By David E. Gehlke
Ronnie James Dio would have turned 80 on July 10. It was a date recently recognized by the people in charge of his legacy, specifically, his wife/manager Wendy and former bandmates, who, aside from the unnecessary sparring between DIO DISCIPLES and LAST IN LINE, seem to all be aligned in recognition of Dio's contributions. Dio's 80th also brought about the surprise re-mix of his classic debut solo album, 1983's "Holy Diver" by Joe Barresi (TOOL, SLIPKNOT). It immediately begged "Why?" given the album's mythical standing within the metal scene, but give Barresi this: He added some minor new dimensions to "Holy Diver" that should at least placate those who thought it should remain untouched.
Vinny Appice had yet to hear the "Holy Diver" re-mix when he caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET, but the trusted drummer had plenty to say about the LP and its creation. As Appice tells it, the magic of "Holy Diver" was that it was four musicians — Dio, Appice, guitarist Vivian Campbell and bassist Jimmy Bain — in the same room at the same time hashing out the songs. It was an energy and moment in time that the DIO band never captured again, although the following year's "Last In Line" can certainly hold its own. And while Appice remains proud of his time in DIO, detecting his bewilderment over the band's post-"Holy Diver" activity makes it easy to wonder how far the band could have gone if different decisions were made.
Blabbermouth: What were your initial thoughts on learning of the "Holy Diver" re-mix?
Vinny: "My thought on re-mixes are, 'This is a classic album. The sound of it was classic as well.' Then to say, 'Hey, let's re-mix it!' It's kind of like…daring. Why change something so classic? If it's not broken, don't fix it. That's my theory on all these re-mix albums. I don't mind remastering where the EQ is adjusted and it sounds clearer. But the re-mix is pretty daring. I haven't heard it. I don't have a copy. From what people tell me, it sounds pretty good."
Blabbermouth: I'm in the same boat as you — why mess with perfection? Joe did a good job on the re-mix, though. Do you also think this was done to introduce Ronnie's music to a new generation?
Vinny: "That's part of it. We're coming up on his 80th birthday, which is unbelievable. It's nice to do something and make it an event. This makes it a pretty good event — a re-mixed and remastered album. The cover is different from what I see. I don't know if Ronnie if he was alive, what his thoughts would be. But it's a good celebration. Rather than it sitting there, it's a good way to celebrate. It should draw attention to the younger audience. It's an album that was listened to by so many musicians — in 'name' bands. I get told all the time, 'Oh man! 'Holy Diver'!' One of them was Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins [FOO FIGHTERS]. They'd talk about 'Holy Diver' and 'Stand Up And Shout', the drum fills. They're like, 'What is that?' We didn't know we were making such a great album."
Blabbermouth: Do you think Ronnie would have been open to something like this? Did he keep up with modern technology?
Vinny: "He had a setup at his house. It started with the Akai, ADAT kind of tapes. He had a big console and the tapes were really big. We used to do a lot of pre-production work there. Eventually, he went onto the computer. I forgot what he was using — Logic or ProTools. He did start using computer software to record and do demos. It sounded great. He would have kept on it. Obviously, he was always writing by himself. He always had a band, so I think he would have been up on it or got to the point where he'd have someone come in — probably me — and run it. [Laughs] That would have been the easiest way to do it."
Blabbermouth: You played on three classic albums in a row: [BLACK SABBATH's] "Mob Rules", "Holy Diver" and "Last In Line". What have they done for your career?
Vinny: "That was the foundation for my career. Making those records, we didn't know any of them were going to be classics. So, I'm able to, first of all, I do a lot of stuff where I go out in Europe with really good bands. We did the 'Mob Rules' tour. It was a combination of SABBATH stuff that I played on with some older SABBATH with a little DIO. I can go out and establish myself as one of the last guys out there playing. SABBATH, nobody is playing live anymore. Geezer [Butler] wants to retire. Ozzy [Osbourne] doesn't look like he's going out. And Tony [Iommi] doesn't want to go out. I'm the only guy from those albums left. And I have my band with Vivian, LAST IN LINE. We have a new album coming out next year and an EP in a few months. So we're the only guys left, Viv and I, and with SABBATH, I'm the only guy. It really helps when you've played on three classic albums. [Laughs] I don't mean that as an ego thing at all. I happened to be there at the right time and in the right bands. I established myself. Nobody ever told me what to play, either. I was thinking about that with John Bonham [LED ZEPPELIN]. He was such a great drummer. He had the perfect vehicle to showcase his drumming in ZEPPELIN. Jimmy Page put all those holes in there for places for fills and grooves. I had similar options with all these records. Bonzo [Bonham] was one of my heroes. When I listen to ZEP albums, I learn something. Like, 'That's a cool lick.' When I was a kid, like my brother's [Carmine] stuff, so when I recorded, I wanted to do the same thing and put something on there for drummers that worked, not just to put it in there and fit the song."
Blabbermouth: "Rainbow In The Dark" and the title track always get the most attention from "Holy Diver", but "Caught In The Middle" and "Straight Through The Heart" are both excellent "deep" cuts. What do you recall about putting them together?
