Dio: The Eulogy

"Dio has rocked for a long, long time,

Now it's time for him to pass the torch.

He has songs of wildebeests and angels,

He has soared on the wings of a demon."

— Tenacious D, "Dio"

"I can go away, when I leave here I can be invisible.

I said when I've gone away, lord, you know it's right to leave here.

So I just became invisible, I went away, disappear before your eyes.

You never touch me, you never feel me, you'll never see me again because I've just become unseen."

— Dio, "Invisible"

I didn't think stomach cancer could do the job.

After all, Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010) invented throwing the horns, adopted as the universal sign of acknowledging the Devil. It's a sign of fiery benediction flashed en masse at metal shows from Stockholm to Memphis.

(There's some debate as to whether Dio actually invented the horns. Some say it naturally grew out of metalheads' hands — sort of like the fleshy gun that sprouted from James Woods' palm at the end of "Videodrome" — during early Black Sabbath shows. These kinds of debates rage in ganja-hazed garages across the country. However, I'm ending the debate, here and now. I'm crediting Dio with inventing the horns. End of story.)

Cancer? Chemotherapy? A pox on such foolishness.

Dio partied in the fires of Hell. Radiation would do little to harm him. And surely, cancer, once it realized it had invaded the body of Ronnie James Dio, would immediately apologize for causing an inconvenience and make an immediate retreat.

In the end, Dio was mortal and because of that the music of my youth faded just a little more.

Dio was born 67 years ago in, of all places, New Hampshire. By all accounts he was a bright kid who got in little trouble until he swore his life to rock 'n' roll. Legend has it he was offered a scholarship to attend Juilliard School of Music, but disavowed it to chase rock 'n' roll dreams.

Fast forward a few scary sounding bands (Ronnie and the Rumblers?) to his fateful meeting with Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. The duo create Rainbow, a second-generation heavy metal act in the wake of Black Sabbath's massive success.

Rainbow, to me, runs the gamut from pure metal heaven to typical blues-rock bluster that was popular in the mid-'70s.

Rainbow had its moments, but little did hard rock diehards know what was coming when Ozzy Osbourne flamed out of Black Sabbath, leaving a planet-sized void in the Devil's music.

It is a testament to the genius of Sabbath mastermind Tony Iommi that he chose Dio to follow an act that, until you heard the results, seemed impossible to top.

Dio's run with Sabbath is as divisive among metal fans as who is the better Iron Maiden singer — Paul Di'Anno or Bruce Dickinson. It's real red state vs. blue state crap, man.

For sure, few metal albums of any time or place can top the first four Sabbath albums (up through "Master of Reality") but Dio's run, upon reflection, more than holds its own.

By the time Ozzy exited, stage left, Sabbath had degenerated into a shadow of its former glory. Hell, if my lead singer would've turned in efforts such as "Technical Ecstasy" and "Never Say Die!" I would have kicked him out, too.

You can't blame those late '70s atrocities on Tony Iommi or Geezer Butler. The music was there, if a bit hurried. Ozzy was phoning it in, most likely because of a debilitating addiction to booze and Quaaludes.

Dio's run with the former Sabbath members morphed into Heaven and Hell. H&H gave us quality work concurrent with Ozzy's return to Sabbath some 10 years back.

As Ozzy reduced himself to a muttering, drooling parody of his former evilness, Dio and Iommi honed their craft, created some of the most haunting doom metal this side of "Electric Funeral."

Dio came aboard and reinvigorated Iommi, who continued to perfect the doom guitar sound up until Dio's last work with Heaven and Hell, 2009's vastly underrated "The Devil You Know."

For a telling portrait of Dio, watch Sam Dunn's informed and entertaining survey of evil music "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey."

More than 50 metal legends past and present are interviewed, but none provided more lucidity, complexity of thought and genuine humor than Dio.

Not bad for a dude who stood all of 5 feet tall and whose first successful band was called Elf.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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