Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 26: Lock Up the Wolves

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

The little man with the big voice, the legend… Ronnie James Dio! He’s one of the biggest Metal icons ever. What a singer, what a songwriter! He wrote two of the best songs ever recorded, “Stargazer” and “Gates of Babylon” (with another icon, Ritchie Blackmore, written and recorded during his tenure in Rainbow). Not to forget all the classics from his albums with Black Sabbath and Dio.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have seen him perform live. It’s quite a few times and performance-wise he never had a bad day at work, even when he was suffering from stomach cancer during his last tour with Sabbath. Imagine that! Ronnie was also one of the friendliest guys one could meet. During interviews he would always refer to you by your first name. During my “Stigmeister approved hours” on Metal Express Radio, when I play my favorite tracks for an hour every day, I normally don’t use artist jingles. Ronnie’s station ID is the only exception: “Hi, this is Ronnie James Dio and you are listening to Metal Express Radio with my buddy Stig Nordahl. He plays the best in music.” I put that jingle in the show when Ronnie passed in 2010.

When the band Dio released their first album in 1983, I only owned some mixtapes with a song or two from Ronnie James Dio fronting Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Holy Diver was the first full-length LP with Ronnie I ever got. It must be close to worn out by now. What a fantastic Heavy Metal gem that album is! No further explanation needed. He has been one of my favorite vocalists ever since.

When The Last In Line was released I saw the ad for the album and went to the record store to buy it right away. Well, I actually planned to listen to it first, and then decide if I wanted to buy it. Remember when you could do that in record stores? Why did I have to listen to it first? Because I could only afford one album and someone had told me that I had to check out this new album, called Karma Chameleon, that was just fabulous. I doubted it would change my mind about buying the new Dio record, but I was open to checking it out. I had no idea what kind of music it was. So I asked the record store gal if I could listen to the new Boy George (!) album… She picked up the LP from behind the counter, so I couldn’t see the cover. If I had seen it I would probably not have asked for it. So there I was listening to Karma Chameleon. I was done after about 10 seconds, but I was too polite to admit I hated it so I had to suffer through a song or two for appearance. Hey, I was in the mood for Heavy Metal, like I have been ever since. I just told her I wanted the Dio album instead. I brought it home and as soon as the needle hit the vinyl I knew it was the right choice. Just kidding, It was never a real contest! I knew as soon as the needle hit the Boy George album. Speaking of hitting; I should have hit the person recommending that album in the first place. I cannot remember who it was today though. Maybe it was a joke. I hope it was.

DIO - Lock Up the WolvesIn 1990, I received the promo LP for Lock Up the Wolves. There had been some lineup changes from the early albums. Guitarist Vivian Cambell had left and Craig Goldy replaced him on the Dream Evil album. For Lock Up The Wolves there was a lot of fuss about yet another new guitar player, called Rowan Robertson. Why? Because he was only 17 years old at the time. I think he did very well for his age though. This was the first Dio album I never paid much attention to for some reason. Not long ago I noticed a Facebook post saying it is a very underrated album. Maybe it is. I need to blow the dust off of it and give the album a spin soon. After this album Ronnie went back to Black Sabbath, but they ended up only recording one album together; the comeback album Dehumanizer.

The first time I interviewed Ronnie was in 1996 when he released Angry Machines. Needless to say I was extremely excited to talk to one of my all time idols. The interview turned out excellent and for the first time I got to experience Ronnie’s friendliness. It was a phone interview and when I called his label in Germany, it took a long time for them to track him down. When he finally got on the phone he had all the time in the world and shared a lot of stories about past times in addition to talking about the new album. I thought Dio had released an album that was a weak attempt at sounding modern. I hated it. I didn’t dare to tell Ronnie though. I made a small mistake in the interview. I was out of the radio business for a time during my tenure in the army. There was no Internet to keep you updated back in the day. Therefore, the previous album, Strange Highways, had gone unnoticed by me, and so I called Angry Machines a comeback album. Ronnie said he was surprised that so many people missed the release of the previous album. I was embarrassed because I should have known, but Ronnie was a good sport as always.

The band played in Oslo on the following tour. Ronnie had recruited Tracy G on guitar, a pretty flashy kind of player. I don’t think he fit the band and there were a lot of fans sharing that opinion. Some guys had even brought along a banner to the show saying “Tracy go home!” Tracy showed them his middle finger several times during the show. I don’t appreciate that kind of juvenile behavior from fans even if they didn’t like the guy. Who wouldn’t accept an offer to join Dio? As you can hear in the interview Ronnie was very pleased having Tracy in the band.

