When Ronnie James Dio died in 2010 of stomach cancer, the metal world mourned the loss of one of its great vocalists, as well as one of the genre’s biggest personalities. He was loved by pretty much everyone who crossed his path, and he’s left a hole impossible to fill.
The music lives on, though. With the blessing of Dio’s widow, Wendy, three members of the Dio band — drummer Simon Wright, guitarist Craig Goldy and keyboardist Scott Warren — decided to keep touring Ronnie’s music with the formation of a band called Dio Disciples. After some shuffling, the lineup is completed by bassist Bjorn Englen (Yngwie Malmsteen) and vocalists Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth) and Oni Logan (Lynch Mob).
Dio Disciples were assembled in 2011, when Wright, Goldy and Warren, still grieving over the loss of their friend, felt that they needed to do something in tribute to him.
“We had a lot of meetings with Wendy Dio about what we should do, and we came to the conclusion that we should carry on,” says Wright, also formerly a member of AC/DC and UFO. “We decided that we would do it with two singers. There’s so much material there that we can pull from, from Ronnie’s catalog, that it would be a better way to do things. We put together a show — we went out, and have been doing it ever since. It’s something that’s very close to us. We all have different projects going on but we always come together whenever we manage to pull some shows together, and just basically carry on Ronnie’s legacy.”
It speaks volumes about just how impressive a vocalist Dio was, with such an incredible range, that two singers are required to cover his parts.
“There’ll always be the comparisons,” Wright says. “People will think they’re trying to be Ronnie, singing his songs. But they’re different singers. We weren’t planning on replacing Ronnie — no one can. We can’t. So they do a great job. Oni’s great — he has a slightly different, bluesier style to Tim, I think it’s safe to say. Ripper was in Priest, so he’s more of your metal singer. The two work really well together, so it’s going good.”
The British drummer, who has been living in Los Angeles for 35 years now (all of the band except Owens are based here), says that the endorsement of Wendy Dio means everything to the musicians.
“We went to her to ask whether we should start the band and stuff,” Wright says. “We all have so many memories of Ronnie and love for Ronnie, this just seemed like the right thing to do. Having Wendy involved is very important. It’s the final seal on the whole deal. It’s great.”
Last year, the band went out under the moniker Dio Returns, for a tour with a hologram of Ronnie James Dio front and center. They’re not the first group to have gone this route, but it remains a slightly controversial move.
“We went out in Europe with" the hologram, Wright says. “It went well — everybody seemed to like what we were doing. The company that designed it decided to take it off the road for a little while, and they’re working on it, tweaking it, making it a little better. The plan is that we’re gonna go out next year, 2019, and do a lot more touring with it. So I think everybody’s looking forward to that. I couldn’t really see it that well. I have seen footage of it from the front, and it does look pretty spectacular. I’ve seen it in rehearsal. The first time I saw it was a little surreal. I got a few goosebumps going on. But you get used to the idea. It’s definitely technology for the future. I think there’ll be a lot more of them on the road.”
On Thursday, Dio Disciples play at the Whisky, and Wright is promising a set that will please fans of most of the Dio arsenal.
“There are the standard songs that we do — we have to do and like doing, like ‘Holy Diver,’ ‘Stand Up and Shout,’ ‘Heaven and Hell,’ ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ — but we like to throw in songs from his past, from Sabbath and Rainbow. We haven’t gone as far back as [early Dio band] Elf yet. We’re thinking about that. That’s going to be a little bit of a challenge, but we will at some point try to throw something in like that. He’s just got such a vast catalog to pick from. We listen to the fans, too. They get in touch on Facebook, and it’s a really good show. There are so many brilliant songs that he was involved in.”
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Enough, apparently, for two bands. There’s another group of former Dio bandmates, including Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard) and Vinnie Appice (Black Sabbath) going by the name of Last in Line. Sharp words have been exchanged, though Wright didn’t want to comment when we broached the subject.
In truth, he has no reason to. The Dio Disciples are constantly touring, bringing the music of Ronnie James Dio to audiences around the world. Some of those attendees will be longtime Dio fans, keen to hear the music again courtesy of some of the people Ronnie made it with. Others will have never had the chance to see Dio live, and this is as close as they can get.
Either way, thank the dark lord that the Disciples are around.
Dio Disciples play with Generation Mangled, Darkhorse Rising, We Are the Black Things, Lost pn Edge and Co-O at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 28, at the Whisky A Go-Go.