By Jeb Wright
Simon Wright left AC/DC to play with one of his musical heroes, Ronnie James Dio, in 1990 . The two became so close that Wright ended up living in Ronnie’s house for many years. Since Dio’s death in 2010, Wright has dedicated his time to making sure that Ronnie’s legacy remains alive and well.
Niji Entertainment, owned by Ronnie’s ex-wife and manager, Wendy Dio, has released The Very Beast of Vol. 2 which focuses on DIO’s album releases between 2000 and 2003. This time period was very productive and the three albums, Killing the Dragon, Master of the Moon and Magica were among the best of his career.
In the interview that follows Wright talks about the making of each album and some of the songs featured on The Very Beast of Dio Vol. 2. This music was very important to Wright, who performs Ronnie James Dio’s music in his band Dio Disciples. The band will be on tour in 2012.
There are rumors of more DIO related releases to come from the vault and while Wright hints that these rumors are true, he stops short of promising their release. We can only hope that whatever is the vault will see the light of day, as Ronnie James Dio is, and will always be, remembered as one of the best Heavy Metal vocalists of all time.
Jeb: The Very Beast of DIO Vol. 2 contains great songs that did not get as much recognition as “Last in Line” or “Rainbow in the Dark.” Still, this is a great era of DIO’s legacy and people need to know about it.
Simon: I tend to agree with you. It is not a greatest hits package. This album digs deep and really shows how good the albums were from 2000 to 2003. Killing the Dragon, Magica and Masters of the Moon are great albums and would go well in any DIO fans collection.
Jeb: Ronnie formed the band with Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice, but I think this era of DIO, on the new album, was much more of a family.
Simon: Very much so. Scott [Warren] had been in the band for 17 years and I had been there for 13. Craig [Goldy] has been in and out, for one reason or another, but he has been around a long time.
It did feel like a family. At one point, or another, we all commented to each other that it was like being in a family. Wendy and Ronnie always looked out for each us all, so that is what it was like.
Jeb: You even came to visit Ronnie one day and never left.
Simon: That is true! I went through a bad divorce – I don’t know what a good divorce is [laughter]. I was going to leave the band as I’d just had enough. Ronnie told me not to do that. He told me to come stay at his place. He had five bedrooms and people were always staying there. I went over there and got settled in. When we weren’t playing music we would build stuff and garden and start drinking around ten thirty in the morning [laughter]. It was a big house, so I could do my thing and he could his thing. I never left, but it worked out.
Jeb: The era featured on The Very Beast of Vol. 2 really represents a resurgence in Ronnie’s creativity.
Simon: I agree. The album Magica was very much so that way. Craig and I helped him a lot with the demos for that album; it took about nine months. We loved watching him create, as he was very excited about the album. I remember him telling me the story behind the album and I was very excited and I wondered how it was all going to end up. He created the themes and moods for the songs and it was really amazing. I was helping out creating rough drum machine stuff so we could get from the start to the end of the song. Each song would change and grow. It was a very creative and innovative time.
Jeb: How much of the follow-up has been recorded that DIO fans have not heard?
Simon: “Electra” was the last track that we recorded with Ronnie and it was going to be on Magica II and III. I think the plan was that we were going to re-record it. It is on The Very Beast of Dio Vol. 2.
There were three, or four, songs that he had been working on for Magica II and III. They were just demos, unfortunately. Wendy is in charge of all that and I am not sure what will happen. At some point, maybe, they will come out. We will have to see what Wendy wants us to do with them.
Jeb: It would be tough to do without Ronnie there and only having his voice on tape.
Simon: You would have to be careful on how you approached it. You would not want to overstep your bounds. We would have to sit and listen to them and see how far he got with them. We would do it with totally respect and we would have to do it delicately. We will see what happens. It is up to Wendy, as she in charge of that side of things, but we will wait and see.
Jeb: Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. Start with “Prisoner of Paradise” which is a bonus track.
Simon: That was an extra song from when we did Master of the Moon. We created that song in the studio. We’d started laying down tracks for a couple of songs. Ronnie heard they needed an extra track for Japan, so he created that song. I think it came out well. It came together pretty quickly. We worked it up towards the end of the sessions. I put down the drums and we took it from there. It is a very strong track and it is very difficult to get that track, as the album has gone out of print.
Jeb: It is not hard to get anymore. It’s on The Very Beast of Dio Vol. 2.
Simon: [laughter] Not anymore! Just pick up The Very Beast of Vol. 2 for that song!
Jeb: It is not just the popular songs on this that are great. You have the songs like “Killing the Dragon,” “Push” and “Lord of the Last Days,” but you also have “Electra,” “Hunter of the Heart” and “Metal Will Never Die.”
Simon: I think if you look at the whole collection of songs, then you realize how great the albums were. Some of the songs were overlooked. I think it was the musical climate of the day. I think it is important for fans to understand that there are great songs on these albums and this gives a good look into them.
Jeb: “Killing the Dragon” is as great a DIO song than anything that ever came out. It holds up with anything.
Simon: There are songs that could sit well on a Rainbow album, or an early DIO album. The album Killing the Dragon had that kind of feel to it. Master of the Moon is classic DIO with a little bit of dark Sabbath stuff going on. There are some heavy songs on that album. Magica was an adventure. There is incredible singing on that album. This collection will show the fans that have not checked out these albums what they are missing out on.
Jeb: A great song I had forgotten about was “Feed My Head.”
Simon: That is off Magica. It is a great song. That came together really well. The cool thing about Magica is that it had these segues and it had the same vibe about it with a lot of the songs; it had its own chemistry.
Jeb: I think hearing it on its own, outside of Magica, shows how great a song it is.
