The year was 1996. Hard rock and heavy metal had fallen out of favor during the heyday of grunge, especially with the major record labels. After a successful 15-year relationship with Warner Brothers Records, Ronnie James Dio was unceremoniously dropped from the label. As a rock God to a generation of fans, Dio would have been justified to carry a chip on his shoulder, but he didn’t let the calculating side of the music business dampen his spirits. After major label releases with Dio, Black Sabbath and Rainbow, he signed with an independent record label called Mayhem Records. For the first time since the Elf days, Dio was going to release an album with an indie label.
Mayhem Records was one of my clients when I worked at Billboard Magazine. It was a cool, scrappy label with a barebones office in New York City, the polar opposite of typical major label offices. What they lacked in personnel and clout they made up for in passion for their artists and dedication to getting the job done. It didn’t take long before I became friends with the people who worked there, some of whom I am still friends with to this day.
Prior to Dio’s release of Angry Machines – the first on Mayhem Records – the label held a record-release party in a dive bar in the East Village of New York City, a setting befitting the Mayhem personality. It was an up-and-coming area at the time, but certainly not a location that would have been chosen by a major label for any kind of event.
Having already gotten a sneak peek at the record, I attended the party to support my client, and also to shake the hand of one of my favorite singers of all time. I figured that Dio would make a quick appearance, shake some hands, sign some autographs and be on his way. Clearly, I didn’t know anything about the man whose musical legend made him seem larger-than-life.
When Dio walked in, I was introduced to him by my friends at Mayhem. I told him that he was one of my favorite singers, and that I was a huge fan of everything that he had done going back to his days with Elf. I expected a gracious show of thanks, but what I got was so much more. Dio, the legendary rock star of mythical proportions quickly became Ronnie, the kind-hearted man who truly appreciated his fans and was interested in speaking to me as a person about all things, music or otherwise. The hour, or so, that we spent talking over a drink or two at the bar is one that I will never forget.
I’ve met many musicians whose work I admire greatly, but few have made a lasting impact on me like Ronnie James Dio. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried on May 16, 2010 when I heard of Ronnie’s passing. Like most hard rock and metal fans, I was saddened that there would be no new music from Dio in the future, but the tears that I shed were for Ronnie, the man who I only knew for about an hour, but made me feel like we were lifelong friends. \m/ \m/