The following interview with Ronnie James Dio was made in Stockholm back in 2001 when his band played Johanneshovs Isstadion with Ratt and co-headliner Alice Cooper to a capacity crowd of 10,000. At the time, “Magica” was fresh out of the can and he had also recently toured with Deep Purple with the Orchestra project. This interview does not cover Deep Purple much, but it certainly covers an awful lot of ground, historically speaking. I do feel that this interview also reveals quite a lot about the private man behind the mask, and I do consider myself a lucky man to have had the opportunity to film (alongside photographer Michael Johansson) such a conversation. At the time, I thought that Ronnie was a perfect gentleman with enough stories to fill several books should he want to. He hinted at such a project at the time in this very conversation, so he clearly had plans. In fact, he was a very busy guy. I shall miss him forever. This interview has been published three times (most recently in the UK Ritchie Blackmore magazine MORE BLACK THAN PURPLE), with a fourth coming up as I have included it in RETROFUTURE 5 (september). Enjoy! MIKE
On the new album “Magica” you have a story. Is this something you have been doing for a while, writing stories?
– No, I wish I had. I could be at home writing stories and probably would have written Harry Potter by now! I just thought it was more special for the album because the album was a concept, and the first one that we’ve done and I felt the story was as important as the music. In fact, obviously it came first. It’s not something I have done before. But in university, and high school I was an avid reader and loved to write, so it was a necessity. I wanted to write the story and have it included in the package. So it forced me to have to do it and it was easier than I thought.
Will there be a second part on the next album, because it is written in such a way that suggests there might be?
– No, that’s exactly why I did it. The next album will be much more song orientated. But the album after that will be parts two and three of the trilogy.
So you have five years planned ahead almost?
– I planned it as soon as I started writing it. I planned it that way but thought it was very important not to do it for the next album. I think that sometimes you can shove too much of that kind of thing down people’s throats. I think that “Magica” needed a breather and that breather will be the next album. But there was so much interest in what it did and people wanting to… because I did leave it up in the air with questions here and there, and people who like that kind of thing will be waiting for the next story. What I would really like to do, and of course that is a matter of time again: I’m going to flesh out the entire three short stories to make it a proper book.
– Because there are a lot of untold things inside. It’s almost like a song where you usually only get five to six minutes to tell the story where in reality it should take you twenty-five to thirty minutes. It’s the same with this.
It’s an epic tale obviously. I was wondering if you are doing a book, will somebody be drawing for it?
– Oh definitely.
Do you have someone in mind already?
– No, probably Willy (Fyffe, Dio’s assistant. Ed)! (laughs) No I don’t have anyone in mind but I’m sure Willy will take a part and do some of it. We have quite a few artists we have talked with over the years who are very interested in doing this sort of thing and liked the music I have made and do drawings in that way so there are a lot of choices.
How much into fantasy are you, would you say?
– Quite a bit.
A life long interest?
– Yes, it all stems from reading as a child. I’m an only child so I spent a lot of time on my own reading and read mostly fantasy things. It made me use my imagination. In the early days I read a lot of… Edgar Rice Burroughs had a series called John Carter from Mars and that was very fantastic in its way. And a lot of medieval things from Walter Scott and others. And a lot of science fiction and that kind of fantasy and you put them all together and they make you what you are, I think.
What was the last book that you read that you liked?
– Well it was actually the book I’m reading right now from a man named Alan Dean Foster, who wrote Alien, it’s called “Carnivores of Light and Darkness” and is a great fantasy piece.
(I later told Alan Dean Foster about this and it turned out that he is a fan of Dio! Ed)
How about TV series, things like Xena?
– I find those a bit silly. Fantasy for me resides more in the mind. It’s a method of using your imagination and programmes like Xena and Hercules just feed the masses. Unfortunately the very young masses, so they do things kids would love to do, going out sword fighting in the yard. I think I’m a bit more mature than that. I appreciate their success but it’s not something I sit around and watch.
And movies, have you seen anything you like there? The Tolkien Trilogy that’s coming up, will you see that?
