'His Voice Is Still With Us': Rob Halford, Scott Ian & More Remember Metal Giant Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio
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Ronnie James Dio in 1987.

May 16 marks the 10-year anniversary of the former Black Sabbath and Rainbow singer's death from stomach cancer in 2010.

Aug. 22, 1982. Scott Ian is trekking from Queens to New Jersey with a friend named Jimmy to see Black Sabbath at the then-named Brendan Byrne Arena. It’s the Mob Rules Tour, and Ronnie James Dio is just two years in with the band following Ozzy Osbourne’s firing. Ian doesn’t believe Jimmy personally knows Dio as both head to the Meadowlands Hilton and knock on a door.

“I hear, ‘Hey, is that Jimmy?’ ” remembers Ian. “And he’s like, ‘Yeah, Ronnie, it’s me.’ He’s like, ‘Hey, man. I just got out of the shower. I’ll slide your tickets and passes under the door, and I’ll see you after the show.’ I could hear the voice, and it was him.”

After the show, Ian met his hero face-to-face and told him about his new band Anthrax -- which at that point hadn’t performed much and was attempting to write songs -- and was met with a “Good luck with that and keep working hard.”

Five years later to the day, Anthrax is on the bill for the Monsters of Rock Festival at England’s Castle Donington Raceway along with Dio. Backstage, Ian is reunited with Dio, who greets him with, “Hey, Anthrax.”

“I’m like, ‘You remember?’ ” says Ian incredulously. “He was like, ‘You were backstage at the Mob Rules show in Jersey. You told me about your band. Look at you. You’re here. You’re on the bill. You made it.’ ”

This was Ronnie James Dio. Gracious, genuine and possessing a near-eidetic memory when it came to recalling names. To anyone who met Dio, there wasn’t a negative thing one could say about him.

Never formerly trained as a singer, Dio’s vocals were an expansive instrument that towered over his 5’4” stature. He attributed his prowess to breathing exercises from playing the trumpet and bolstered them through baroque and classical techniques that enabled him to rip through other-worldly barriers of sound.

Dio was born Ronald James Padavona on July 10, 1942, in Cortland, N.Y. He performed in such late-’50s pop groups as Ronnie & The Redcaps and Ronnie Dio & The Prophets before forming Elf in 1967. Following Elf’s final studio album, 1975’s Trying to Burn the Sun, Dio joined Ritchie Blackmore for Rainbow that year. He then moved on in 1979 for a two-album run with Black Sabbath. Around this time, he also was flashing the “horns” salute that has become synonymous with heavy metal. (He had learned the sign from his Italian grandmother, who used it to ward off the evil eye.)

Fantastically wailing against a backdrop of medieval rock full of scepters and swords, dungeons and mystical lore, Dio’s eponymous band emerged with 1983’s indelible metal classic Holy Diver and continued on through 2004 with their final release, Master of the Moon. In 2006, he circled back to former Sabbath bandmates Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, along with longtime musical comrade Vinny Appice, to form Heaven & Hell. He rode that tiger until his passing at the age of 67 after a battle with stomach cancer on May 16, 2010 -- ten years ago this weekend.

Here, Billboard shares remembrances from friends, followers and collaborators of the man himself.

Vinny Appice, Last in Line

We left a show one day, got in the limo and were about to drive out of the arena. There was this big chain-link fence that they opened so we can get out, but there were a bunch of kids, maybe 20, outside waiting, and it was really cold. Ronnie said, "Stop the car." I’m like, "What?"

He gets out and signs everything and takes pictures. I wasn’t that well known then, but I went with him and it made the fans really happy. It was just something that took me aback. Like, "Wow, this guy’s getting out in the cold weather and taking care of his fans. How cool is that?" He loved his fans. And they loved him.

Andy Sheppard/Redferns
Vinnie Appice performs at Victoria Park in London.

In all the years I played with him … he never warmed up, which is the weirdest thing. He would go right onstage and open up with something like ‘Mob Rules,’ which is a difficult song to sing. I played with a lot of different singers, and everybody’s warming up, screaming, yelling and running. He never did that.

We were like brothers, and we kicked each other’s butt onstage. He’d go for notes that were way beyond what the song originally had and just made everybody play even better.

He was such a nice guy. When you met him, he was very cordial, and everything was written from his heart and from his soul. This guy just put it all out there -- 110%. Between being such a great human being, to these amazing songs and the way he sang them, people will never forget him.

Scott Ian, Anthrax

He was the nicest guy ever. From [Donington] on through — not too long before we lost him — Ronnie took Anthrax out on tour so many times. We would bump into each other all the time. I’d go see him, whether it was his band or Heaven & Hell. All those years, from 1987 until 2010, I can’t tell you how many times we got to spend time together, and he was always just the best guy ever.

One time, we were pulling into a hotel somewhere in Germany. We were playing some festival … We walk into the lobby, and Ronnie and his guys are checking out. They had just played the festival, and they were going on to somewhere else. So we’re all standing around shooting the shit, and Ronnie’s like, ‘Hey, man. Most of the rooms don’t have air conditioning. Here’s my room key. Mine has air conditioning.’

Mark Horton/Getty Images
Scott Ian of Anthrax performs at Heavy Montreal at Parc Jean-Drapeau on July 28, 2019 in Montreal, Canada.

He was such a wonderful human being. He defines heavy metal. His voice carried so much weight. I always felt from the time I first got into him when he was playing with Rainbow that his voice just defined the sound. I think he’s the greatest hard-rock/heavy metal singer of all time. So that to me is the legacy he leaves, and all the music he leaves.

