It feels weird to have this autobiography come out 11 years after Ronnie James Dio succumbed to stomach cancer. As it turns out, he’d written a detailed account of his life up to the Rainbow years. Once his cancer was diagnosed, he sketched out the rest, ending with his sold out concert at Madison Square Garden on June 20th 1986. Now, a decade after his death, his widow and manager Wendy Dio and writer Mick Wall have fleshed out his notes, using Wendy’s own words (clearly marked) and the numerous interviews Ronnie gave over the years to fill in the blanks.
The authors did a great job of maintaining the conversational tone Ronnie had adopted from the start, but you can feel that the story starts to rush a bit once you get to the Black Sabbath years, which is unfortunate. Even in the sections he fully wrote, there’s an economy of detail and a desire not to get bogged down in details, but it gets worse from that point on. It’s never uninteresting, but if you’ve heard Dio speak about his time in Black Sabbath or his conflicts with guitarist Vivian Campbell, you know what’s in the book. So if you were hoping for new insights on the feud with Tony Iommi that led to his departure from Black Sabbath or his relationship with Campbell, you’ll be disappointed.
The story starts at an early age when Ronald James Padavona from Cortland, NY picked up the trumpet for the first time, and moves quickly through his musical experiences in school, early bands and his years gigging around the North East of the United States. Ever changing lineups, a deadly road accident that left 2 members of his band dead and hundreds of shows forged the future heavy metal god. From the Vegas Kings in 1957 to Elf in 1967, Dio learned his craft and had his share of mischief along the way.
Out of the ashes of Elf, he gets recruited by ex-Deep Purple axeman Ritchie Blackmore for his new band Rainbow, until the latter decides to go commercial and abandon the fantasy-driven lyrics. A stint with Black Sabbath produces some of the best material of his career, until tensions in the band mount, and he exits the band to form Dio.
The book’s an easy read, and always interesting. It wisely avoids spending too much time on his life away from music, which to be fair, seemed to be scarce as music consumed his whole life from early on. The early years are very interesting, even if the music it produced isn’t really good (check out Ronnie and the Red Caps on Spotify).
The Elf and Rainbow years occupy a good chunk of the book, and to my surprise, I realized that Elf actually produced 3 albums. For years I never realized my CD entitled “The Elf Albums” contained albums 2 and 3. Their self-titled debut isn’t available digitally anywhere but I quickly tracked down a used CD to complete the collection.
One would have hoped for more insights into the eccentric Ritchie Blackmore, but apart from a few anecdotes, there isn’t much. Then the pace picks up and feels a bit more like a diary as it moves towards 1986. And we never get the answer to the most burning question: What does a rainbow look like in the dark??
Anyone not familiar with Dio’s career will surely appreciate this book. For fans, the first two thirds are definitely worth it. Definitely worth a pair of horns, the hand sign he got from his Italian grandmother. But I’m not holding my breath for a volume 2 covering the rest of his life, unfortunately.