– Yes I will. The things that I have liked most… one of my favourite films has been the “Never Ending Story”. There were two of them of course and I think that was magnificently done. “Time Bandits”, which has some mirth in it was a wonderful fantasy piece. The “Baron Munchausen” thing, I’m using a few Python things here, but I love all that, I think it’s wonderful. “Labyrinth” was good, these are old things. I haven’t really seen a lot lately because I’ve been working for such a long time. But Tolkien, I will be drooling when I watch that.
Have you seen Merlin? (Sam Neill version. Ed)
– The TV series, yes. I thought it was very good, excellent, well done.
I think Hallmark are doing some good movies.
So moving on to the stage sets you have had over the years. The first big one was for the Rainbow “Rising” album. Have you been active in coming up with ideas and for the first Rainbow?
– I just remember the only thing that was mentioned was “Let’s put a rainbow on the stage” and I thought that was great. Since that time I think Dio has completely out-manoeuvred anything Rainbow ever did as far as stage production goes.
– That’s what I’m proud of. A rainbow is a rainbow, it didn’t take a lot of imagination when you’ve got a band called Rainbow and you put a rainbow up there. The hardest part of that was at the time it was built we didn’t have the technology we have today. No one was using aluminium so it was built out of cast iron. The very first show we did was in Detroit (he might be talking about Montreal here. Ed) and during the rehearsals for that show we were there for three days it collapsed and almost killed a few people in our crew. So everyday we worried, at least I did, that it would fall again, but it never did. I guess they got the bugs out. It was interesting but it never did what it was supposed to do. It was supposed to spell things out and from what I understand it was supposed to make tea at the end of the gig too but it never did any of those things. It chased and that was about it, but it was a wonderful prop for the time because not a lot of people were using them so it was a great prop. It would have been great today because it could have been made of a light material, could probably have done a lot more, we could have used lasers in it but it gave me a chance to do it myself.
Then you moved on to Black Sabbath and that band also had some very big stage shows.
– Well then again, not as big as I wanted. We had things like titled crosses and they were lighted up. That was my idea and I will take credit for it. It’s about time I took credit for my ideas. We had a stained glass window at the back. They were more static things, things that didn’t move. I like things that move. I like things that come alive, dragons that come alive, pyramids with tops that come off, robots that move, three-headed snakes that fight each other. That to me is what Disneyland is all about, and that is what I always try and bring to the people of the show. Not for ourselves because even though a lot of bands… people throw stones at them saying “Well you’ve got all these things on the stage, what about the music?” Well, yeah what about the music? What do you think we do, turn around and look at the stage props and not play the music? The music is always first for us. We just happen to want to bring things to an audience to give them more for their money, because the ticket prices have gotten to be really stupid. So we brought Disneyland, we brought Dioland to them. Then the media decided we didn’t want to see that anymore. Stupid media, they took it all away from the kids. That’s exactly what happened.
The shows in the mid eighties that Dio had were fantastic. How involved were you in those? You said in Rainbow you weren’t very involved.
– Very involved. I was as involved as anyone could be in Rainbow. Like I said all we had was a rainbow, that didn’t take a lot of imagination, as far as the Dio thing goes, I was totally involved.
And very expensive I imagine.
– Very, very expensive.
What was the most expensive tour?
– “Sacred Heart”, that took almost half a million dollars to put together. And the one before, “The Last In Line” was about $250,000. So we kept spending more money, but we wanted to be special, and you have to spend money to be special. It’s one thing to construct, the other thing that costs money is to bring it on the road. And we took the “Sacred Heart” show twice to Europe, twice to Japan and four times in America over two years and it was very, very expensive. We had about nine to ten trucks and seven to eight buses and about seventy-five people on the road but it was wonderful at the end of the day. But all that counts is the reaction from the people, that’s all that matters.
Did you ever have any accidents with Dio, something falling?