Jack Black and Kyle Gass, Tenacious D

We wrote a song for Dio to sing in our movie Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. It was called "Kickapoo," and Dio’s section had kind of a ‘Neon Knights’ melody. I was nervous he’d be like, "You guys kind of stole that melody from me," but he was so cool and rad about the whole thing. No big rock star attitude.

He brought his own microphone to the studio when it came time for him to lay down his vocal track. Our producer, John King, told him it wouldn’t be necessary since we had a state-of-the-art mic already set up. He did one take with John King’s mic, and Dio basically destroyed it with pure vocal sound, shredded the internal membrane or some shit. John was like, "Holy shit, that mic is toasted now."

Dio said, "Yeah, that always happens. That’s why I always bring my own." And so we had to set up his industrial-strength mic to record him, and that’s the take that was used in the movie.

Lzzy Hale, Halestorm

My love for Dio began when I was 11. I took one of my favorite CDs, Holy Diver, to a slumber party. This was in 1996, when TLC and Mariah Carey were the wall posters of choice for a preteen’s bedroom. Those girls looked at me like I was an alien for listening to this man with the big voice, but this experience set the stage for my teens when I discovered that me being different wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, it became my superpower. Listening to Dio was my statement. The music was something I could call mine, something no one else I knew had.

The horns he wielded were a sign of both individuality and unity. It’s not just a signal synonymous with metal and hard rock. It’s a badge you wear, a flag you fly and is both a symbol of strength and empowerment. All of these lessons bestowed on me became a keystone in my personal mission statement for my own empire I was building with Halestorm.

On Aug. 29, 2009, we got to open up for Heaven & Hell [in Atlantic City, N.J.]. We later found out that that was his last live performance. I look back on how that opportunity arose [Coheed & Cambria had dropped out], and it seems more like fate rather than luck.

Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Gibson
Lzzy Hale performs at City National Grove of Anaheim on Jan. 16, 2020 in Anaheim, Calif.

As we were walking out to the bus parking lot to start saying our goodbyes, Ronnie turned to me and asked where our vehicle was. I pointed out our trusty RV. He asked if we wouldn’t mind sticking around for a bit because he needed to sign some things for the waiting fans, but he wanted to come over and say a proper goodbye after. So we sat in our RV and watched him sign every scrap of paper and take every picture.

Afterward, he walked back to our RV and hopped aboard. I expressed how much I appreciated that even after giving all of his time to his fans that he still made time to come over and say goodbye to us. We would’ve understood if he was tired and just wanted to escape to his bus. Ronnie then wagged a finger in my face and proceeded to pass me a torch that would also become a huge part of my personal mission. He said, "Lzzy, it’s just a moment in time. You may never remember all of these people you meet, but they will remember you for the rest of their lives. So you have to make it good for each and every one of them, OK?"

After RJD passed away, I realized that he wasn’t just giving me advice for how I treat my own fans, but he literally gave me that moment in time, something I’ll never forget. “Go teach the angels how to sing, Ronnie. We’ll see you again for the great gig on the other side.”

Joel Stroetzel, Killswitch Engage

Many years back, we did a tour with Lamb of God right after they had toured with Heaven & Hell. As we were walking by their dressing room, [LOG singer] Randy [Blythe] handed us a framed photo of Dio. In the photo, he was holding up a sign that said, "Hey, ’Switch, where the hell are my royalties?" [from Killwitch Engage’s 2007 cover of “Holy Diver”]. I have that photo hanging in my home to this day. He was a true hero and legend.

Eddie Trunk, host, SiriusXM’s Trunk Nation

In 2006, [Dio] had just reunited with Black Sabbath for the third time. He and I were staying in Birmingham [England] at the same hotel, and the next day I would host an hour TV special with the guys about their reunion for VH1 Classic. I was seriously jet-lagged and checking into the hotel early-afternoon U.K. time dying for a nap.

Just as I got my key and headed to my room, I heard a voice call me from behind, "Where you going, kid?" RJD always called me that. "You are not going to sleep!" There was Ronnie, also just checking in. He explained to me the worst thing I could do for my body clock to adjust was sleep and that I was to power through and meet him at the bar after dropping my bags. I told him I really needed sleep, and he wasn’t taking that for an answer. So I sucked it up and sat with Ronnie at the pub in the hotel, began day drinking, and that carried into dinner and night drinking! It was endless great stories and laughs.

So many great memories … and in the years since we lost him, I often think about how glad I am that I didn’t go to sleep that day when I got there.

Klaus Meine, Scorpions

Many times back in the 1980s, fans would think I was Ronnie while I was walking by in airports: "Hey, are you …?" And I said with a laugh, "Yes, I am Ronnie," before I told them my real name.

Whenever my friend Ronnie and I would meet up, we had a laugh and called ourselves The Everly Brothers of the ’80s. He was such a wonderful guy and an amazing singer and performer. There was only one Ronnie James Dio. I miss you, brother.

Rob Halford, Judas Priest

Ronnie was a mentor to me as far as his solid professionalism musically. He gave 100% onstage, songwriting, producing and recording. I would watch and learn as he would interact with his fans, giving each one time, knowing that those moments live forever for them.

Daniel Knighton/Getty Images
Rob Halford of Judas Priest performs on stage at Celebrity Theatre on Dec. 14, 2019 in Phoenix, Ariz.

His voice is still with us, as it always will be, and the power and honesty in it will always give me a thrill and a chill. As a fellow singer, his standalone voice means everything, possessing such uniqueness with instant recognition — 10 years or 100 years, it doesn’t really matter. Ronnie and all we love about him is eternal.