. It's something that puts you in real perspective. It's nice to have success, but when you see the suffering of other people, and you take part in that and you share in that, that really nails your shoes to the ground.”
The lyric to "Big Sister": "Kill the king and crown the whore."
“I still think that's a woman's attitude. I'm a strong believer that we are the endangered species, males are. Big Sister's gonna get us.”
The Horns of Satan hand gesture.
“I didn't invent it, but I probably have made it most famous. Because Ozzy's was the peace sign, and that always reminded me of Nixon, and I certainly didn't want to be Ozzy, either. My grandmother had always done this. It's an Italian thing. That was protection against the evil eye. Being Italian, we're a very superstitious race, and my grandmother actually immigrated from Italy. So she used to do that all the time, and I thought, 'Wow, it's Italian, it makes sense to me.' So that became my thing. It's a little antenna that takes the evil away.”
His early band Elf.
"The darker themes started to come in, and those were the things I really wanted to do, but it was difficult to take a band like that, that had a honky-tonk piano, and suddenly take it and drag it into doom. In Rainbow I had an opportunity to write in more of a fantasy manner, a little bit darker themes, but it was Sabbath that really was the vehicle for me. In that one I could finally do what I really wanted to, which was write as dark as possible anytime I wanted to.”
Ritchie Blackmore and Rainbow.
"We were going to tour with Rainbow, but Ritchie decided not to tour until he had another album coming out. That stopped that one. But there would've been all the questions: 'Are they going to sing and play together?' The answer would've been no, so I'm glad, because people would've been disappointed.
“It was always fun to play with Ritchie, but it was not fun to do the music that he wanted to play. He wanted to be a pop artist and write love songs. I don't do that. I prefer to write all the things that I sing myself, because I know what's best for me, and originality to me is the only way. It was just a situation that I couldn't deal with. I said, 'No, I don't write that way, so goodbye.' I never had a problem with him as a person, only musical differences. Why would I want to go back to him? He's still making the same records he made back in 1976. I know what Ritchie is, and heavy he's not. He was heavy when Purple were heavy, and then everybody else got heavier than Purple. He'll please all those people who want to live 20 years in the past, but I just don't want to do it.”
“I don't wear 'em, Tracy [G.] doesn't wear 'em, I don't think Larry [Dennison] wears 'em, Jeff [Pilson] didn't. It's just the drummer really who needs them.”
The evolution of metal.
“I've been lucky to have been through a lot of metal's success period. I can always look back and say, 'Well, it was cool when I was there.' It gives you a chance to get on the dark side of it all. How could you talk about a lot of evil, or evil vs. good, whatever, unless you had a non-pop environment? I mean pop, what're you going to do with pop? 'Oh, the devil's a nice guy'? It just doesn't work. This gives the music a chance to really expand itself. This kind of music is EXPANDING.
"Like a hydra, it always grows another head. And here it comes again.”