– No, the only thing that happened which was quite funny was the dragon worked for two years; he was great, never let us down and the very last show, I think we were in Hammersmith Odeon, and it was our very last show with that stage set for a two year period of touring and at the very end, the drum riser was next to the dragon and the very last song the dragon just collapsed and leaned against the drummer, as if to say thank god it’s all over and now I’m going to sleep! But the only action we had was a pryrotechnician unfortunately drank too much and one night he blew Vivian up. Vivian stepped into one of the flash pots and this guy pressed the button and Vivian went up on fire, then just to make it okay the pryrotechnician fell off the drum riser which was about twelve feet high and as payback, I guess he paid himself back. Those two things, and we had one other guy who was one of our laser people who beat himself up! He also had too many drugs and too much to drink. He said something like, “if you don’t do this I’m going to beat myself up”, so then someone said, “okay” and he physically beat himself up. That wasn’t an accident that was just silly and stupid. But as far as accidents go everything was pretty good on the Dio tours. We had really good people working for us so we didn’t have any problems.
Do you have a personal favourite show from those days?
– You know I can never ever say that there was a personally best show for me. I approached them all as though they were going to be the best shows they possibly can be and to me they were all just wonderful. They were all the best shows, every one of them.
What happened to all that stuff?
– I kept it for ten years; kept it in a warehouse for ten years, kept the first set, which was “Holy Diver”, which is also quite huge. Kept “Last In Line”, kept “Sacred Heart”, kept “Lock Up The Wolves”. For ten years, kept it in a warehouse, never used one thing and found out at the end of ten years that it cost me $100,000 to keep them in a building for no reason. So I decided I didn’t want to pay $100,000 anymore. So we loaded them, I think it took twenty trips on a huge flat-bed truck took them to the junk yard and I personally kicked everything out into the junk yard. I kept the dragon’s head, kept two sphinxes, kept the twelve foot robot knight, kept the spider from “Lock Up The Wolves” and everything else went into the junk yard. And believe me; the people who worked at the junk yard were very happy. We saw them carrying everything away, they were very happy people. It seems like a real waste, but it wasn’t a waste at the end of the day. When you knew we were never going to use it again and all it was doing was costing you money to store it so it was easier to get rid of it than it was to keep it.
It’s interesting that you mention that you kept some stuff because I was going to ask you if you collect stuff in general.
– Well I do, I do, well some of it was obviously too big to keep so keeping the dragon’s head was, well it was big so we just got a smaller place to keep it. I do like to keep the things; the memories are so special to me. I think you are foolish if you throw everything away and don’t keep some of those memories. You know there comes a time when you might want to go to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren and say, “Look what granddad or great-granddad did”. Well I don’t have to worry about that yet, but when the time comes they can have it. I’ll leave it to them and then they can store it for $100,000 themselves.
How about stuff from outside the career? Do you buy knights’ armours and stuff like that?
– I have all that, yeah. My house is like a kind a castle in the middle of non-castles in Los Angeles and it’s obviously populated with all of those things, suits of armour, swords, maces, banners; all the kinds of things that you would probably find in a castle except I have running water and toilets and they didn’t (laughs).
So do you have anything in common with Ritchie, perhaps from the days when you met? Did you already have an interest in that medieval stuff?
– Oh yeah.
Had you already done that?
– Yes, I had, uhuh.
Ok, so that was not news to you then?
– No, our point of reference was classical music. Bach was our point of reference, we both loved Bach. That’s really where we all started from, Ritchie and I. And I had been very involved in reading this kind of material again as I say from a young boy and it was just nice to be able to be with someone who understood the same kind of feelings that I had about it. I think I’m probably much more of a collector than Ritchie is, but he collects a few things, but I think I collect a lot more than he does. That was another point of reference for us, we both loved medieval history and the attitudes of chivalry and knights and ladies in waiting and all that.
The “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” recording – did something happen during the session there?
– Ah yes.
On the album it says “no thanks to Baal.”
