October 24, 2023

In a new interview with Matt Wilkinson on Apple Music 1, Keith Richards spoke about the possibility of THE ROLLING STONES one day being the focus of an ABBA-style digital avatar show. The 79-year-old guitarist said: "Well, I certainly wouldn't rule it out. I'm pretty sure that it is bound to happen. Do I want it? Now, that's another thing. But I don't know if I want to hang around that long enough, man. But at the same time, it won't be up to me, will it?"

Launched in May 2022, ABBA's virtual show sees the four members of the Swedish pop group — Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — turned into digital "ABBAtars". The digital performance, which is being staged in the custom-built ABBA Arena in London's Queen Elizabeth Park, took over a billion hours of processing time to complete, and the members of ABBA spent five hours a day in front of 160 motion-capture units over the course of a month.

Keith's bandmate Mick Jagger previously touched upon the possibility of THE ROLLING STONES going on a "posthumous tour" last month while speaking to The Wall Street Journal. "You can have a posthumous business now, can't you?" the 80-year-old singer said. "You can have a posthumous tour. The technology has really moved on since the ABBA thing, which I was supposed to go to, but I missed it."

In July 2022, Jagger was asked by Matt Wilkinson on Apple Music 1 how he planned to ensure THE ROLLING STONES' legacy lives on in the next 50 years or more. The singer said: "That would be stupid to me to give you a one-line answer, because I haven't really honestly thought about it.

"The ABBA thing gives you this kind of technology breakthrough, which, I haven't actually seen it yet. I was supposed to go and see it, but there was a train strike. So I didn't get to go. I wasn't going on the train, but … the traffic was horrible, so I can't really answer that.

"Obviously technology is going to give you some of the answers to this, and who knows what technology lies in store down the road?

"We're already in an AI world of doing this stuff, and you can do a lot of musical stuff with not very complicated computerization, as well."

Back in June 2022, Jimmy Page revealed that the surviving members of LED ZEPPELIN were approached with the idea of staging an ABBA-style digital avatar show. At the annual Welsh literature event the Hay FestivalPage said that he and his bandmates were asked to do "that sort of thing," referring to the "ABBA Voyage" virtual concert residency. However, the project "didn't really get moving," the now-79-year-old guitarist added, because he and singer Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones couldn't agree. He also spoke positively about Elvis Presley's hologram performance. "I bet that was good, but I didn't see it," he said.

Hologram world tours have previously been announced, but never come to fruition. In 2015, there was talk that Whitney Houston would go on the road in holographic form, but a leak of a duet with Christina Aguilera, which suggested the hologram was not up to scratch, led to the withdrawal of the Houston hologram by her estate.

In 2021, Christopher Dalston, a booking agent at Creative Artists Agency (CAA),revealed to Rolling Stone that he was once approached with the idea of "an AC/DC hologram of Bon Scott," referring to the band's singer who died in 1980. Although he didn't say which hologram company approached him, Dalston added: "We asked ourselves, 'Do we want to represent something with Bon Scott?' And it just wasn't right for us at that point. It's a very personal thing to the groups. … You have to be careful what you do there. AC/DC is still a very current band with Brian Johnson singing."

Ronnie James Dio's wife and manager Wendy Dio, who is affiliated with Eyellusion, the company that created a hologram of the late heavy metal singer, said in a 2017 interview that it was only a matter of time before other rock legends returned to life through holograms, the three-dimensional light projections that have opened new frontiers for the live music and other industries. "Absolutely," she said. "I think the company that we're working with is talking to a lot of different people. And I think it's the way of the future. It's like people were, 'Ooooh…' when the eight-track came out, 'Ooooh, what's this?' And then cassette. 'Oooh, what's this?' And digital, 'What's this? Oh, we don't wanna do that. We only want analog. We don't want digital.' But you know what? It's technology. And also, we're losing our legends day by day; we're losing the innovators of metal and hard rock music; we're losing 'em every day. What are we gonna do? I don't see a lot of bands coming up to take their place."

The Dio hologram made its debut at the Wacken Open Air festival in August 2016 in front of more than 75,000 fans. The hologram production used audio of Ronnie's live performances from throughout his career, with the DIO band playing live, consisting of Craig Goldy on guitar, Simon Wright on drums and Scott Warren on keyboards, along with Bjorn Englen on bass. Also appearing with them are former JUDAS PRIEST singer Tim "Ripper" Owens and LYNCH MOB frontman Oni Logan.

After the "Dio Returns" tour's initial seven-date run was completed in December 2017, Ronnie's hologram underwent some changes before the launch of the 2019 leg of the trek, which took place in May and June of that year.

Two former DIO guitarists have publicly expressed their doubts about the Ronnie James Dio hologram. In December 2019, Tracy "G" Grijalva, who played for DIO from 1993 through 1999, said that the hologram "looks creepy" and resembles "a puppet." Nine months earlier, Doug Aldrich, who was in DIO between 2002 and 2006, told XS Rock that "Ronnie would probably not" like the hologram. "He would probably be, like, 'This is not what I signed up for.' A hologram? It's not really what he would want to be. I'm just guessing, you know, that it's something that Wendy thought about and she decided that Ronnie would be fine with it. But I knew Ronnie well enough to know that he was very particular and he would prefer for them to let him just die and be in peace."

In 2020, TESTAMENT guitarist Alex Skolnick, who toured with Ronnie on two separate occasions a decade and a half apart — in 1992 when Dio fronted BLACK SABBATH and again in 2008 when Ronnie was the singer of SABBATH offshoot band HEAVEN & HELL — offered his opinion on the Dio hologram on Twitter, writing: "I don't believe in those hologram shows. It would be one thing if the artist was still alive, chose not to tour for whatever reason, gave his or her approval & maybe even had a hand in the process. But Dio had no say." Skolnick also added a thumbs-down emoji as a way of voicing his disapproval.

DISTURBED frontman David Draiman said in a 2016 interview that he had mixed feelings about concerts featuring the Dio hologram. He stated about the prospect of seeing a holographic version of Ronnie: "It makes me sad. I'm always happy to hear any music from anybody that's left us, that we've lost. But I don't know… The hologram thing, to me, it almost isn't letting the dead be dead." He added, "It just seems weird... Is there a difference between a hologram and a guy dressing up like Ronnie James and doing it?"

In 2021, Wendy said that she decided to pull the plug on the Dio hologram because she "wanted to see real Ronnie." Speaking about how her reaction to the hologram evolved over the years, she told the "Hangin' & Bangin': Artists On Lockdown" online show: "When I first saw it, I cried. Then I got used to it because it wasn't Ronnie. And then we took it out [on tour]. The first [version] was not that good. The second one was a lot better. But I decided that I don't wanna do it anymore; I decided I want real Ronnie. So we're working on a stage with the DIO band, which will be going out [later in 2022]. Instead of having a hologram, it will have film of Ronnie with the live band playing and with special effects and everything else. So that's what we're working on. We're working on it with Paul Dexter [who was Ronnie's lighting designer and stage designer for years] and a bunch of other people. And also the Eyellusion people, who did do the hologram, are doing a bunch of special effects for us with it."

Wendy continued: "I never say never [about bringing back the hologram], but technology gets different every day, every day, every day. And I just decided that I wanted to see real Ronnie. … QUEEN does [something similar, using footage of Freddie Mercury]. Ours will be a little bit different to that because we have all these great effects, 3D effects. It's almost like going into — what's that ride at Disneyland, when you go through, and it's like a 3D effect? That's what we're working on right now."

Photo credit: Mark Seliger

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