Ronnie James Dio was a heavy metal singer best known for working in the bands Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and his own Dio. Often considered one of the genre’s most powerful singers, he also is known for making the “devil’s horns” hand gesture popular in metal culture. WK It could also be argued that “his trademark tales of ‘dungeons and dragons’ may have single-handedly inspired Spinal Tap,” AMG the spoof band of 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap.
Dio was born an only child in an Italian family who moved from his New Hampshire birthplace to Cortland, New York early in his life. He was raised Roman Catholic, initially played trumpet, and recorded several singles with various rockabilly bands while still a boy. He joined a band called the Vegas Kings while he was in high school; he started as the bassist and later became the lead singer. That group evolved into Ronnie & the Rumblers and later Ronnie & the Red Caps, even releasing a 1958 single called Lover. They released another single for An Angel Is Missing.
He attended University at Buffalo from 1960-61 and was offered a scholarship to Juilliard School of Music, but declined, deciding to pursue rock and roll instead. WK In 1961, he took up the name Dio (from mafia member Johnny Dio) professionally. WK The band changed their name to Ronnie Dio & the Prophets, releasing several singles and an album.
When that group disbanded in 1967, Dio and Prophets’ guitarist Nick Pantas formed the Electric Elves, eventually becoming simply “Elf” by 1970. That group became more rock-oriented and featured Dio full-time on vocals. Ex-Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover produced the band and they released three albums. However, while they didn’t catch on big, they did get the attention of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, thanks to some gigs as the opening act of Deep Purple, for whom Blackmore was the guitarist at the time. When Blackmore left that group, he recruited Dio and others from Elf to form a new group – Rainbow.
Blackmore’s vision for Rainbow was originally to distance himself from “the rock dinosaur Deep Purple had become toward the end.” AMG However, their sound ended up more like Deep Purple. Of course, this was a good thing for Ronnie James Dio, who was now being recognized as a major heavy metal singer. Indeed, while Rainbow was Blackmore’s project, it was essential to launching the career of Dio. He recorded three albums with the group, making a name for himself with songs like Man on the Silver Mountain.
The union wasn’t meant to last, however, as Blackmore felt the need to exert his power and remind Dio just who the band belonged to. Dio “jumped ship [and] shortly thereafter, …received word that Ozzy Osbourne had left Black Sabbath, and a tryout was arranged. Dio got the gig immediately.” AMG
Black Sabbath (1980-82, 1992, 2006-2010):
The resulting 1980 Heaven and Hell album and the follow-up, 1981’s Mob Rules, gave Sabbath “their greatest success in years.” AMG It was during this time that he popularized the “devil’s horn” sign, although he wasn’t the first to use it. He said he got from his grandmother who used the gesture to ward off the evil eye.
Dio, however, was itching to abandon the “‘singer for hire’ tag that was bestowed upon him by many,” AMG so after two albums he departed to form his own band. He would however, return for another album, Dehumanizer, in 1992. In addition, when Dio reunited with his Sabbath-era bandmates to record some new tracks for Black Sabbath’s 2007 compilation The Dio Years, the group would decide to tour and even record together as Heaven & Hell, named for their first album together in Black Sabbath.
In 1982, Dio and drummer Vinny Appice quit Black Sabbath and formed a new band, simply named Dio. The band’s first two albums, 1983’s Holy Diver and 1984’s The Last in Line, were platinum sellers in the U.S., sporting album rock hits such as Rainbow in the Dark and The Last in Line. 1985’s Sacred Heart slipped to gold status and Dio wouldn’t ever reach those heights again with their studio efforts.
The group did, however, soldier on, releasing a full ten studio albums over ten years time, the last being 2004’s Master of the Moon.