– Well we had some séances because we had some problems in the studio. We were in France in a studio called Chateau. We would go into the studio and the tape machine would be running and no-one would be there. We had one song – “Gates of Babylon” – and we couldn’t finish; we just couldn’t finish it no matter how we tried. The tape would break, the machine would stop, we’d get close to it but just couldn’t finish it. One day we had a séance in the studio and contacted the spirit who said he was Baal. His opening line was always, “I am Baal, I create chaos. You will never leave here.”That was what he always said. So after a while you got kind of, “Oh Baal again. Hey Baal, how you doing mate?” We weren’t afraid of him anymore until he started doing things like taking glasses and sending them all the way through the table and then making it come under the table all by itself and coming back up to the top, or flowing down the end of the table and smashing against the wall, or a piano playing when there was no one there playing it. We eventually went to the local priest there and told him we wanted to have an exorcism. He threw us out! He said, ‘I won’t go to that place, ; that place is horrible.’ We said, ‘We know!’ He wouldn’t come. We found a big cross, we had a cross made and we put it up in the studio. The next time we had a séance Baal said, “I am Baal, I create chaos. You will never leave here. What’s that stupid thing doing on the wall?” We said, “Do you believe in Christ?” He said, “Ha, Christ, he was only a man, I’m not afraid of anything.”So we knew we had some troubles here. We finally were able to finish the song and as we were leaving, we were going down this winding stone stairway leading from the sleeping areas down to the cars to leave the Chateau and my wife was in front of me and we had just bought some antique china. Luckily she had the box in her hand. I was perhaps five feet away from her. She was five feet in front of me. Cozy Powell was behind me. Suddenly she pitched right off the stairs and fell to the bottom of the stairs and fell on the china- luckily because it broke her fall. She turned to me and said, “YOU BASTARD (shouts) why did you push me?” “Cozy, did I push her?” He said, “You weren’t even close to her.” Guess who did that one! So that was Baal’s final parting thrust for us. So yeah, that’s a strange thing that happened there. Since that time, only once have I been talked into doing that again in a haunted castle, just outside of Newcastle. Do you know the one I mean? Whatever it’s called. (Most probably Lumley Castle, one of Ritchie’s favourites. Ed) Ask Willy because he usually knows these things but didn’t this time. The guys in the band who knew about the Baal thing said, “Will you please do a séance?”. I said, “No, I don’t want to do this anymore because once you invite them in, they don’t ever go away.” They said, “Ah no, it’ll be okay.” I said, “I’m telling ya, I don’t want to do this.” So they talked me into it and I said, “Okay I’ll do it for you.” So we set up the séance and got on the glass and the first thing it said was, “I am Baal, I create chaos. You will never leave here.” I went, “Bye guys, I told you I don’t want to have anything to do with this anymore.” So that’s the last time I took part in it.
So that was another country even?
– Oh it never goes away; it’s not limited to boundaries of countries. You know spiritual things have no limits at all. But it’s what YOU believe; it’s what’s believed inside of you. I think that particular spirit that called itself Baal was just a lower astral, nothing more than that. It swore too much, it used wrong parts of speech for it to be anything strong. It certainly wasn’t Baal. If it were Baal you wouldn’t be talking to me today, we’d be all gone.
Spooky stuff. I’ve never done it myself but it’s interesting to hear.
– Well I suggest you don’t because as I say, once you open the door and allow it to come in then it never goes away, never. You can’t close the door again.
So you haven’t done that in 15 years?
– No I haven’t done it since 1983, yes, so about 15-16 years.
With these experiences, you have a fantastic life; interesting. Have you considered writing a book about this life?
– I am writing a book, it’s about a third finished already.
– Uhuh. No moss grows on my feet, man; I’m always ahead of everybody.
I see that, three albums ahead and two books.