Simon: You’re right. I was talking to somebody else and he mentioned the same thing about another song. I know what you’re saying. Once the songs are taken out of their original album and put on this retrospective then they kind of take on a whole new perspective. I listened to this whole album a couple of days ago and they kind of sound different. I know what you’re talking about.
Jeb: Does this album bring back memories for you?
Simon: It does. It was a pleasure being a part of this. It was hard work, but having done it you just feel so proud. It was a pleasure being a part of these albums. It was so special to work with Ronnie as long as I did.
Jeb: When you go out with Dio Disciples do a lot of these songs get into the set?
Simon: We are going to be doing a lot of these songs on our new tour. We are putting the dates together, as we speak. We are going to start in California and we are heading East.
Jeb: This is a new release and you’ve got to promote it.
Simon: Craig, Scott and I are on a lot of these songs and we want to play them. We have to put in “Heaven and Hell,” “Rainbow in the Dark” and all the others, but we are trying to put in as many as we can. We are going to put in some surprises for people as well. We are always thinking of the fans, as we are fans as well. It is going to be a good set and we are looking forward to it.
Jeb: One of your vocalists, Toby Jepson, has left the band.
Simon: Toby told us mid-year that he’s got some production commitments. It is fine. It is difficult bringing this band together because we all do other projects. We recruited Oni Logan and he did a rehearsal with us the other day and he sounded great. He’s a good guy and he knew Ronnie. He knows Wendy and I’ve known him for quite a few years. He is going to be great.
Rudy Sarzo is not with us, as he is going out with Geoff Tate. We brought in a guy named Bjorn Englen and he has a lot of respect for Ronnie and his music. He has played with Yngwie Malmsteen and a few other guys.
Jeb: I heard that Viv, Bain and Appice are going to go out and play the songs they did with Ronnie on the first couple of albums. I am too sure how I feel about it. I am not sure they all have the same feelings for Ronnie that you guys do. What do you think?
Simon: I saw that. I guess they are entitled to do that. They were in the band and they played on the albums. I’m just not sure how sincere they are about it.
Jeb: I know you and Craig and I know you are really into the reasons you are doing it. I am just not sure how two bands doing it will help anyone.
Simon: I am pretty sure you see why we are doing it. If it is going to happen then it is going to happen. They are entitled to do it and I am sure it will be good, as they are great players. You could get into a big, big argument about all of this and I just don’t want to do that.
Jeb: What does the legacy of Ronnie James Dio’s music mean to you personally?
Simon: It is everything. I was a fan of his for years. It wasn’t just his singing, which was incredible, but it was his songwriting. Ronnie always surrounded himself with brilliant musicians.
His legacy is amazing. He has been in so many bands and he has helped them create their popularity, and recreated their popularity in some cases. He has always come up with incredible songs and he was just an amazing person.
He was a tough guy as well, as he was the boss. He could be the boss and that is what a band needs. You need a leader in a band and he was the leader. He could really push us. He always had an eye on the road ahead. He was a very smart guy. I really miss him.
Jeb: You are not just doing this for the money. This is not a job for you. I get a sense that you really have a connection with Ronnie.
Simon: There is that connection; I understand what you’re talking about. It is a job in the sense that we were Ronnie’s band. Ronnie was work, work, work and some more work. We have got accustomed to that. You have to give 110%. It is our work to keep his songs alive. When a family member passes away you don’t forget them, you find ways to remember them. Ronnie was a musician and we are musicians. It is a labor of love because those songs are so brilliant. What spurs us on is that it is our job to do this.
Jeb: I meant that you can play drums for anyone and get money. Yet you choose to do this.
Simon: I have other projects that I do, but I do choose to do this. We don’t make a lot of money doing this. I tend to go elsewhere for that. It is not for the money that I do any of it. I just love playing drums and if people want to pay me then that’s just great.
Jeb: Is there any chance Dio Disciples will do a live CD or DVD?
Simon: We have discussed it. We have some footage that we shot in San Antonio. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with it; it is on the backburner for the moment. It is there and when we want to deal with it then we will put it out. I have seen bits of it and it was a really good night.
Craig and I have been doing some writing together and we are not sure what it will end up being. We keep going back to it, but we are not going to put anything out until we know it is really good. We have to really think about what we are dealing with and treat it with respect. We have put it to one side for now. When we all get together again we will sit and think about where in the hell we are going to go with it.
Jeb: I know Ronnie planned a lot of these releases with Wendy before he passed away. Rumor is that there is a lot in the vault. Is that true?
Simon: There is some stuff there, but it is in Wendy’s hands. I am not sure how she will deal with it, but I would say there will be more releases.
Jeb: Even though Wendy and Ronnie did not remain married, she still loved him and she really stayed loyal to his vision.
Simon: They were friends first and they really understood one and other. She had her job taking care of his business and he had his job being creative. She looked out for him just like he looked out for her. It was a very special relationship.
Jeb: I have to ask you about the song “One More for The Road.”
Simon: Ronnie felt we needed a fast song on Master of the Moon, so we came up with that one. It has some elements of “Stand Up and Shout” in there. There are a lot of DIOisms about it. We used to open up with that song for a little bit. It is a killer song.
There is a lot of great stuff on this album and I really think it will give the fans an inkling to the other albums from that time. Even though I played on the bloody thing I really am a fan of the music. There are some great songs on there. It is worth taking a look at.
Jeb: Last one: When you play live, which of these songs is your favorite to do from Beast 2?
Simon: There are a couple of them on there; it’s hard to pick one. We used to open the show with “Killing the Dragon” and that is a really good song. “Push” is a great song. I remember playing those songs a lot. “The Eyes” used to be in the set. We played that at Wacken. The crowd had never heard it before and we finished the song and they kept on chanting. It was a very special moment.
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