Picture of Dio
SRF 1999. One of these guys hadn’t had a shower for three days…

The first time I met Ronnie face-to-face was at Sweden Rock Festival in 1999. There was a press conference that was supposed to take place in the press tent. I can’t recall what actually happened, but I think Ronnie wanted the journalists closer than sitting behind a desk with reporters placed on benches in front of it. So, he decided to take us all backstage, right outside of his trailer. You should have seen the face of the security guards when Ronnie asked them to open the gates for him and a bunch of “friends”. It was a great location and I got a spot right next to Ronnie, so I could have my round of questions and good audio quality for his answers. I had been camping for a couple of days and hadn’t showered, which I never do during festivals. You can see that clearly in the picture. After the interview I asked Ronnie to make a station ID. I didn’t hear that he didn’t say “Metal” in Metal Express Radio until I got home. I don’t remember the word he said instead, but I just edited it out. It is still on rotation: “Hi this is Ronnie James Dio, here with you on a beautiful festival site in Sweden. You should all listen to ….. Express, it’s the best you’re ever gonna hear”.

Dio returned to Sweden Rock Festival the following year. This time with a new album, Magica. It was time for another press conference. I recorded it, but never used much of the audio, only the parts where I asked the questions. It was more important for me to drink beer and trying to keep a straight face while listening to all the incredible stupid questions that was asked by the press.

I traveled with a bunch of friends to the festival that year. A couple of the guys weren’t much into Metal in the first place, but they were eager to learn and to party for three days in Sweden. They did their homework and checked out a lot of the bands on the bill before we left. One of them said he really liked “Die-o” a lot and was especially looking forward to that show. I said “what band”? “Die-o, the band with ‘The Last in Line’!” Ha, that was a new take on the name. I thought it was funny so I let him pronounce it that way until we got close to the festival. Please, say Dio if you want to be taken seriously at Sweden Rock Festival.

Dio played at Sweden Rock Festival for the second year in a row. This time they played most of the new album Magica. It’s a risky thing to do at a festival, but they got away with it. It helped that they did no less than three encores containing a bunch of Dio, Rainbow and Black Sabbath classics. The audience went ballistic. One of my new-to-Metal friends is a short and tiny fella, and during the show he was standing next to this very tall guy, looking brutal as some Metal fans do. In pure joy of the excellent performance on stage, he jumped up on the guy with arms around his neck and his feet curled around his back. I believe he wanted to give him a hug in the heat of the moment. I think there was some air guitar playing behind the taller guys back as well. My immediate thought was that the next stop would be the medical tent. Luckily Sweden Rock Festival is probably the friendliest festival in the world and surprisingly the big guy was into hugging. I actually managed to take a photo of the situation with my compact camera. A fun memory from another great Die-o show.

Lars Ratz backstage at John Dee in Oslo

The last time I talked to Ronnie was in 2002 when he was promoting the Killing the Dragon release. The very same day Metalium were playing in Oslo. I had stayed in touch with band leader Lars Ratz since we met at Wacken Open Air in 1999. I had scheduled an interview at the venue with Metalium, and then a bit later a phone interview with Ronnie. Ratz wanted to go to a market close by, where we bumped into Metalium’s guitarist Matthias Lange. Lange was eager to have a look at the new digital soundboard we had purchased at the TV station where I worked (and where I was going to do the interview). After a brief look at the equipment I told Lange that I had to escort him out because I was expecting a call from Ronnie James Dio in a few minutes. His eyes almost popped out: “Dio will call you here? Now?” Maybe he wanted to stay, but I escorted him out. I’d see him and his band at the show later anyway. How else was I gonna get the money that Ratz owed me (he had borrowed a few Norwegian Kroner to buy some stuff for his daughter at the market). Metalium did a great show, and they were an excellent band. Well, back to Dio. It was another pleasant conversation. He said he had a lot of phone calls to make for interviews that day, but he never showed any sign of being tired of answering the same questions over and over again. Well, I always try to avoid the obvious ones as much as possible, but still…

Master of the Moon (2004) was the final Dio album. After that he went to play with his old friends from Black Sabbath under the moniker Heaven & Hell. Sadly he passed away in 2010.

RIP Ronnie!

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  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

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