Throwing Horns

We’re the hand that writes / Then quickly moves away . . .

~ Ronnie James Dio (1942 – 2010)

During the summer of 1984, in the midst of a transition from the heartland of Indiana to the suburbs of Chicago, I spent a couple weeks in Dallas, Texas, hanging out with my cousins on my birth mother’s side of the family. Usually, when we’d get together, it was about finding all the ways we were alike. My aunt bought the three of us matching Cowboys shirts, we shared a love of professional wrestling and big combs that stick out of back pockets, and went on trips together to wade in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the San Antonio River.

If pressed to name one way in which we were irreconcilably different back then, it was in our taste in music. Where one tended to gravitate toward the more pop-influential stylings of Duran Duran, and the other found much to love and relate to in the Southern-fried rock and country mentality, I was an unabashed headbanger. And, being long before the days of YouTube and video-on-demand, I wasted no time in commandeering the television, always settling on MTV and waiting for the next airing of “The Last in Line,” the latest single by Dio.

God I loved that song . . .

Here was this Lilliputian giant with a receding hair line and a killer voice. THE Voice. If Satan has a voice, it sounds a lot like Ronnie James Dio when he sings. And he sang about shit like witches and demons and absent Gods. The stuff that makes parents squirm.

I was immediately hooked.

Years later, while digging deep into the Christian-Music-Most-People-Never-Listen-To archives, I found this gem, from Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren’s 1980 solo album Seeds of Change . . .

The Voice, singing about following Jesus. On my Christian music radio show in college, I played the crap out of that one. People were confused. Isn’t that Dio?! He’s Eeeeevil! He sang for Black Sabbath?!?!? I turned a deaf ear to their admonitions that I repent immediately or face the fires of Hell. I was like that. Even then, I was willing to let the message stand, despite the messenger.

Regardless of who he jammed with, or whatever the message might be, RJD kept it gritty.  No flash or bravado.  Just his magnificent voice, surrounded by the heaviest of riffs and the deepest of bass lines.  His masterpieces were minor-key jams that kept me grounded and never failed to help me vent the frustrations of living in a dichotomous world.  This song, from one of his final projects, has fit the bill as-of-late . . .

In 2002, in an online interview celebrating the release of Killing the Dragon, Dio shared his thoughts on Good and Evil . . .

I’m a believer in people. I always have been. This is my planet, this is where my interaction is. I’m not prepared to deal with what comes after death, since I believe that heaven and hell are right here. Good and evil reside in us, and we have the ability to choose.

I can buy that.

The Voice is dead. Long live The Voice!

(And, please, don’t hurt yourself trying to hit the high note at the beginning of this RJD classic, recorded live with Heaven and Hell at Radio City Music Hall in March of 2007.  At the time, he was 64 years young. You’ve been warned . . . )


14 thoughts on “Throwing Horns

  1. Rest in peace RJD- Holy Diver got me through a few tough moments.

  2. And lets not forget this bit of awesomeness . . . RJD as the maniacal Dr. X, with Queensryche in 2007 . . .

  3. Back in the days when MTV played (and showed) real music. I cranked up Holy Diver as soon as I saw the news he had passed. A talented soul.

  4. I loved this post! I was in the living room and hit play – the two teenage boys came by… “Mom, what are you playing? Oh, Dio? They are pretty good..” I was like ‘Wah’???? They knew who Dio was?

    As the video started I had a faint memory of it. I KNOW I had seen it before – he is in the elevator.. up, up… and then when it fell let out an audible gasp LOL! Then that THING came in the door and I said, “That is SCARY!” “No Mom, it isn’t THAT scary…”

    It was a great…. a fun discussion with the teens about Dio… And it turned out they knew more….!

    1. The Cheek of God – Bringing families together is our specialty!


  5. I must confess I never heard of this dude prior to this blog. But he seems awesome. I have to agree with his views on good and evil.

    Remember headbanger’s ball?

    1. Do I remember Headbanger’s Ball?!?! Sheesh, girlfriend. After MTV stopped playing a random mixture of videos and broke them all down into their own niche shows, I did the Ball as often as possible . . . until it started sucking too. Back when the growl took over . . .

  6. Two things about him- he was the first person I ever saw live in concert, Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, circa in 1985, I was about 15 yrs old. Several years later, I found myself working in the college student-run radio station, alongside Dio’s illegitimate son!

    Time to download Holy Diver and crank it up….

  7. In other sad news, I just learned that Killswitch Engage did a cover of Holy Diver. It’s a shame some things can’t be unheard . . .


  8. Sad Day

    I think you missed the best one though.

    “Oh no, here it comes again, cant remember when we came so close to LOVE before”

    Beautiful Voice……………sends shivers down my spine 🙂

  9. I loved me some Ronnie James. I went through a phase where I listened to Hungry for Heaven off the Visionquest soundtrack on a daily basis. Think I’ll go download it.

  10. “To Live for the King”, yeah! Don’t forget about the other song he did on that Kerry Livgren album, “Mask of the Great Deceiver”. I wrote about those songs specifically:

  11. It’s great to see the appreciation for such a talent. May his spirit live on in the music he left us.

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