– Oh yeah, you have to be, I mean life is a very dangerous trap and if you don’t plan it properly it’ll swallow you up. So I learned that early on in my life, it’s better to plan what’s going to come. Not every bit of your life, I mean if you plan every bit of your life then there is no spontaneity and nothing is surprising – surprising in a good way or a bad way, but I think you are more sensible if you know what your talents and yearnings are and if you know that then you can plan your life a little bit better. You know you can give to people more by doing it that way. That really at the end of the day for me is what life is all about. That’s giving to others because once these bodies turn to dust what do you leave as a legacy? Do you leave your music? I don’t think so, that’s not what I want to be remembered for. I don’t want to be remembered for the music that I made; there are too many other people who have been forgotten for the music that they made. I want to be remembered by just a few people whose lives I touched perhaps from the heart, that way. And if they liked the music at the same time then that’s wonderful but that’s not what I’m about as a human being. I am a human being, no better, no worse than anyone else and I need to give that way. That’s what I decided early on in my life so I like to plan my life so I can do that at some point. So yeah, I’m a few steps ahead of Baal.
I think your lyrics are excellent.
– Thank you.
On the “Strange Highways” album you have a lyric that goes, “Oh, bury my bones on the moon. If they never should find me it would be too soon”. That’s incredibly beautiful but it’s dark, right?
Okay, so what type of mind frame did you have right then? Was it dark or do you sit there laughing thinking that was a great rhyme?
– No, no it’s all very serious to me. I mean there are times when you must do music with a chuckle; you have to be funny at times. I mean life would be very droll if we didn’t have a laugh here and there, so there are a few things I’ve written that I don’t even remember, but they were funny at the time. But no that was a very personal statement; I mean it was MY bones, burying MY bones on the moon. You know in other words that whole point was I don’t want to do what you have to offer me; I don’t want you to be part of my life. I want to be away from these horrible things that I see, so bury my bones on the moon so nobody can ever find me. Nobody can ever touch those bones because people have a tendency to not matter that once you die and you think you are safe and everything is okay, they dig you up. I think a lot of Egyptian Pharaohs can probably tell you that, if they were here to tell you that. You know, bury my bones on the moon that way nobody can touch me again – that’s really what that meant.
How about religion? Are you interested in studying different kinds of religion?
– Well early on in my life I was brought up a Catholic. Very early in my life I decided that all forms of religion were bullshit. There is a line in the song “Stand Up And Shout”: “we pray to someone but when it’s said and done it’s really all the same, just got a different name”. That’s what it’s really all about. That’s why religion is a business, religion has become a business, it’s a business to make money from people who’ve been living with Catholicism or Buddhism or whatever it may be. I think Buddhists are a little less money oriented but you have Scientology and all these things and all they are doing is taking money from people and flim-flamming people and using their physical being and their brains for what I consider to be their own ends. So again I early on realised that religion is that if you believe in a god, that God resides in you, and if you believe in the devil, and I believe in both, and I don’t mean a physical devil, a devil sitting there with horns or a god sitting there looking white with long hair. You know he may be purple with no hair, he may be black, he may be she. You know, but I don’t think of God in those terms. To me, God and the Devil is in me, is in you, and you, and you, and you, and we have to make a determination as to which road we are going to travel, the good road or the bad road. A lot of people travel the middle road. I tend not to do that; I prefer not to do that. I prefer to be as good as I possibly can and I can do that because I understand that there is a dark side and they have to be balanced; we have to have evil in our lives to have good and we must have good to have evil. That’s my religion. My religion is people, I believe in people. No matter how bad they can be, I think they can be changed.
And you do a lot of charity; you have something going on right now. That’s perhaps a good thing to go to from the dark stuff. There we have proof that you are a good human being.
– Well I hope so. I think the best charity work that anyone can ever do is charity work that no-one knows about because once people know that you are doing it then they applaud you – “oh you are such a wonderful man” – you know and none of us are that. We are not wonderful people we are human beings, we are very frail with cracks in us everywhere and it only takes one little push for those cracks to come apart and then we become that horrible dark thing. So I will only talk about the charities because it will earn money for the charity, not because it means I’m Mr. Wonderful that I’m doing this. It’s those other people. It’s the people we are doing it for; those are the ones I care about. This charity is for sexually abused children. This charity is called Children of the Night. The woman who started this charity, her name is Dr. Lois Lee, she is my hero. She is just the strongest, most wonderful caring person I’ve ever met. She is the one who should be in this article, she should have her own magazine, she should be at this show. Those are the people I care about, those are my heroes. This charity is important so I will talk about it of course, but as I say it’s for sexually abused kids, mainly in the Los Angeles area, but it is spreading now to other places and it is now going to be in other countries as well. Some wonderful people are taking part in doing this. Ozzy Osbourne did this. I mean there is supposed to be some kind of horrible thing between Ozzy and I where we really hate each other. I can only tell you my end of it; I don’t hate him at all. I mean I barely ever think about him, so why should I hate him? But I certainly applaud him for what he did, he helped us with the charity, he made some great money for it. So have some other people. Richard Marx the singer has done that, Johnny Carson who is one of our American heroes from television has, Rosanne, Tracy Lords who at one time was a porn star who was sexually abused and understands this. These are the people we should be patting on the back. They care.