Vinny: "'Straight Through The Heart', I think that riff came from Jimmy, the initial riff. He just started jamming on it. Actually, I've been listening to some cassette tapes that I found from DIO rehearsals. We have 'Straight Through The Heart' in all different ways. We got the main riff, but the parts and chords were different. I go, 'That's interesting!' But it didn't make the album. It was a big jamming thing. All those songs, most of them, came from jamming in the room. That was at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys [California]. Ronnie would sit on the stool with his pencil, writing lyrics and rolling joints, then he'd get inspired and sing with us, even though it might not have been the lyrics he wanted. He was jumping in on the song. That made us go, 'Yeah!' There was a lot of energy. "'Caught In The Middle' was another jam kind of song. I think I ran onto one or two versions of it. It was quite different. We worked hard to get parts together that fit from one section to the next into a chorus. Luckily, we stumbled upon the good parts. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Who was the stickler for arrangements? Was it Ronnie? Or you, Vivian and Jimmy?
Vinny: "It was everybody. On that album, it was mostly everybody and Ronnie would arrange it a little different or he'd hear it a little different. Later on, there were some albums where I couldn't even remember what we started with that day. That's how many arrangement changes we had. It was like a roadmap. Like, 'Hold on. What a minute. Now we're doing this over here?' It was very confusing, but not so much on 'Holy Diver'. The only arrangements Ronnie really made were how his choruses came in or when he'd start singing and we'd need an extra bar or something. It was pretty fluid with 'Holy Diver'. We were on the same page."
Blabbermouth: Do you think that may have hurt albums like "Sacred Heart" or "Dream Evil"?
Vinny: Yeah. 'Holy Diver' was more organic. We went in and jammed. We were all excited and everybody was on the same page. We had a lot of energy for the music. Ronnie was easy to please. He was happy with it. As the albums went on, Ronnie wore the producer hat more and started trying to direct it more. 'Last In Line' is a little more refined and we had keyboards in there with Claude Schnell. Then, the band started to change a little bit. By the third album, it got 'bit-sy.' I kept telling Ronnie, 'We should go in and jam like we used to. Let's keep it loose and rocking.' But as you hear, the albums got more not 'perfect,' but they were cleaner. It's like the albums went to college."
Blabbermouth: Not being able to replicate what you did on "Holy Diver" seems to have factored into every album after that.
Vinny: "Right. That's because keyboards were brought in. I love Claude; we were great friends, but it changed the vibe of the band. The first album is us jamming with Viv on guitar. The songs were built on the guitar. Then all of the sudden, we got keyboards playing on all these parts and it changed the dynamics of the band. Then, on 'Last In Line', Ronnie didn't want to do it in town. We went to Boulder, Colorado, to Caribou Ranch studio. Ronnie wanted to get away from L.A. We went all the way up there. That was cool, in a way. We all lived there and worked without distractions, but he started producing it more: 'We can't do this.' On 'Holy Diver', the word 'can't' wasn't even used. The song 'Invisible', we had the riff and came back the next day or night and said, 'Let's listen to the riff we had.' We put the tape in backward. It was a four-track tape played backward. We were cracking up because our soundman Angelo [Arcuri] put the tape in backward. We're like, 'Wait a minute! That sounds good.' So we learned the riff backward. If you listen to 'Invisible', there's the riff that starts the song and the verse is backward. We were open to any crazy thing that happened. The intro to 'Invisible' was the sound of air escaping [from a tire]. It was Ronnie's idea to do that. Our friend had a truck and a spare tire. We brought that in, miked up the tire, and let the air out. Then we put some effect on it and did it a number of times. That was the intro to 'Invisible'. Crazy stuff. Whoever miked a tire? The word 'can't' wasn't in the vocabulary and that's what made a great album. People expressed their opinions, but when people started expressing them later on, 'How about this?' 'No, that's not going to work.' Then people tend to close up a little bit more. That's with any band."
Blabbermouth: Ronnie was still singing well right up until the very end. You see guys like Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, who are around the same age, still doing it. How do you think Ronnie would be faring at 80?
Vinny: "He probably would have been pretty damn strong. When he got stomach cancer, that's something you could probably feel because you're singing and breathing and that would inhibit him going for it as much as he could go for it. If it weren't for that, he would be rocking today. He knew how to sing. He knew how to breathe correctly. There was only one gig where he had a cold and was slightly weak, but he still sounded great. He always sang his ass off. He'd hit all the notes."
Blabbermouth: There's the "Holy Diver" re-mix, a biography from Mick Wall and a documentary. Do you know of anything else in the vaults on Ronnie's career?
Vinny: "Not that I know of. Wendy's in charge of what's coming out. There were some tapes or songs that Ronnie recorded on his computer. I don't know whether she's thinking of releasing any of that. I know there were a few things on there. Either we made a backing track, or he did it with a drum machine. It sounded great. Then we sang, it sounded amazing. He'd do a quick vocal on it and we'd listen to it and go, 'That's great!' Then there are a lot of videos that I shot on the road. Ronnie bought one of those JVC cameras with a small tape and you put it into an adaptor so you could play it with VHS. We took that thing everywhere. We'd go to the mall and film stupid things and crazy stuff. There's a lot of that. I don't know if she's touched that or not. You never know. [Laughs]"