It’s wonderful now that she has a career that has brought her away from all that.
– She is a really lovely person, she really is you know. What she did in her life, what she was forced to do in her life should be no reflection on the kind of person that she is. You know, just because someone goes and shags everybody that lives on the face of the planet doesn’t make them a bad person. And again, she was forced into that. But you know that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some wonderful porn people, in fact I know some of them. We know a girl called Jeanna Fine who is a very famous porn star in America who is one of the nicest people I know on the face of the earth. She is a very good, warm, loving, person. Just because she is out there doing what she does sexually is nothing to do with me. That doesn’t make her a worse person. I mean the things that people we don’t even know about do behind their own closed doors have to be a lot worse than what she does. Because I know at least she is a giving, caring person. So I never judge anybody by what people think they are. I only judge them by how they react in my life and how I react in their life. We are too quick to judge and not slow enough in our judging I think sometimes.
– Yes, everything is fast.
– It is.
The UFO mystery, are you interested in that?
– I think that it’s something I would like to see more than anything you could possibly imagine. I would love to have an alien walk in this door right now. I would love to see a UFO land on top of this building and I wouldn’t even care if they took me away. It is just so absolutely fascinating to me that we always think that we are the centre of the universe and it is so untrue with the myriad of planets and myriad of worlds out there that house life. It’s just absolutely fascinating; yes I’d like to see that very much. I’m fascinated by UFOs.
You haven’t seen anything?
– Yes I have.
Ok good (laughs). Do you want to talk about that?
– Sure! My close encounter happened in the state of Connecticut: New Canaan, Connecticut which is kind of in itself when you think of New Canaan which is a very religious, biblical kind of reference. We had just moved into another house. All of Rainbow had moved from Los Angeles to Connecticut and I’d just come off the road and my wife and I were putting together our new home. Things were being unpacked at the time. It was probably, oh I don’t know, midnight and I happened to look out of the window and I said, “The moon looks awfully big. Wendy, that wasn’t out there a minute ago, that moon.” She looked and said, “Oh it must have been,” and carried on unpacking. So I looked a few minutes later and it was bigger, then it was bigger and bigger and coming closer and closer and closer and closer. I thought oh my god; this is it, the big one! I was so excited. As it got closer we saw a car coming. Where we lived was kind of in a forested area, so one lone car coming down a hill. As this car was coming down, it was just about to intersect this light. I thought it’s going to take this car away; this car is going to shoot up into whatever this thing may be. I had baited breath. The car got to this intersection point and suddenly it went out. But it didn’t go out as though you would take a flame and blow the flame out where there is an afterglow. It was as if someone had taken a black curtain and gone “woosh” and off it went. I thought I know that was the presence of a UFO and we both were blown away. The next day in the newspaper 20-45 people saw the same thing and then heard a large explosion with a light after it. So it wasn’t just me, and I KNOW it was that. I mean I am absolutely positive that it was that. No I’ve never been taken away and I don’t want to be taken away that way. I don’t want needles to be inserted in me in bad places, but I would love to see something like that, I really would.
We live in interesting times.
– Yes, we do.
Michael Eriksson (copyrights)
(Thanks to Lynn Baker for her help in writing out this interview for MBTP, saving me the hassle. No part of this interview may be quoted without permission).